In this new series, I will be chatting to ladies who run off road or ultra distances and my first interview is with Helen Bly. I met Helen at the Belvoir Challenge marathon this year when she was preparing to run her first ultra. Running has transformed her life and she is now using it as a means to help other people. I find her story inspirational and hope you enjoy hearing a bit about her…
When and why did you start running?
I was a size 18 and I decided in the autumn of 2012 that I wanted to be able to run. Just as simple as that, although progressing to be able to run wasn’t as quick as that. I started with the walk/run method, only running 30 seconds on the very first runs and progressing to running a mile within the first 6 weeks. It was slow progress but I was hooked very quickly. Within 2 years I had dropped 5 stone and I was down to a size 8. By April 2015 I was running my first marathon.
What made you want to try an ultra-marathon?
I think it was seeing how amazing they looked. Everyone was always posting their photos and journeys on social media and it had always made me want to do one. There was one I especially wanted to accomplish and that was the Canalathon. This encompassed my normal long training run routes along the Rochdale Canal. I had wanted to do it in 2016, but it was too close to the London Marathon so I was determined it was going to be my first ultra-marathon in 2017.
What does your normal training consist of?
At the moment, as I am running a marathon a month, my normal training consists of running 4 times a week. The number of miles I run just depends where I am in the month. Just after I’ve run a marathon I will run less, the 2 weeks in between I will run around a 35 mile week, and the week before the next marathon I will taper down again so I have slightly fresher legs.
Did you do anything differently in preparing to run an ultra?
As I am running so many marathons this year this has been brilliant preparation for my ultras. My last two ultras I have run a marathon 4 weeks before. I have then run a long run in the weeks after and tapered down. I would say I have put slightly more miles in before the ultras than before just the marathons. I carb load a couple of days before as I would for a marathon too.
Tell us about the challenge you have set yourself this year?
I had read about another runner being matched with a child via the Facebook page Irun4Michael. The basic premise is that children who cannot walk/run are matched with runners who dedicate miles to them. I thought this was an amazing idea and joined a waiting list to be matched with a buddy.
I waited a long time to be matched, but was finally matched with my little buddy Evan. Evan has Angelman Syndrome, which means he cannot run and suffers seizures. I got to know his family via Facebook and they became some of my biggest supporters. They decided to come to support me at a race in November 2016 and I was blown away. I knew I wanted to do something really special in 2017 in Evan’s name, so I chose the charity ASSERT who support families with Angelman Syndrome. I already had a couple of big races lined up and I thought about doing 12 races but this didn’t seem big enough. I had already run 2 marathons in 2016, so 12 marathons/ultra-marathons it was!
(You can support Helen’s fundraising efforts via her Just Giving page.)
What is your favourite item of trail/ultra running kit?
Definitely my Ultimate Direction backpack/vest. I run nearly all the time in it, even shorter distances. It’s perfect for carrying equipment, food, water and essentials like your phone, a map and compass. I wear the male version as this one has two pockets on the front for water bottles and I like to get my water in and out on runs.
What advice would you give to a new trail runner?
For me, real trail running is running in the countryside and I don’t get a chance to do much of that, although I do run a lot on the canal and gravelly/cobble tracks. I am not the fastest, but I love the countryside. Make sure you find the right trail shoes; it took me a lot of trial and error to get the right ones with the right support and I run from road to trail.
Who or what inspires you?
I love the support I get from social media groups, particularly from the UKrunchat community on Twitter and Born To Run on Facebook. Here there are such inspirational runners (too many to mention!) who inspire me because they are doing incredible things for charity or just because they are amazing runners. Susie Chan is just a legend and she inspires me to go further than I have before.
What do you wish you’d known when you started running?
That it wasn’t as free as people made out… haha, only kidding! I don’t think there’s anything as it’s been a real journey for me. I have learnt so much in the last (almost) 5 years. I think you can only really learn from the mistakes you make and, in turn, grow from them.
Where is your favourite place to run?
Along the Rochdale Canal. I can run to Manchester – it takes 12 miles. Or I can run in the other direction, which goes right through to Yorkshire – it changes from an industrial landscape into beautiful countryside and the views of the Pennines are amazing.
Aside from here, Guernsey. It’s just the most beautiful place; if you’ve never been, you must go! I ran the Guernsey Ultra and did some marathon training here and it’s my favourite place to run that isn’t here on the UK mainland.
What would you say to other women thinking of taking on an ultra-marathon, or other long distance challenge?
Book it! Don’t think about it! It’s the most amazing feeling to accomplish it. It’s so different to running a marathon; it’s slower and so much friendlier. I was astounded by how much of an atmosphere it was. Everyone chats to each other and the time flies by. You get to eat sweets, crisps and cakes. I mean, who wouldn’t want to eat a picnic whilst running?!
What do you get up to when you are not running?
I work in a school and I am Mum to two girls, Elinor (12) and Lily (11). They keep me busy when I am not running! I don’t usually have much other spare time as I am usually blogging, fundraising or on social media!
You can read more about Helen’s running adventures on her blog and social media channels: