Suffolk athlete Davies targets Olympic qualifying time ahead of new-look London Marathon
- Credit: EDWARD THOMAS
The 2020 London Marathon– but not as we know it – takes place on October 4 with Ipswich JAFFA’s Helen Davies in the elite ladies’ field. Athletics correspondent Carl Marston talks to Suffolk’s leading lady ahead of the big day
Although the masses will not be taking part in the London Marathon this year, Suffolk’s leading lady Helen Davies will be toeing the line with big ambitions in just over three weeks time.
Davies will be part of the revamped 26.2-mile race for elite athletes, which will feature multi-laps of a Horse Guards Parade loop, rather than the traditional crowd-lined route from Greenwich to The Mall, after the original event scheduled for April was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
And instead of 45,000 runners, of all shapes and sizes, many of them in fancy-dress and running for charity, there will be less than 50 in the elite men’s and elite women’s fields in action on Sunday, October 4.
Davies admits that it will feel “odd,” but she is relishing the opportunity to post a big personal best and perhaps give herself an outside chance of being considered for selection for next year’s rearranged Olympic Games in Tokyo.
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To even be in contention for a place, or to come close to the 2hrs 29mins Olympic qualifying time would be a terrific achievement for an athlete who now competes in the veteran over-40 age group.
“The London Marathon is still very much on for me, though it will feel more like a championship marathon than a big city marathon,” explained Davies, who recorded a swift PB of 2:34:06 on completing a hat-trick of Brighton Marathon victories last year.
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“The Olympic qualifying time is 2:29, but there will obviously be some British girls capable of going two or three minutes quicker.
“Still, October 4 is a great opportunity for me to run a fast marathon.
“It’s a chance me to run a 2:29 or 2:30, which would be a massive achievement for me.
“I’d like to run a good time to at least put my name in the hat for selection, while others will still have to post the times before selection.
“I’d like to run a PB and see where that takes me.
“I have always known that I can run a lot faster than I did at my last Brighton Marathon. I know I can run close to 2:30, although I will be heading into this race blind, because of not having had any races in the build up.”
Davies, who lives in Rushmere St Andrew near Ipswich, represented her country in the marathon at both the European Championships and Commonwealth Games in 2010, and more recently finished second at last year’s Ultra 50K World Championships in Romania.
Now the Ipswich JAFFA stalwart is grateful for the opportunity to be one of the select few runners to take part in what will be the 40th staging of the London event.
“It will feel nothing like the usual London Marathon,” admitted Davies, who is coached by Clive Sparkes.
“It will essentially be a championship race. It will feel odd, especially as there is a distinct possibility that a few of the Ethiopians or Kenyans will be lapping us (1.5-mile laps) towards the end of the race.
“I think it will be more mentally challenging, and a totally different experience.
“There will be no crowds, so it will be a very different scenario. I just have to stay mentally strong.
“But I feel very privileged to be a part of the race, it’s a unique opportunity. I am very grateful to the London organisers for putting a race on for the professional athletes.
“The fact that it’s now a multi-lap course hasn’t affected my training. It’s still a very fast and flat course, and the distance is still a 26.2 miles.
“Several of my championship races have been on multi-lap courses, including Romania (World Ultra 50K Championships) which was six laps, the Commonwealth Games (in New Delhi, India, 10 years ago) which was eight laps, and Barcelona for the European Championships which was 5K loops.
“So lapped courses do not concern me. I don’t think I’ll notice it much during the race, and it can have its benefits because it will be a different kind of mind-game, where you can tick off the laps.”
Davies’ last competitive outing was just before the national lockdown kicked in, when she finished third overall and first lady at the Stowmarket Half-Marathon on March 15, having decided against running the more high-profile Bath Half-Marathon on the same day due to the early beginnings of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“I’ve managed to maintain high mileage in training throughout lockdown and the summer, with a minimum of 80 miles per week,” continued Davies.
“When I knew London was happening, for the elite runners, I could step it up and then count down to the big day.
“I have been in the high 90s and sometimes over 100 miles a week. I ran 102 miles last week and will complete 110 miles this week.
“I have kept telling my coach (Clive Sparkes) that I don’t feel fit enough, but then I always do this in the build-up to a big race, and then usually knock out a big half-marathon!
“There’s usually a natural break in training, when you do the build-up races, which gives you a true measure of fitness. But instead it’s been one relentless slog of training. It’s been hard work, solidly training without any recovery breaks.
“I got myself into a bit of a pit of over-training, without the structure of races.
“But I know I am fit, and I feel that everything has fallen into place over the last two weeks.
“During lockdown, it was always in the back of my mind - would the race take place? Would there be anything at the end of my training?
“At the end of June, I heard that if it was not possible for the London event to go ahead as normal in October, then there would still definitely be an elite race.
“I have known it was going ahead for the last eight weeks.
“The April race was stacked with top British women. But the size of that original line-up has shrunk to about a third, which has changed the whole dynamic.
“Many leading British women have decided not to run this October, which is strange because it is essentially a trial for the Olympics.
“Maybe there will also be another trial in April, but it’s very odd that the British field has been depleted, although it’s still a very good line-up,” added Davies.
Davies is sponsored by Coes, of Ipswich, and is also supported by The Coffee Mod (artisan Suffolk roasted coffee), Hub Sport (Nini Severino’s initiative) and FTC Gym (owned by John Grindrod).
Her strength and conditioning coach is Kieran Leggett, of Viking Vitality.