Quakers Member Spotlight, August 2020 – Helen Clark

by | Aug 7, 2020 | Member Spotlights

How did you get into running and why?

I’m not exactly sure of the reason I started running, I’d always enjoyed keeping fit and at that time there was something missing in my life. We’d always had horses to keep us busy growing up and after they’d gone I had a lot of spare time on my hands. However, I’d barely managed the mile and half at school and certainly hadn’t enjoyed it.  I signed up for the Race For Life 5K at the South Park in 2006 as I felt cancer research was an important charity and it was close to heart. And so I began training so that I could at least run it. After that I just found it an easy form of fitness that I could do anywhere and straight from my front door, coupled with the fact that I could be outdoors. This was handy once I became a mum and had to relocate with my husband’s job in the RAF.

What kept you going when you first started running?

Having an event to do is good motivation to keep going, but my partner also kept me going, giving me encouragement and getting me to run first between two lamp posts and then between 2 lots of lamp posts.

How much training do you typically do each week?

Typically I try to do three or four runs a week, two 5k’s (perhaps including a Parkrun), a long run or event on the weekend, and a club run if I can make it. Obviously that’s all changed now with lockdown. I’ve tried running more and doing RunEveryDay but it just doesn’t suit me, I end up with tight muscles (and without my regular massages from Lynsey that leads to me having annoying niggles). Besides, running every day makes it a chore instead of fun.

 Be honest, do you enjoy training?

I do enjoy training, if my legs are feeling good. It still always takes me at least half an hour to get out the door, I have a cup of tea, look out of the window several times, huff and puff a little, pop to the loo, but once I’m out of the door and moving I enjoy it.  I love training at club runs too because it makes me push myself and you always finish feeling like you’ve worked hard.

Do you do any other sports or fitness activities?

It’s hard to fit other sports in around work and running, but I do go to Aikido once a week. I started training abroad in 2015 and was delighted to discover an Aikido club in Darlington. It’s great fun and good for staying supple… I thought learning how to roll would come in handy on my occasional trips when out running, but unfortunately not!  I’ve started Pilates again with Nick Watson and am hoping this will help keep things moving.

  Do you manage to fit in any other hobbies?

I don’t manage to fit much else in with family life. I have been learning French during lockdown and would like to keep going with it, one of my good friends from University is French and I’ve never had time to do it – it would be nice to one day speak to her in French (though that may be a while yet). Other than that I enjoy pottering around my garden.

Tell us about some of the races that you’ve done in the past

It’s hard to choose just a few! In February this year I competed in the Duergar, a Cold Brew event, it was a pretty extreme experience. It was a night race on a course I’d never ran on before, it climbed up from Rothbury into the Simonside Hills before looping around and back down again. As it had been pretty wet and the weather forecast was bleak, they cut it short for fear of falling trees.  The start was next to a river which was beginning to flood, and as we set off into the night the snow began to fall and a blizzard whipped snow into our faces. It was harsh. On the way back down it was more like a skiing race and you were lucky if you stayed on your feet. The soup at the end was certainly welcome. I’m hoping to do it again next year! Slightly further north, a race series that I really recommend is the Cheviot Trails, they are a series of races that take place at Wooler. They generally range between 8 and 10 miles, with a bus taking you out to the start and a beautiful scenic run back. They are very small events run by a really friendly group of people. No medal or T-shirt at the end just a chocolate bar and a beaming smile. I have two really fond memories of these races both with my sister’s Emily Beaumont and Karen Dove – and both involving snow. The Ingram to Wooler route has two river crossings (optional but a must I think) and the Hethpool to Wooler route (A Winter’s Trail) is magical.  Wooler has some nice places to relax at the end, and treat yourself to a hot cuppa and cake.

Some other races that I thoroughly enjoyed last year were in the Quaker’s 10K races series. I found the whole series a great experience, from the motivation to push yourself beyond your comfort zone to the amazing support and camaraderie from the other Quaker members. Not to mention some really fab races. For me it started at Kirbymoorside with a fantastic downhill finish, included some great village 10Ks such as Staveley, Burton Leonard and Snape which provided lots of yummy goodies at the end, and it ended at Ravenstonedale – one of my favourites – with its fantastic undulating course and beautiful scenery. If you’re lucky here you might encounter a crisp frost before being cheered in by fellow Quakers, it certainly is ‘no Quaker left behind’ here, and then you can go back to the cosy village hall to have hot soup and be in with the chance of winning the much coveted prize of a bundle of logs (amongst other fantastic prizes lol). These are definitely the races that I’ve missed the most this year.

What’s your current running goal?

My current running goal is just to run and feel like I have my fitness back – I’ve had a few little niggling injuries. I’m looking forward to picking up some new road shoes and getting training properly again.  I’d like to improve my time over a mile, I’d been doing Dean’s Dash over lockdown to help challenge myself… and trying to catch up with my little sister Emily is always great motivation.

What are your longer term running goals?

I had a few events cancelled and so am looking forward to being able to train for the deferred races. I have the Dark Skies Kielder Marathon to look forward to again, followed by the Tyne Trails South Ultra. I completed Trail Outlaws St Cuthbert’s Way 100km last year and finished slowly with pretty poor feet and am hoping that I will be able to run the 70km much more comfortably.  Another goal is to compete in the next Quaker’s 10K league and beat my sister – this seems to be a recurring theme (last year she won by a couple of points and we had an amazing time competing against each other) or beat my times at the very least. I would also like to compete in another race abroad, after having a fabulous time in Ireland with Emily last year.

What is your favourite race/distance/terrain?

