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Film  ·  Events  ·  Culture  ·  People  ·  15-18 Nov 2018

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Helene Whitaker

Helene is a fell runner whose accomplishments merit her inclusion in the category of the greatest ever female long-distance runners in the sport's history.

In 1987 Helene completed her first Bob Graham Round (BG); which is to run 66 miles (106 km) over 42 Lake District peaks in under twenty-four hours. Later in the same year she and fellow fell-runner Alison Wright went to Nepal to attempt to break the Crane brother's record for running from Everest Base Camp to Kathmandu. This is a 167-mile (269 km) route which includes 32,000 feet (9,800 m) of ascent and 46,000 feet (14,000 m) of descent. Both women completed the route in 3 days, 10 hours and 8 minutes: twenty-four hours faster than the record and twelve hours faster than a team of Sherpas who were also attempting to set a new record.

In 1988 Helene competed internationally in a number of mountain races. She won both the women's events in the Mount Cameroon race and the Mount Kinabalu race; and she came third in the 100-mile (160 km) Hogger 'Super Marathon' in Algeria. In the same year she also set a new women's record for the BG: 20 h 17 min.

The next year Helene decided to attempt a feat of running no one had tried before. Her ambition was to complete in one summer all three of the classic British twenty-four-hour rounds: the English Bob Graham Round, the Welsh Paddy Buckley Round, and the Scottish Ramsay Round. The first was the Paddy Buckley which was completed in 20 h 8 min; beating the men's record (held by Adrian Belton) by two hours. One month later she ran the Ramsay Round. She was then only the sixth person to successfully complete it and did so with a time of 20 h 24 min. By coincidence, Adrian Belton had also decided to attempt all three rounds that summer. In a spirit of camaraderie typical of fell running, Helene and Belton ran the final BG leg together. It took them 19 h 11 min; which meant not only had she completed all three rounds in seventy-two days but that she had also broken her own BG record by just over an hour.

Helene's greatest feat came in 1992. The 'Dragon's Back' was a new 220-mile (350 km) five-day race the length of Wales, taking in some of the most challenging mountainous terrain the country has to offer. It was supposed to become an annual race, but because of its severity (the Swedish ultra runner Rune Larsson, who had once run 162 miles (261 km) in twenty-four hours abandoned any ambition to win the race by the end of the first day), it was not revived until 2012. Helene entered the race with Martin Stone; she and Stone won the race in 38 h 38 min. The extent of her achievement can be seen by the fact that the strong all-male pairing of Mark McDermott and Adrian Belton came second with a time of 39 h 10 min (McDermott being a notable long-distance fell runner, having run seventy-six Lake District peaks in 24 hours). During the 2012 second edition of the Dragon's Back Race, Helene finished in 4th place overall and 1st place as a woman. 

She won the Borrowdale fell race four times, with her 1999 time of 3 h 14 min 45 s being the second-fastest ever in the women's race and within ten seconds of Menna Angharad's course record. In 1990, she set a course record in the Wasdale. Helene held the course record for the Langdale fell race from 1992 until 2016 when it was broken by Victoria Wilkinson. 

Helene Whitaker

Opportunities to see Helene Whitaker

19.30 - 22.00 Thursday 16th

Inov-8 Fell Running Session

Join us for a grass-roots journey over fells, crags, peaty trods and bracken!

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