Helen Jenkins: ‘Anywhere in the world, you can go for a run’

What have you been up to recently? A lot of swimming. I had a foot injury last year so I’ve been focussing more on the swimming and the bike over the last few months but gradually bringing back the running, which is coming along really well now. So that’s good news.

What sort of distances can you run at the moment? At the moment I’m running five days a week, so I still get two rest days to allow my foot to recover between sessions. But it’s getting there. I only do my faster work on the treadmill at the moment as it’s a good stable surface for my foot, but I’m really happy. It’s always a relief after an injury when you can start getting back into the running.

Where’s your favourite place to run? Probably a route I do at home. Just a loop that we go round from my house, you run along the river, you go through the town and then out into the fields. I like getting on the grass and in the mud. It’s great if my husband comes with me; that’s a nice one to do together.

Do you remember your first ever race? My first ever competitive race was probably swimming but my first running race would have been cross country in school. I was a lot better at it than I thought I would be, it was quite a shock in primary school! It was the first time I’d tried it. I remember being quite pleased. I wasn’t brilliant but I did much better than I thought I would.

When people ask you for a training tip, what do you tell them? I’d say enjoy it, but it’s not always that easy. Have a plan of what you are going to do. It’s very easy to put things on the back burner when life gets busy. Just have a plan, and don’t make it too challenging, but stick to it. Have a bit of a focus to what you are doing. When you accomplish something, it then gives you a bit more impetus to do it again. Randomly training is fine but you might want to achieve something; to get to a goal. It can be a really small goal: I’m going to run five minutes today, but maybe next week 15 minutes. Having a structure to what you are doing is important.

Do you ever struggle with motivation? Yeah I do. I don’t struggle with getting it down. I will always get it done. Because ultimately I want to achieve my goals – next year is coming around quick, and it’s the Olympics again. It’s always something I’m aiming for so I’ll never not do it, but there are mornings – I swim early in the mornings – when I wake up at 5 o’clock and it’s dark and I really don’t want to go swimming today. But I know that I will. It’s very rare that I’ll miss a session, normally just because of sickness or injury. But it’s realising what’s going to trigger you to get out of the door. Everyone has those low-motivation days but you feel better once it’s done. Sometimes the hardest thing is putting your shoes and getting out of the door.

Do you listen to music when you run? Yes, I do. Anything! A lot of upbeat, happy music. I actually like AC/DC for training to! And The Killers, they are my favourite band. I think when you have your music you are in a different world really. It’s a nice switch-off.

Do you like a running gadget? Not for running, no. I used to but I know how far my routes are and I kind of know my time. I have a basic start/stop watch. For more specific, harder training, I might have heart rate [monitor] on, but for general easy running I try to switch off from that stuff as much as possible. We have so many gadgets in our lives that it’s nice just to switch off. If I’m really tired, I don’t even take my watch sometimes. I know that loop is about an hour, or about half an hour – it doesn’t matter if I’m two minutes slower or faster today. On the bike is a different matter: I like the numbers, I like the power, I like to know what I’m doing. Swimming is very specific too, with the clock, you are always looking at your timing. So running is the one thing I can switch off a bit sometimes and relax.

What’s the worst thing about running? Injuries. When you can’t do it. Or you are training through pain. It’s hard. It’s hard to know how much is too much.

What’s the best thing? The freedom. Anywhere you are in the world, a pair of shoes and you can go for a run. There’s nothing like it. When I’ve been injured, I see people running down the street and I’m just so jealous! It’s the freedom.

What’s your post-race indulgence? I like a burger and chips. A quality one, if you can get it. I tend to eat pizza the day before a race, but if I can get a burger that’s always good.

What do you eat for breakfast on morning of a race or a hard training session? If I’ve got a really hard session it’ll be, normally, white toast with some jam. It’s pretty simple. Same on morning of a race. If I’ve got a lot more time I’ll go for porridge or something but normally the safest best is toast. I know I’m not going to have any problems with that.

Ever run barefoot? No, I’ve got really high arched feet so it wouldn’t be ideal for me. But for other people I’m sure it’s something worth exploring. We run barefoot from swim to bike! That’s about it. Mind you sometimes that’s a long way … we raced in Chicago last year, Lake Michigan, and ran across a six lane highway and up steps – it was long! They had carpet mats and stuff but it was very strange. Some very funny photos after, with all these girls sprinting across a six lane highway in their swimsuits …

If you had to chose who to watch, Mo or Usain? [decisively] Mo. I enjoy the distance events much more. I was lucky enough to watch Usain Bolt win in Beijing, in the Bird’s Nest stadium. It was really exciting, the whole atmosphere, but there are so many more tactics in the distance events. There’s more at play. I guess I relate more to them, being an endurance athlete. Sprinting and distance are so different – the personality types, even.

Who is the greatest ever runner? I’d say, in my opinion, Paula Radcliffe. She just set the bar, with her marathon records. I saw she’s doing London as a last race. She’s just a real inspiration for women in sport, to set those sort of times.

Helen Jenkins is an consultant for sports nutrition company Science in Sport, and was speaking at The Copper Box Arena for the launch of the new SiS Whey Protein

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