Helene Whitaker discusses returning to the Dragon's Den

Berghaus are proud to be sponsoring Helene as she enters the Dragon’s Back race again, twenty years later, and we caught up with her as she prepares for the race…

Helene, the Dragon’s Back is a daunting race with an almost mythical status, how does it feel entering the race again?

It’s very, very scary. I have forgotten most of the pain involved in it which is why I probably have entered again. I am very much looking forward to being there and taking part without any pressure or expectation. I really want to go out and have 5 really nice days of running in wales. I have 2 aims; firstly to get to the start line. Secondly, I would very much like to get across that finish line. Neither are foregone conclusions.

In the twenty years since the original race you have had a family. How do you balance training with your family?

As best I can. I get up early to fit sessions in so it affects the family and work less. I have a very understanding husband who wants me to do the Dragon’s Back. That makes all the difference. I am very lucky and I know it.
I have never been one to do millions of miles, even when doing long races years ago – my body didn’t like it … and I got bored too. I try to make what I do count. I have always been a firm believer that running slowly for miles makes you good at running slowly for miles. It doesn’t make you faster or better.
I try to mix it with days out the family and combine days out on the hills with walks with them or sometimes I just have to enter races to make myself do harder longer runs.

Training for races such as the Dragon’s Back must mean sacrifices. What is it you miss the most?

It’s good to have something to aim for. I am not sure I sacrifice much – my family makes the sacrifice by giving me time to disappear for long hours at a time and putting up with a shabby heap of sweat that reappears in a grumpy state that’s too sore to play “tig”.
Running for 5 days in the Welsh mountains, with over 45,000ft of ascent must require a massive amount of determination. What keeps you motivated during races?
Actually it is very enjoyable doing long distance travelling across mountains on foot. I love being in the mountains (any mountains…and deserts too for that matter), the views, and the wilderness. I enjoy the navigational challenges and the skill of maximising your own chances. It’s hard to keep body and soul together after a time and how you eat, drink and what you wear makes all the difference.

You’ve obviously got a huge passion for running, how did you get started?

I used to skip PE as I hated volleyball – it hurts you! Then one day we had a new PE teacher who made me go out and actually ran around with us. Kate introduced me to windsurfing, rock climbing and I ran my first marathon with her from Marathon to Athens (where I was at school) in 4.00.25 at the age of 17.

We’re incredibly excited about the Dragon’s Back race and wish Helene and Steve Birkenshaw, our other sponsored athlete, the best of luck.