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Friday, 31 October 2014

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Cumbria BBC TV star Helen Skelton relives ultra marathon triumph

Footsore but happy, Cumbria’s Helen Skelton is back on British soil after becoming one of the first women to complete the gruelling Namibia Ultra Marathon.

Blue Peter presenter Helen, 25, of Kirkby Thore, told The Cumberland News how she conquered the 78-mile desert route in the 24-hour limit while being filmed for the BBC programme.

“It was absolutely brilliant. The desert was like a dream vision,” she said.

But the challenge was tough – Helen, who used to be a breakfast show presenter on BBC Radio Cumbria, battled through 45C heat, sunburn, rocky terrain and the threat of poisonous snakes rearing from the grassland.

“Out of 24 runners, 11 dropped out.

“It was like going into a battlefield – by halfway, three dropped out with exhaustion and one was writhing in agony with cystitis.

“The hardest point was at around 4am. We were all wearing head torches and I knew I was near the back. There were three or four people behind me, but one by one they dropped out and their torches disappeared. I thought I was next.”

Some thought Helen would fail. While tending to her blistered feet, a course doctor admitted he’d made a bet she would drop out early.

But Helen was determined to keep going.

“I think at first [the other runners] thought ‘Who’s this upstart?’. They were athletes.

“I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. The winner from last year told me it was like running through a wall of fire. And it was.”

Helen was transformed into a marathon machine in just 76 days by extreme runner Rory Coleman.

“It was hard because it is not how often you have to train, it is for how long. Fitting it round Blue Peter was difficult. I had to get up and train at 5am sometimes.

“It was hardest for me in the middle of February – it seemed such a long time away and then a friend had a big birthday party and I couldn’t go because I was training.”

But the hard work was worth it, especially when Helen found a surprise waiting at the finishing line.

She said: “I was so exhausted and emotional I just wanted my mum and she had flown out to meet me.

“I had absolutely no idea she would be there.”

The sky’s the limit for Helen, but she draws the line at some challenges. “My co-presenter Andy had to go down the sewers the other week. That would be my hell – think of the rats,” she said.

Blue Peter, shown on BBC1, will be following Helen’s super marathon over the coming weeks.

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