Next up in our Where I Run series is three-time Olympian, two-time World Champion and a one-time recipient of the prestigious MBE for services to triathlon, Helen Jenkins.
She was raised in Bridgend, Wales, and lives today with her husband and two children. Wales is known for its lush landscapes and valleys, rugged coastlines and beautiful villages (as well as having one of the world’s most difficult languages ). So it’s an ideal place for runners who enjoy varied terrain – and weather, as Helen explains.
Hi Helen, first off, why do you run?
Honestly, I just really love to run. It’s my favourite triathlon discipline, it always boosts my mood and clears my head. It’s my little escape from everything. In the world we are currently living in with Covid-19 omnipresent, running has been even more of an escape.
Where is your favorite place to run?
This changes depending on where I’m with my training. Right now, I’m getting back to fitness after an operation on my back, so I’m loving longer slow runs up the cycle path near our house in Bridgend. It goes all the way up the valleys alongside a river and it’s a pretty flat and even surface. It’s perfect for what I need at the moment.
What is it about the UK that makes it great for running (in your opinion)?
I love that there’s so much variety in the UK. There are lots of off-road activities like running trails, fell running, cross county. Then there’s always road running too.
I am lucky, as from my house I have access to several different types of terrains to run on. Though some are a bit weather dependent. I have a loop which includes some public footpaths on the edge of farmland so it’s very picturesque but I have been unable to complete the loop after heavy rain as it can get a bit flooded. So I do have to pick my terrain dependent on weather.
Are there any places/routes you would recommend to run while in your city?
I live in a town called Bridgend and we have some famous sand dunes called Merthyr Mawr. Runners have used this area to train on for years.
From the town, it’s a really nice route going down lanes to get to the dunes but then a really tough effort to the top of the ‘Big Dipper' — which I think is the highest sand dune in Wales. The views are lovely and from there you can carry on running to the beach.
There are many nice routes to run here so I’d say you almost can’t go wrong wherever you do it.
Helen’s Favorite Route.
Bridgend Life Center to the Big Dipper:
If you’re doing a more relaxed run, do you plan a route that’s more scenic?
If I have an easy run I will plan to run off road when possible. I like to mix up the surfaces I run on as spending time on softer surfaces for the easy runs has helped me with injury prevention.
The UK is known to be a little rainy – does this affect your running plans?
I can’t let the rain affect me as I would just never get out the door.
Having good clothing to keep you dry and shoes made for wet weather helps massively, I switch to trail running shoes when I run on the muddy grass in the winter.
Luckily, I quite like running in the rain. I put my music on and splash through the puddles, it feel like I’m in my own little world.
Ever plan to end somewhere specific?
I have two kids, Mali and Max who are three and one. They love the beach, so my will husband drive there with them, and I’ll run down to meet them. It’s around 10km in total. They’ll take a change of clothes and some food for me. My warm down is usually building sandcastles with them. It’s great.
What’s your perfect run? Is it the time, distance, or just a feeling?
My perfect run would be a build run. It’s my favorite session. I run for an hour, the first 20 minutes is steady, the second, a bit harder, then the last 20 mins best pace I can hold. It’s such a tough session, but when I am fit it feels amazing to be moving so well. There’s a buzz from completing a great session and knowing that your fitness is spot on.
Runner’s high? Yes or no?
Yes, most of the time. When I am in a really tough block of training it can be hard to motivate myself, but I always feel better after a run. Sometimes the hardest part is putting on your running shoes and just getting out the door.
How would you describe the running culture in your city?
The running culture where I live has grown and grown over the last ten years. We have some big events close to us, like the Cardiff half marathon and Ironman Wales. I think this has motivated so many people who may have not run otherwise to take part in events. Which is great.
The park runs have been a massive stimulus to get people running too. We have a friendly running scene and everyone always has a nod or smile for a fellow runner.