Tough Enough, or too tough on yourself? Mental Health Awareness Week

Mental Health is a hot topic at the moment, and rightly so. This week is mental health awareness week and the theme is kindness, which seems particularly appropriate at the moment. It’s important to be mentally tough, but are you being too tough on yourself? On top of everyone’s daily struggles, a global pandemic was not on anyone’s planning sheet for 2020. This has left many athletes feeling de-motivated and aimless with all racing cancelled for the foreseeable future, and goals disappearing into the sunset, or 2021 if we’re being less dramatic.

There are numerous and complex reasons for feeling de-motivated. Many people have found their priorities radically changed with friends and family to take care of, or themselves for those with underlying health conditions. Some people have been furloughed or worse still lost all their work, others have found themselves with drastically increased workloads related to Covid-19.

Some of us have found ourselves with way more time on our hands due to not being able to rush about at warp speed, but then unable to travel and train in our usual favourite places. This has led to training being sidelined and de-prioritised in some cases.

There has been a lot of pressurised posting on social and mainstream media to turn this episode into a life changing, positive experience. Learn a new skill, do all the jobs you’ve put off, do twenty zoom quizzes with your friends and family and on top of that, emerge the other side as a ripped god/goddess ready to take on the next Olympic trials and possibly take up a side line in modelling and utilising those new found extra hours to become a human rights lawyer.

STOP! For most of us this has come as abruptly as someone sticking a foot out to trip you up unexpectedly. Just getting through each day might be all you can handle right now and that’s okay. For now there is no pressure to perform, enter races, smash yourself in training or to rush about to faraway places. This is a rare opportunity to enjoy what’s on your doorstep, including irritating family members, loud children and dogs that won’t leave you in peace.

I have found time to read and listen to lots of interesting podcasts. Most recently I listened to a Training Peaks Podcast featuring Olympian Joanna Zeiger, author of The Champion Mindset: An Athlete’s Guide to Mental Toughness. This was an inspiring listen about overcoming debilitating health issues to compete at the highest level. She has done some interesting research on mental toughness including developing The Sisu Test, which measures mental toughness and highlights areas for improvement. This can be very useful, indicating specific areas to work on. This isn’t limited to sport and can be applied to everyday life.

I recently completed an online certificate in Mental Wellbeing in Sport and Physical Activity with UK Athletics. There are lots of good courses to have a go at for coaches and some like this one are short and manageable for those of us with short attention spans or busy lives.

For those whose races have been put back or completely cancelled, it seems an impossible task to stay motivated for that length of time when your goal is so distant. So use the time to reframe the WHY of why you train and compete. Do you actually enjoy training or is it purely to race? Is it for your mental health? Sport fundamentally should be enjoyable so go enjoy it! Ride to new places, run for the pure hell of it, and run downhill like a lunatic!

If your goals are performance based, you could use this time to allow niggles to settle down and to work on weaknesses. There are lots of exercises you can do at home to improve strength and core stability which will improve your technique and make you a more robust and resilient athlete in the long run. Something is better than nothing, so if you complete a run, do a garden workout, or 3 minutes of balance exercises while the microwave pings, give yourself a pat on the back, because in these strange times, it is enough.

If you are really keen to maintain fitness and aim towards a longer term goal, one way to improve motivation is to be accountable for your training. With this in mind, having a coach can help, with an expectation from coach and athlete to complete sessions and someone keeping you on track can be extremely beneficial. Check out HP3 Coaching for more information on coaching, plans and classes.

What to do when you’re injured..

So I’ve not posted for a while, 2016 has been an extremely frustrating year riddled with injuries and setbacks and I usually think if you’ve got nothing nice to say, don’t say anything. 

I’m still waiting to see a specialist for my dodgy hip, but this weekend I pulled my finger out and decided that this new found spare time not training and racing could be filled with things idling on my to do list.

A long time ago I did my Duke of Edinburgh expeditions around Rannoch Moor, and remember vividly the vast bulk of Ben Alder towering over us as we camped near Culra Bothy which I termed at the time “the best campsite in the world”. I always meant to return to climb it and this weekend I finally made time to do it.

The weekend got off to a fantastic start when I pulled over into a tiny side road near Tummel Bridge to let the dog out and had the amazing experience of a Golden Eagle swooping down the road in front of me and off up into the trees. Absolutely magical.

After parking at Dalwhinnie I set out by mountain bike, with the trusty pooch by my side, a rucksack full of kit and food for two days, and headed along the estate road towards Ben Alder Lodge. 

Eventually the road turns up behind the lodge and to slightly rougher ground, Loch Pattack appears into view and alongside it a cool suspension bridge which I negotiated with bike and bag on my shoulders. The dog chose the smarter but chillier option of swimming across.

Contouring around the base of Carn Dearg brought the lovely Culra Bothy into sight with the spectacular backdrop of Ben Alder behind. 

