Helen Fines – Bronze in World Mountain Champs

World Mountain Running Association



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Having had a good run in the Yorkshire Three Peaks Race in April, which was the selection trial for the England team, i was lucky enough to find myself on the plane to Slovenia, courtesy of England Athletics. A band of 3 women (myself, Pippa Maddams and Anna Lupton), 4 men (Ricky Lightfoot, Graham Pearce, Oli Johnson and Ben Abdelnoor) plus manager Mark Croasdale and photographer Pete Hartley travelled. I didn’t know what to expect, having never really competed at this level before, except being a descending-only member of a relay team. I was happy to be doing a course with more descent than ascent though, even if there was alot of both.. 2500m up, 2800m down, over 38k. Basically, 2 big hills, and nothing flat. Slovenia is a beautiful country, but there was no time to enjoy the views in the race itself.. the underfoot conditions being mostly rough enough to require concentration on the ground in front. An early start of 4.45am in UK time was my worst nightmare.. but having been deposited in front of a black coffee at the race start by Pete, i was able to line up, with a curious combination of yawning and extreme nerves.

We were warned not to start too fast, with a 4000ft plus climb in the last half race, there were some spectacular blow-ups.. i don’t do fast so i settled in for a plodding first climb. Pippa disappeared immediately, and i was somewhere between 15th and 20th, running with Anna to begin with. Both of us fell on a slippy bit of downhill running halfway up the first hill- i was scooped up by a Slovenian club runner.. the adrenaline woke me up and i ran on feeling better and better, albeit with blood dripping from elbows and knees. We were in cloud for most of the first climb.. eventually reaching the highest point of the race after 1h20min. I then gained a few places on the rough descent.. it went down and down for about 4500 ft, on a mixture of surfaces, with a bit of uphill in the middle, through some villages. Britta popped up with a gel for me, shortly after that i caught Fiona Maxwell from Scotland, and passed her, then a Polish woman and a few more. By the road crossing before the second and biggest climb i was about 9th and feeling great when Mark shoved a few more gels into my hand..great support from spectators at this point. The climb coming next was the biggest i’ve ever done in a race and i was nervous about whether i had overdone it.. its hard to judge in a race you don’t know and haven’t run that kind of profile before. I started the ascent with Karen Alexander from Ireland, who eventually finished 2nd, but she pulled away very strongly. However, both of us were running far better than the people around us, we overtook a couple more women, i think one was a Czech.. and even a few struggling men from the national teams- including a couple of very ragged looking Hungarians who were having a horrible time after going too fast in the first half.

I was amazed and pleased by how good i felt, and approaching the summit i was told by a passing German man that i was 6th.. and i could see 3 women in front of me, 2 Russian and 1 Croatian.. the 2 nearest me looking very tired. I overtook these two just below the summit, and was by this point feeling very excited. Knowing there was a 3500ft descent coming up and i was feeling good, i realised i actually might get an individual medal- something i hadn’t even considered possible.. and i knew Pippa was winning and Anna would be going well somewhere behind me. I grabbed some sports drink at the summit, focused my concentration on descending and legged it.. very quickly past the Russian girl and into bronze medal territory.. the next 5 miles downhill i was too buzzing to feel knackered. Onwards, right the way to the finish, thinking don’t screw it up now! What a top feeling to cross the line in 3rd in such a good race.. much excitement from supporters and Pippa, with bandaged feet but having won the race. We then waited anxiously for Anna to come in to complete the team.. she soon obliged in a superb 8th having only come in as a late reserve- we had won team gold, beating the Russians by a mile!

I was ushered off behind a tent to have the blood hosed off my arms and legs in order to look decent for the flower ceremony.. followed by interviews and photographs and a catch up on the men’s results- Scotland winning as expected, but the English lads running very solidly for bronze. All left to do then was enjoy the feeling.. and eat- lots and lots of food (vegans well catered for by the 5 star hotel we were lucky enough to be staying in). It was an 8 minute train ride through a mountain tunnel from hotel to race HQ, so we were able to come back and get cleaned up for the closing ceremony and presentation, except poor Pippa who was desperately trying to produce some urine for her country in the doping control area. You’d think the race would be enough competition for everyone, but put a group of very competitive athletes in a building together.. and what you’ll get is what happened the rest of the weekend- England v Scotland bowling, relay swimming, drunken sprinting and a vastly complicated bartering system for swaps of national kit. I’m writing this 5 days later and my quads are still painful to touch, my back is aching from those long descents and my dodgy foot has been throbbing day and night.. needless to say i can’t wait to try again for this team next year!