Q&A: Dame Kelly Holmes

Dame Kelly Holmes brought home gold for Team GB at Athens 2004, and 12 years on has her sights set on the Virgin Money London Marathon to raise money for five charities close to her heart. We caught up with her during training...

You’re set to take on your first ever marathon next month. How’s it all going?

I’ve actually been off training for a week with neural problems. I was in hospital last week having spinal injections and just did my first run back today. Generally I’ve been aiming to run three or four times a week, plus now I’ve been doing some more intense yoga, gym work on my weaker areas and using the stepper machine to get in cardio without the impact of running. The benefit of having a problem is that it gets you doing what you need to do!

What’s the furthest you’d run before you started training?

I did a half marathon last year in Reykjavik, Iceland. Truth is, I only did it because some friends entered us for it. I didn’t train, I didn’t have breakfast, I just jumped in and ran it. Before that, I’d only run about five 10K distances across my entire career.

I started marathon training on January 4th and was really chuffed the day I did 11 miles! My longest run so far has been 18 miles, and I’ve still got at least two more to go.

Is marathon training harder or easier than you thought it would be?

I suppose it’s hard, I always thought it would be. It’s a massive challenge for me doing this. People underestimate the fact that for years my body has been programmed to do what I did – short, sharp, high intervals. My mind is now trying to unravel all of what it’s learned and relearn something else. Your muscle memory will always be there.

What have been the biggest challenges in transitioning from middle to long distance running?

I’m a forefoot striker so it puts a lot of pressure on my Achilles and calves. I’m shortening my stride which means I’m not firing the same muscles anymore, which is a transition for the body. As a result, I’m overusing my glutes which is causing this neural tension – the neural pathway goes through your lumbar spine, sacrum, glutes and down your legs, so it brings a huge amount of pain. It’s very, very hard.

Mentally, it’s totally different. It’s long. You end up clock-watching, you’ve got to deal with your head telling you it doesn’t want to go any further, telling you to stop and try again tomorrow.

There’s fuelling too – I used to run for 45 minutes in the morning for fitness just on water, but now I really need to think about it. When I did my 18-miler, I woke up at 5am to have a massive flapjack and rehydrate, then went back to sleep to run at 7am.

What are you most looking forward to about the marathon?

I went to support friends last year and it was an incredible atmosphere – the passion, the willingness to support, there was such big energy. I’m looking forward to seeing runners of all different ambitions – people who’ve given up their time, fitted in their training before they go to work. I look at them like “Jesus, hats off to you.” I think if all these people can do it then I can get my arse out and do it. It’s nice to be part of that.

What are you least looking forward to?

The pain! I’m actually more nervous about the after effects because I’m so bad after long runs. I can hardly walk after them!

You’re looking to raise £250,000 to split across five charities. Can you tell us a little about them?

I’m running for my own charity, the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust, which I started nearly nine years ago. It’s to help young people from areas of deprivation have the chance to change, using the skills and support of retired athletes to help them get back into work, education and training. You can literally see the transformation. It’s very rewarding.

Myeloma UK – my mother’s had treatment for myeloma and is in remission, but the cancer isn’t curable, it’s only treatable, and she was very lucky to receive the treatment. Not many people have heard of it.

The Hospice in the Weald – a respite in Kent for people in their last days. My coach, Dave Arnold, passed away there two years to the day I won my gold medal.

Pickering Cancer Drop-in Centre, an emotional support charity to help people deal with having cancer, or a loved one having it or losing someone who’s passed away through it.

Finally, Mind – I’ve been through depression and self-harm myself, which is something a lot of people have had to deal with in their lives and it’s still this hidden disability. There’s a stigma if people admit they’ve suffered. If someone like myself can talk openly about it, hopefully it can give people hope.

Many people use running as a means to cope with depression, but if they get injured this coping mechanism is taken away. What’s your advice to them?

The key for me really was to identify the problem. If you’re injured, you’re doing your rehab, icing, physio, massage and everything. It’s all about the injury, but what you never do is deal with how you feel about it. You need to find a way to keep focused and positive. One positive thing you can do is getting your injury treated, but also adapt your training. If you can’t run, go to the gym, try the stepper, the cross trainer – just try and manage something that keeps your mind focused.

After the marathon, do you have any specific goals for the year?

I’m constantly on the go, so professionally I want to take a bit of time out of work and evaluate what I want to do next. I’d like to do a bike challenge or something. It would be a personal challenge, to have something to concentrate on and enjoy.

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

I recognise so many people do the marathon and want to say good luck and well done to them. Thanks very much to those who’ve supported me – while I’ve done my sport alone all my life, I couldn’t do it without a team around me.


You can donate to Dame Kelly's fundraising efforts here.