After abandoning the bike at the bothy, sadly closed due to asbestos, we decided to push on and walk up to Bealach Beithe. In part this was to shorten the day ahead, but the real reason was some campers were already set up there and I selfishly wanted the wild to myself so we trotted on.

This is more like it! Just as soon as I pitched the tent the temperature dropped, and it wasn’t long after I’d stuffed some tea down that I was layered up and zipped into my sleeping bag. So began a night of crap sleep, cold feet, rutting deer and a sore hip keeping me awake. I was grateful for the furry hot water bottle tucked in beside me. She was very well behaved for a first camping trip and managed not to set anything on fire with the stove.

I must have dropped off in the small hours because I didn’t wake until well after 7.30am. I unzipped the tent preparing myself for a day of clag and compass bearings and was shocked to see golden sunshine and blue skies greeting me. 

After a quick brew and breaky we set off up Ben Alder via the Short Leachas. I wasn’t sure how difficult the scrambling would be but it turned out to be easy and the dog clambered up with no issues. In fact, as I climbed I thought this would be a fun one to do in winter conditions. I really have to stop adding stuff to that list!

In no time at all we were on the top of Ben Alder. Although a little chilly, it was a small price to pay for the blue sky, bright sunshine and views that money can’t buy. 

A stroll down to the pass and up to Scròn Coire na h-lolaire. Another of the countless hills I’ve been up since moving to Scotland that I can’t pronounce. It provided superb views of Loch Ericht and a reminder of how far we were from the van!

Onto the next munroe Beinn Bheòil and bumped into the only other person I saw on my trip. We exchanged pleasantries and carried on our way. As we started to descend we could see our tiny tent far below and great views of the Leachas we had ascended earlier.

We made a beeline for it and soon we were back at the tent. I packed up the kit, Ellie smashed some dog biscuits and we set off on our walk back to the bothy. For some reason (she’s mental) the dog didn’t seem to be tired and was still keen to play stick which is quite hard with a heavy rucksack! I couldn’t help but to keep sneaking looks back at Ben Alder. I still couldn’t believe my luck with the weather.

Once back at the bothy we saddled up and set off on our final leg. I decided to brave the ‘short cut’ across the bog and once again luck was on my side, because of the dry weather it was easily rideable. Once back on the estate road I tried to ride slowly as the dog likes to run when I ride with her and she has no pacing skills and no idea how far we still had to go. We arrived back at the van still bathed in sunshine with plenty of the day left to enjoy.

The journey so far

After rowing across the Atlantic in 2012 with four other girls, and breaking the female record by 5 days to finish in 45 days, the come down from that high was astronomical.

I had no job to go back to and a gaping void where a year of planning and executing an exciting expedition had been.

Before I could get stuck into planning the next big thing; life, as it does, took an unexpected turn landing me in and out of hospital for three months with a couple of stints in intensive care and 3 major operations.

Lying still has never been one of my strong points but this knocked me flat. It took several months for me to get back on my feet, and take the first steps towards fitness again.

Frustratingly slowly I bullied my body into moving again, heading down to the pool and out with the dog, building up the muscle that had melted away. The feeling of being so weak and so unbelievably out of control for so long fuelled my drive and determination to be strong again.

For someone so independent, this event certainly changed my perspective on life, probably even more so than the ocean row in some ways.

I finally got back in the hills and to running. My first launch back on to the scene was in typical style. I had agreed to swim the first leg of an ironman relay team. This was already pushing me and my battered body further than it should have been, but as our biker was heading back into transition, a crazy thought had already entered my head. I looked at Debs who was about to start our run leg and said hang on, trainers on I’m going to do the marathon with you!

The first half went exceptionally well, being a natural runner I managed the first 2 of 4 laps rather quickly, then the wheels started to fall off. The third lap was slow, the last lap agony. Unsurprising I know! But mind over matter is my favourite mantra, and I proved you can do a marathon (in 4.20) with no training, not even a warm up.

I wouldn’t advocate this to anyone else, the doms over the next three days were hysterical, I could harldy get out of my seat at work much to the hilarity of my colleagues. But inside I had a huge grin. I was back.









2015 has been a very busy and successful year. A new job, a move to Scotland, a coach (Tim Piggot of and some pleasing results thanks to consistent, injury and illness free training.

I really have to thank my coach Tim for this. Although motivation has never been a problem for me, niggles, coughs and colds have hampered my performance in the last couple of years.

Tim has added structure, nutritional advice not to mention rest where needed, and this has made all the difference to my racing in 2015.

I began the year well with strong xc  performances at the Lancs, Northerns and Nationals, and a win at Lancs fell champs.


All my early season training was geared towards the 3 peaks and despite being stuck down in Essex for 5 months, training on the flat actually gave me the speed needed to whizz round in a pb of 3.42 and 4th place. Despite feeling sick the entire way round, a little sick in mouth moment at the top of Whernside, and being pretty hypothermic by the end, I felt strong!


