WRITTEN FOR SKYSPORTS
Having already enjoyed an impressive fourteen-year international career, Helen Clitheroe is feeling fitter than ever as she looks to the London Games this summer as a chance to further rejuvenate her Olympic CV, writes Nicola Bamford.
The 38-year-old from Preston successfully reinvented herself as a distance runner after placing fourth in the 2010 Commonwealth Games 1,500m final in New Delhi and - having increased the training miles - has turned her attentions to the 5,000m event with noteworthy success.
Previously focusing on the metric mile and 3,000m distance, Clitheroe captured eight British titles, the national 3,000m steeplechase record – which she holds to this day - and attended eight straight world and five European cross-country championships, demonstrating great versatility.
Also a bronze-medallist over 1,500m in the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, the Lancashire athlete has however, spent much of her athletic career outside of the medals in major championships and it was this frustration which lead to the switch in disciplines.
And just five months after the turning point in India, Clitheroe enjoyed the race of her life as she sped to European indoor 3,000m gold in Paris last March – justifying the bold decision tenfold.
One year on, the John Nuttall-coached runner is in fine form following two month-long spells training at high-altitude in Kenya:
“It was strange being away especially over the New Year in Kenya but having the opportunity to train with a bunch of elite athletes like Mo (Farah – the world 5,000m champion) and Hannah (the world 1,500m silver-medallist) was so beneficial, as was being able to only think about training and sleeping, as the rest makes a massive difference and we had everything we needed out there,” she revealed.
“Training and sharing a room with an old friend like Paula (Radcliffe – the world marathon record-holder) was great and we’d laugh about still running well after all these years even at our age!”
Regularly hitting one-hundred-mile weeks over the winter, Clitheroe continued:
“It’s seemed to work well for me and I’m responding well - I’m also adapting quicker every time I go to altitude and I never had a bad session, really so it’s good to have those good blocks of solid training to fall back on.
“Now back in Preston, I mostly train alone and sometimes have to beg some local men to train with me!
“I also have a gym in my garage to reduce the stress of travel - having a better system at home helps, what with not being funded.”
The holder of ten veteran-35 British indoor and outdoor records, Clitheroe had a mixed 2011 season in her first summer as a long-distance runner.
Despite achieving the Olympic ‘A’ standard of 15:20 for the 5,000m with a promising 15:06.75 clocking in August, she went on to place eleventh in the World Championship final in Daegu, South Korea and a bad experience on her 10,000m debut in June put paid to her designs on the distance altogether:
“I have the ‘A’ standard under my belt and I’ve decided to focus on that event as I was disappointed in my 10,000m time (32:11.29 in June) last year,” Clitheroe explained.
“Racing it in spikes set me back a bit with a few niggles and it would be a risk to do again so I’d rather put all my eggs in one basket with the 5,000m.”
With that in mind, Clitheroe is working on her speed endurance this indoor season and finished just six-seconds off her 8:39.81 personal best when placing runner-up at the Aviva International in Glasgow last month.
The next – much sterner - test comes on Saturday in the 3,000m again, this time at the Aviva Grand Prix in Birmingham, where she will face the favourite for Olympic gold in her new event, the World 5,000m and 10,000m champion Vivian Cheruiyot of Kenya.
“To run a good time in Glasgow was really pleasing, I was really chuffed and Birmingham has such an amazing field so it’s all about getting a good time under my belt,” Clitheroe revealed on the distance at which she sits as fourth on the British all-time list.
“I’d love to run a PB and I feel in shape to challenge it so I’ve just got to hang in there, stay in the mix as long as I can and get dragged around by some of the best in the world.
“We’ll discuss the World indoor’s (in Istanbul next month) after this weekend – if I run well, I may get selected but the plan’s to go to altitude again and keep sleeping in the altitude tent in preparation for the summer.”
Regardless of whether she travels to Turkey in three weeks’ time, Clitheroe is certain to train in Portugal this Easter, followed by a stint at altitude once more in Font Romeu in the French Pyrenees – all in an effort to be in fine form with London in mind.
Vying for a spot in her third Olympics, Clitheroe – who finished sixth in the heats of the steeplechase in Beijing four year ago – will begin her outdoor racing campaign at the end of May and plans to race the twelve-and-a-half lap event once or twice before the British trials in Birmingham in June:
“I also hope to run the ‘A’ standard again and would love to go under fifteen minutes this year,” she explained.
“2012’s a massive dream of mine - I’ve put myself under the same pressure for the past fourteen years and I’m leaving no stone unturned to ensure I run the best race of my life there.
“I’m hoping for a top-eight target but I’m approaching it step by step – I’ve only done four 5,000m’s so I’m still new but I’ve got my head around the event.
“To make a track team at 38 would be fantastic and I would be so proud to show it’s still possible and I feel as fit as I’ve ever felt.”