My favourite distance is half marathon. I love it that I can run pretty hard for the full distance, feel like I’ve done some work and feel like I can eat all the cakes I want when I get back because I deserve it!  Plus there are some pretty beautiful half marathon routes, especially if you like mixed terrain events. Some of my favourites include Hadrian’s Wall half and Thrunton Woods half.  Another must, which I usually do with my sister Karen every year, is the Worksop Half – it takes place at Halloween and everyone dresses up. The atmosphere is always fab. 

What are your proudest running achievements?

When I first got my 5k under 30 minutes – I achieved this running laps around the compound where we lived in sunny Saudi Arabia. Also my first 10K event that I got under the hour – this was at the Clumber Park 10K in 2017. I’d achieved this after joining the Sleaford Striders running club in Lincolnshire. I’m also particularly proud of my first marathon (Dark Skies) and of completing the St Cuthbert’s Way ultra. More recently, it was a proud moment to get my new 10K PB at Heaton Harriers Memorial road race, it was towards the end of the last years 10k league and I was feeling pretty fit, but I was still surprised by my time of 52.04 – I’m not sure what happened there! 

Although not an achievement, I’m also incredibly proud when I get the chance to run with my family. Such as completing the Yomp at Kirby Steven with my husband and son, and Dark Skies, among others, with both my sisters also competing.

Anything in your running experience you regret?

I haven’t any regrets really, we’ve all made running mistakes but we learn from them. I’ve raced and wished I’d brought a drink or a few sweets for when I’ve hit a wall – for example one race I was so grateful for a stranger handing out jelly babies, I really don’t know how I would have finished the race without them. During my first Dark Skies event, I really wished I would have stopped to put on extra layers once the sun went down, but I kept on running because I didn’t want to waste time and finished feeling so cold. I was more prepared the second time.

How many pairs of trainers/ running shoes do you have and do you have a favourite pair?

I don’t actually have that many trainers – my husband has just given me a funny look and I said ‘I don’t!’ but actually I do have a few now I’m listing them in my head (not as many as most runners I’m sure). I have one pair of roads, three pairs of trails (which is always useful in case they get wet and muddy, also I haven’t quite settled on which is the best pair yet), a pair of Ons which I won but couldn’t quite get away with, a lovely pair of Brooks which I can’t run in and so have become my going out trainers and then a couple of old pairs that I use in the garden. I’m not sure I have a favourite pair but I’m really getting into my Hoka trails at the moment, they are providing much needed support around the heels, and so I have just ordered some Hoka road shoes in the hope that they will become my favourites.

What’s your idea of running heaven?

I love going to a new event and running a new route, I don’t mind if it’s road or mixed trail as long as it’s in the countryside, undulating and scenic. Bonus points if there is a technical downhill or a river crossing. I don’t mind going alone and just taking in the atmosphere.  I’m happy in my own company.  But I also love running the trails with my sisters.

What’s your idea of running hell?

My idea of running hell is to do lapped events, I know some people love them and enjoy pacing themselves, being more social, stopping for breaks and starting again. But once I stop I seize up and my muscles don’t like starting again – also I just love a start and a finish with nowhere to back out in the middle, I love the feeling of the end coming closer and pushing myself that bit more to get there.

I also am not keen on too many hills that can’t be run (sorry Hardmoorians) – I like the odd hill as the scenery at the top makes it worthwhile (as does running back down) but I prefer plenty of runnable sections, again going back to my body stiffening up (I’m a bit of a wimp haha).

 What is the best piece of running advice you’ve ever been given?

I haven’t personally been given too much advice (that I can remember). However, Lee Morris did recently give some good advice on the Quakers page about keep the head up and shoulders relaxed when running, and when I feel like I’m tired and slouching I try to remember this and I immediately feel my hips start to work (giving my poor legs a rest).

Any advice to newcomers to running?

I think my advice would be to take your time and vary your training.  When I first began training and I felt myself getting better, all I wanted to do was beat my time every time I ran and get PBs at every Parkrun. Once I could run a 10k under an hour I wanted to do it every time. I pushed myself hard and eventually things started to hurt, and it’s very down-heartening to lose your fitness.  So sometimes just go out, ignore your watch and enjoy the scenery.

What keeps you going when the going gets tough in a hard race?

Well two things really. Firstly, it is counting the miles down.  I run in kilometres (something that seems to drive many runners, Emily included, crazy!) and to help take my mind off the race I convert the kilometres to miles, and then when I see a mile sign I convert the miles to kilometres and work out how much more I’ve got to do in kilometres. By the time I’ve worked it all out, it’s about time to work it all out again haha.  I know I’m weird. When I get near to the end of the race I get a second wind… that’s the thought of a lovely cup of tea when I get back and a big slice of cake.

How do you relax/reward yourself after a race?

Obviously tea and cake!

If you could run anywhere in the world, where would it be?

Well I did see the World’s Fastest Marathon in Andalucía, Spain. It’s practically all downhill. It winds down the Sierra Nevada mountains into Granada. That sounds pretty cool. It’s at the wrong time of year for me to go because of my job, but they do running holidays there, so maybe one day.  Closer to home, I really enjoy running around the Simonside Hills, the Cheviots and along the Scottish borders.  Its beautiful countryside up that area and not too far to travel.

How do you relax/reward yourself after a race?

Obviously tea and cake!

If you could run anywhere in the world, where would it be?

Well I did see the World’s Fastest Marathon in Andalucía, Spain. It’s practically all downhill. It winds down the Sierra Nevada mountains into Granada. That sounds pretty cool. It’s at the wrong time of year for me to go because of my job, but they do running holidays there, so maybe one day.  Closer to home, I really enjoy running around the Simonside Hills, the Cheviots and along the Scottish borders.  Its beautiful countryside up that area and not too far to travel.