Helen Davies has unfinished business with marathon after she suffers in the wet and cold of London Marathon
- Credit: PA
Suffolk athlete Helen Davies still has unfinished business with the marathon, after the terrible weather conditions put paid to her chances of a personal best time at this morning’s elite-only London Marathon.
Davies was targeting a time of in-or-around the Olympic Games qualifying mark of just under 2hrs 30mins, but the cold wind and constant rain dashed those hopes around a gruelling 19.6 laps of a 1.5-mile bio-secure close course around St James’s Park.
The 41-year-old Ipswich JAFFA star went through half-way in 1:17:34, but was already cramping up due to the wet and cold, and so decided to call it a day and drop out before the 25K mark.
“It’s obviously not the outcome I would have wanted, and I’m desperately disappointed,” explained Davies.
“They were very difficult, challenging circumstances, which I wasn’t ready for, even though I thought it would be fine.
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“It was torrential rain when we reached the start, and we were told to wait in the tent to avoid getting too cold.
“But we were still out of there with 20 minutes to go, and disrobing 10 minutes before the start in the cold, with no real warm-up and so with the muscles not having a chance to warm up.
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“It was not the ideal preparation. Breakfast was at 3.45am, and we had to meet in the lounge at 4.30am to catch the coach. I have dealt with early starts before, like in Toronto and Romania (World Ultra Championships), but not like this one. It was dark, cold and wet when we got to the start.
“My body did not feel right from the start, but I kept saying to myself that it would be fine, and I actually started OK, running low 3:30s each kilometre.
“Basically, we had to deal with heavy rain and a moderately strong wind as well, so you were getting soaked to the skin and then hit by the wind, so you gradually just got colder rather than warmed up.
“I started to get bad cramps in my hamstrings just before half-way, so that I slowed the pace for a lap and that just meant I got colder.
“I was on a hiding to nothing, and knew that I couldn’t redeem it with still nearly half the race to go.
“Aly (Dixon) had dropped off the main Olympic (qualifying) pace group and I had caught her up after six or seven miles, and then picked it up at 10 miles when I felt the pace slowing.
“But it all suddenly hit me, after half-way. The cramps in my legs were getting worse, and you can’t imagine the mental battle that was going on in my head, about whether or not I should drop out.
“The arguments kept racing to and fro in my mind, but in the end it was my body that called the decision.
“I was physically shaking, so much so that I couldn’t even talk. It’s not the way I wanted to end the race, dropping out, but the cramps really took hold as soon as I stopped running.
“It’s so frustrating, but I was no longer on PB (personal best) time pace and there was no real achievement in carrying on to just finish third British women out of three finishers, in a time of around 2:40.
“It’s the hardest decision to make, to drop out, but I am experienced enough to know when to stop, to avoid any lasting damage.
“I have no regrets.
“It was never going to be an easy day for me, regardless of the conditions. The easier decision would have been just to write off the whole year.
“But I would have had more regrets if I had been sitting at home watching it on TV, thinking that I could have run the times of the leading British women,” added Davies, whose story as an elite athlete is a remarkable one.
Davies has already defied the odds in recent years, following her return to competitive action after the birth of her two sons, Kingsley and Hector.
Remarkably, she has gone on to run quicker times than she did earlier in her career, when she represented her country at both the European Championships (in Barcelona) and Commonwealth Games (in Delhi), both in 2010, and narrowly missed out on the London Olympics of 2012.
Her last London Marathon had been eight years ago, in 2012, when she posted 2:34:11.
On her return to serious competition, after a five-year absence, Davies has gone on to scoop a hat-trick of Brighton Marathon titles, including setting a personal best time of 2:34:06 at the third of these triumphs in 2019.
She also had a successful move up to the Ultra distance in the late summer of 2019, finishing second to scoop a silver medal in the 50K Ultra World Championships in Romania.
She wants to have another crack at this Ultra event, although she will also probably be looking to focus on another marathon next year, to make inroads into her PB.
Her coach Clive Sparkes confirmed: “Helene is naturally disappointed, and feels that she has let people down, which she obviously hasn’t.
“She was freezing cold, even before half-way, and because of the horrendous conditions, with the cold and the rain, her muscles were also cold and she was cramping up in her hamstrings and glutes.
“It was really affecting her. She was not able to generate enough heat to run effectively, so the sensible option was not to carry on.
“She explained that even if she had worn more clothes, that would not have helped, because they would have just got wet and heavy, even the most light-weight of materials.
“It would have been a pointless exercise for her to just carry on and get around, with her cramping up at just half-way.
“She is past the point in her career of just finishing marathons for the sake of them, and she lives to fight another day. You can’t legislate for the weather, and lots of others dropped out as well, including fellow Brits Steph Twell and Lily Partridge.
“It’s unfortunate for Helen, but I still believe that she can run a new PB for the marathon, I am convinced of that.
“She has nothing to prove, I know she can come back and run a fast marathon,” added Sparkes.
Only the elite runners were in action this morning, on a closed, spectator-free course, with the usual mass participation event only happening virtually because of COVID-19 restrictions.
A total of 45,000 runners from around the world are expected to take part in a virtual London Marathon over the course of today.
The 40th staging of the event had been rescheduled from its traditional April date because of coronavirus.
The women’s title went to World record holder Brigid Kosgei, who retained her London Marathon title in such testing conditions.
The 26-year-old Kenyan, who broke Paula Radcliffe’s world record in Chicago last year, broke the tape in 2hrs 18mins 58secs, having broken clear of world champion Ruth Chepngetich after the 18-mile mark.
There was an exciting battle for second spot, with Chepngetich being dramatically overhauled by American Sara Hall, the latter launching a last ditch sprint to snatch the runners-up berth.
Of the other leading British female contenders, Steph Twelllimped out around mile 16, while Lily Partridge, the 2018 British champion, also failed to finish.
In their absence, Natasha Cockram and Naomi Mitchell fought for the domestic title, with Cockram finishing four seconds ahead of her rival in 13th spot in 2:33:19.