TV presenter, record breaker and all round wonder woman Helen Skelton spoke to runABC about her love of running …
Who is Helen Skelton?
An ex-Blue Peter presenter, I can now be found enjoying the British countryside on Countryfile and other BBC programmes.
When did the love affair with running begin?
Well, it wasn’t at school. I was really sporty – but rubbish at running. I just couldn’t find the fun in it. But then I hit my twenties and found myself working in the TV industry. Due to the nature of the shows I was on, I was travelling all over the world and living something of an Alan Partridge lifestyle! Packing my trainers meant I could get out and explore the places I was visiting and it also meant I didn’t feel so guilty about the unhealthy aspects of TV life.
How did you go from that to the Namibian Ultra challenge?
I joined Blue Peter in 2007 and after my first year the producers wanted each of us (presenters) to come up with a challenge – I happened to say that I had always held a lot of respect for those who do the Marathon des Sables, but I couldn’t take the necessary seven days off work to do it. So we found the Namibian Ultra as an alternative and that was that!
Tell us more?
Ignorance really did lead me into agreeing to take part. I agreed in December and did it in the March. I went from barely running, to running constantly. It was good for me though as I was focused, it was a short window. It was now or never. When I got to camp there were only three women; I was younger than most and rocked up with blonde extensions and a strapless dress while they were all lean, hardy runners with the right kit. They all took bets on me completing the course and not one of them thought I would make it to the finish.
So what did you learn?
I started out trying to prove the others wrong and ended up proving something to myself. I was in pieces at the end, but I made it. The day after I couldn’t get out of bed, my mum had to get in the shower with me to wash my hair. It is the challenge I am most proud of – as it is something that other people can relate to. Everyone knows how tough running can be. I am no runner, adventurer or explorer – I just like to make good TV. The beauty of this challenge was that kids got into it too – they know what it means to run and so hopefully I inspired a few to do just that.
Would you do another one?
Strange as it seems, I would love to do another. But give me a few years, I am still dining out on that one. If I did do another it would need to be a cold one though – I don’t think I could hack the heat again.
Ultras aside, you are a bit of a marathon pro too?
Well I wouldn’t say that, but I have taken part in London twice and New York too. In terms of UK events, I would like to do Edinburgh some time soon and would love to go back to Istanbul to run there again.
You have all these long distances under your belt, but do you have a favourite distance?
For me, half marathon is the perfect distance. And so the Great North Run is one of my absolute favourite events, I must have done it about six times now.
The GNR is a big charity event, what charities do you support when racing?
I have run for Leonard Cheshire in the past. And I would like to run for RNIB. My plan is to get myself fit enough to be a guide runner for someone. Perhaps that will be my next challenge.
You say ‘get fit’, but surely you are a pretty fit girl most of the time?
Yes I suppose I am, but right now I am six months pregnant [Helen has since given birth to a boy - Ernie] and so I am not quite at the fitness levels of before. I have been able to remain pretty active so far – doing loads of swimming, walking and pilates which will all hopefully stand me in good stead for when I return to running post-baby.
Are you a girl that trains alone or with friends?
Last year I did a lot of running with my friend and she was brilliant fun. We laugh about our runs now as we caught up and gossiped and really did more talking than running
What about a favourite training route?
Bridgewater Canal (Warrington) is a favourite – it is close to home and I love heading out past the fields and into the countryside.
And cross training?
I get really bored if do the same thing over and over, so need to mix it up. Zumba, swimming, spinning, pilates, walking. You name it. I’ve done it!
Do you have a favourite product at the moment?
I am a little obsessed with Karrimor’s Duma trainers, I wear them every day when I am out power walking with the dog. The cushioning is great, they don’t look heavy and work great with jeans or leggings.
I mix and match – if I am totally on my own then I will listen to music as I think it helps with motivation. But never when I am running on the road, that’s just dangerous!
No – I am not into that, I walk barefoot all the time and my feet are like trotters, but I am not at all into barefoot running.
I like to know what time I have done a distance in, but for me sometimes you can run and feel good and then look at your time and not have done as well as you thought which takes the enjoyment factor away.
My trainers are always in my holiday bag. In fact I went for a run on Christmas Day while on my honeymoon in Abu Dhabi!