How Suffolk sporting community is helping running ace Helen reach her goals at 40-years-old

I am dedicating my column this week to an extraordinary woman, who is a shining example of what can be achieved in our sporting community when we come together to create elite support for our world-class athletes.

The woman in question is Ipswich runner Helen Davies. On September 1 last year she competed for Great Britain at the 50K world championships, where she won silver, running a remarkable six minutes inside the previous British record, and only two minutes outside the world record.

This outstanding performance placed her third on the all-time list for the distance. Here in Ipswich, we have many great athletes, but to have someone who is truly world-class is very special. What makes this result even more special is the fact that Helen turned 40 just 11 days later - incredible for an athlete who many had thought was past her best!

From the very first day Helen and her long-time coach Clive Sparkes contacted me at The Hub Centre of Excellence, I knew immediately this lady was special.

I could not have told you exactly why I thought this initially, it's just a sense you build up as a seasoned coach - it's your job to study body language, actions, reactions, statements and responses, and everything about Helen told me this was a humble woman, but one with immense personality and character, a drive and inner strength that made her very special indeed.

And, of course, almost every great athlete has a great coach who stands like a rock beside them, and she had this as well in Clive - a coach/athlete partnership built on trust and made in heaven.

As the founder of The Hub I am realising on a weekly basis how many outstanding athletes we have in Ipswich and the surrounding areas - they approach me for the support that is not available from their clubs because of financial and specialist resource, and because their governing bodies are geographically too far away for close quarter support.

Only today I received an e-mail from one of our all-time sporting greats, the one and only Karen Pickering, Olympian and swimming legend. Elena and I often used to bump into her on the sporting circuit, and always at the Sports Personality of the Year awards that were held in many of the major cities around the UK.

She wrote: "I follow all the work that you are doing with the Hub and love the whole idea of it. I am a big fan of working across sports and this is such a giant step forward from the sport science support we could expect back in the day in Ipswich."

To receive this from such an inspirational and iconic athlete as Karen was very significant for me.

The help I offer to our local athletes can only be achieved because I have such unbelievable working associates and partners, many individuals who I bring in from across the UK to make our Hub Team very unique, and outstandingly valuable to very talented athletes and their coaches.

But there is one man and one entity who have stood by me and believed in all we have built, and that is an incredible sport scientist called Chris McManus, the Director of The Human Performance Unit at Essex University - without his and the university's support, we simply could not help athletes like Helen and her coach Clive in they way they so richly deserve.

Helen needed help with her conditioning and The Hub came to her aid. We introduced her to one of the Hub team of experts, Wez Pooley, ex-professional rugby player, and one of the specialists who works as part of the team at Muhdo, DNA and Epiginetics experts.


With the integrated help of Wez and British Athletics, a plan was created to support Helen through this valuable area of strength and conditioning - a critical area when you are demanding insane physical performances from your body, and without top class strength and conditioning work, it is almost impossible for athletes to push their bodies to the very edge.

Sometimes, as an athlete, you also need a bit of luck, and this is exactly what Helen experienced when she met S&C specialist Lloyd Chapman, who works out of FTC gym.

Lloyd told me: "I have been working with Helen since the beginning of December, mainly on unilateral work and really focusing on ballistic and plyometric drills. Only after a couple of weeks work her running economy performance has already improved due to specific periodised programming."

I am over the moon that has Helen has discovered another priceless member of her team. Because of integrated support, here in Ipswich, she has a platform to excel - and you would need to be a brave person to bet against this incredible woman reaching her dream of becoming a world champion!

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