Decker prepares for England debut

HELEN Decker, Suffolk's leading female distance runner, will be representing her country this weekend, a mere five years after joining her first running club.

Carl Marston

HELEN Decker will be representing her country this weekend, a mere five years after joining her first running club.

Decker, of Ipswich JAFFA, will be running for Team England at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, which incorporates the International Team Challenge.

The 29-year-old travelled out to Canada this week, with her coach Clive Sparkes, and will be toeing the line on Sunday for the biggest race of her life.

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It's a far cry from when she used to just run for a bit of fun, a couple of times a week. In the intervening five years she has broken every JAFFA club record (apart from the little raced 15 miles), from five kilometres right up to the marathon.

Now established as the best female distance runner in Suffolk, since Sally Eastall used to be a regular at major Championships nearly 20 years ago, Decker is looking to become a regular international.

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It is perhaps a long shot, at the moment, to suggest that she has a chance of running at the Olympic Games in London 2012, but if she continues to improve at the rate she has shown over the last year, then an appearance at a major championships cannot be ruled out.

“I'm excited about the trip, though a little nervous about the race,” admitted Decker.

“The phone call came out of the blue. Ian Ladbroke, the coach of Team England, asked me whether I would like to compete for England. I didn't need time to think about it. I just said “yes” straight away!

“I initially started running just for fitness and fun. It was cheaper than a gym. I ran my first race at the Woodbridge 10K in 2002, and ended up finishing third lady.

“I did the same event a year later, and once again finished third lady, though a couple of minutes faster this time.

“I didn't join Ipswich JAFFA until the end of 2003. The club's then vice-chairman, Clive Kirk, used to drink at the Black Tiles pub in Martlesham where I worked, and it was he who suggested I should come along to the club.

“I went down the following Monday. I had no real idea about running, and just wanted to run with a few other people. But leading club runners at the time, like Maria Davis and Terry Back, said that I had a good style and looked a natural runner,” added Decker.

Her coach Clive Sparkes has been a stalwart of JAFFA for the last 30 years, and himself was a very experienced runner whose mileage in training equated to running around the world. Sparkes is a former chairman, with a PB of 2.45.49 for the marathon, set at the old Ipswich Marathon in 1987.

Decker linked up with her mentor two years ago.

“I ran my first marathon in Bungay in 2005, basically just to get the qualifying time for the London Marathon. I ran 3.13.27 (and was first lady), which got me a place in the elite start for the following year,” said Decker.

“My training became more structured under Clive. I ran 2.56.52 at London in 2006, which was a club record at the time.

“I now run six days a week, often twice a day, and do a couple of speed sessions a week, usually one on the track and one hill session. I also go to the gym (at Martlesham) a couple of times a week for conditioning.

“As a result, I managed to run 2.47.43 at London earlier this year. I was targeting 2.45, but the last 10 kilometres were run in wind and rain. If all goes well, I might get close to it at Toronto,” added Decker.

This Sunday will be the first time that she has competed abroad, so it's very much a learning curve.

Decker continued: “The course is flat. A couple of club-mates ran in the race last year, and they loved it. Much of the marathon is along the waterfront beside Lake Ontario. The only factor might be wind off the lake.

“I'm not sure how I will react to all the travelling and the hotel accommodation. There's also the added pressure of running for England, which I'm not used to. Usually, it's just me and my watch.

“Clive thinks that I'll be quicker than 2.45, based on all my training, but you never know with the marathon. I will just run how I feel.”

Looking ahead, Decker has not ruled out the possibility of competing for Great Britain at the Olympic Games, or another major championship event, although as yet that is just a pipedream.

Decker will be in her mid-30s by the time of the London Games of 2012, which is generally considered to be the ideal age for a marathon runner - Paula Radcliffe is currently 34.

However, Decker is at present a long way off achieving that goal. She currently has a personal best of 2.47.43, while in addition to world record holder Paula Radcliffe (2.15.25), fellow Britons Mary Yamauchi and Liz Yelling have both run marathons in the 2.20s.

“I need to continue my current rate of improvement, but who knows? I will just be giving it my all,” explained Decker, who competes for Team England at the Toronto Marathon on Sunday.

“I want to see how quick I can get, although I know that it's going to get harder to keep getting faster.

“I suppose ultimately I would love to run a sub 2.40 marathon. To get into the 2.30s and qualify for a major championships would be great. I'll be giving it a go.

“I've made massive changes in my lifestyle, with my job and training. I left my job at the Black Tiles pub last April, and am now working for the National Trust at Sutton Hoo.

“I used to work long days of up to 12 hours at the pub, which restricted my training. I was always too tired to train properly and was not eating properly.

“But now I'm working 35 to 40 hours a week with the National Trust, and it's a lot quieter during the winter.

“I'm 29 at the moment, so will be 33 by the time that the London Olympics comes around. We'll have to see how fast I'm running in a few years. I guess it's a might be,” added Decker.

Helen Decker's personal best times, which are all Ipswich JAFFA club records:

5K: 17.07 (Harwich, July)

5 miles: 28.15 (Essex PB, June)

10K: 35.32 (Bushey, July)

10 miles: 58.59 (Welwyn Garden City, September)

Half-marathon: 1.18.08 (Great Bentley, February)

20 miles: 2.05.45 (Bury, February)

Marathon: 2.47.43 (London, April)

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