Snowdon followed and although I love this race I was not feeling fresh. This made me set off more conservatively and paid off massively! I had a great run finishing 2nd open lady and amongst the home international runners.


After crashing spectacularly at the 2013 Coast to Coast adventure race, I had been itching for two years to seek my vengeance and had religiously recced the route and trained my ass off as much as possible to give it my best.


I lead from the off, wanting the pressure of maintaining my lead, and the motivation of chasing the other solos down throughout each day. It’s a much nicer feeling than being the one being chased!


The wind on day one was truly testing, particularly on the paddles where it seemed to be two strokes forward one back! It was a battle of wills and I silently thanked my giant shoulders for once!


Day 2 again went without incident, I knew the run and paddle sections would be to my advantage so I pushed myself hard, expecting the mountain bikers to be breathing down my neck on days 3 and 4.


Day 3 was about holding my own and I did. Biking is by far not my strongest discipline, but I had put the work in and it paid off still holding my lead going into the final day.


Day 4 was just about holding it together. Getting a little over excited running over clay bank I got a lost in the mist and ran an extra 3km. Then the ride over the North York moors to Whitby was horrendous in lashing freezing rain.


As soon as I got into the final transition I could enjoy myself as nothing short of a snapped femur would stop me now! I hauled ass around the coastal path to Robin Hoods Bay, high on adrenaline and excited to finish.


This event is made by the organisers,  volunteers and competitiors. The atmosphere, camaraderie and stunning route are unmatched for a multi-day race. I even had a little lump in my throat as I crossed the line, pleased to have achieved what I set out to do.


Not even a week later I took part in the Ben Nevis fell race. Although feeling a little flat from the 4 days of racing, I still felt super strong and just went to enjoy myself. Couldn’t argue with 7th in 2.14 after that!


My next challenge was the Lakes in a Day 48 mile ultra also run by Open Adventure. I had never run this far before let alone the 4000m of ascent involved..

Standing on the start line I really did wonder if for once I’d bitten off more than I could chew. But in typical Helen style the minute the race began I got competitive and decided to just give it all. I had no idea how to pace a race that distance so I just went for it.

Pulling away on the first hill I thought here we go, game on; and arrived at the first check point in good time, loving the fast run off down Halls fell to Threlkeld.



Image © all rights reserved

The section to Ambleside was long but it was a beautiful day, if not a little hot and I arrived feeling good.


A quick sock change for my feet (great decision) and I was away to slog out the second half. I had a little dip in this section, struggling to get enough food in but had the great motivation of falling into step with another runner (Kuba Snochowski) we had cat and moused for some of the day and had settled into a similar pace pulling each other along in turn.

Image © all rights reserved

My feet were getting sore (understatement of the year) by this point and I had decided I had earnt a 5 minute sit down at the final checkpoint and some proper food. This was not to be! As I arrives I was kindly informed that Sabs was only 1km behind and I had better shift myself if I wanted the win!!

This spoilt what had been a self dictated pace for most of the day into a panicked final 10miles! I dug as deep as I could and smashed out the final leg finishing half an hour ahead of the next lady and joint 5th overall with Kuba. We had been through the wringer the second half of the race and decided it was the right thing to cross the line together which was lovely. 


I finished in exactly 11 hours breaking the women’s record. This sounds delightful but trust me lying face down in the changing rooms and vomiting in the shower afterwards, not to mention the hole my race vest had rubbed in my back made it a hard fought win!

This race took me at least a month if not 6 weeks to recover my mojo and I slowly started to focus on my final goal for the year, the 38 mile Tour de Helvellyn with Nav4.

I had recced the route and training had gone well. What I hadn’t really prepared for was the apocalypse that had hit the lakes in the weeks preceding, and the gale force winds we were to encounter for the whole race!

Ever the competitive sod, I set off determined not to let the weather get the better of me, and proceeded to do battle into a horrific headwind for the first 20 miles. Having set off around 8.30, I was towards the back of the field which I like, as for the majority of the day I was picking folks off and had mini goals to achieve.

By the time I had arrived at the forest at Thirlmere, I had passed all the girls and had fewer and fewer guys to pass as the race thinned out. It was really sad to see the damage the flooding had caused and it made for an interesting obstacle course across bursting rivers, flooded paths and debris.

I barely stopped at Side Farm just dibbing and legging it, keen to get the race finished in daylight (if you can call the grey, rainy gloom daylight!). The last section was tough and I was starting to slow, grateful of the now tailwind pushing me homewards towards Askham and a cup of tea!

I got back to finish first lady in 7.21 and 8th overall. In those conditions I was chuffed and can’t wait to see what time I can do on a calm year.

2016 I’ll be looking to longer stuff as it
seems to be where I’m best suited as well as trail and mountain.

Happy new year to all and happy racing.