Double Olympic champion Dame Kelly Holmes will try her hand at a different type of running this year as she prepares to run her first marathon at the Virgin Money London Marathon in April. The retired middle-distance runner, who won gold in the 800m and 1500m events at the Athens Olympic Games, will be running for five charities, The Dame Kelly Holmes Trust, Myeloma UK, The Pickering Trust, Hospice in the Weald and Mind UK.
Since her formal retirement over 10 years ago, Kelly has been heavily involved in charity fundraising, setting up her own charity, The Dame Kelly Holmes Trust. Keen to create a legacy from her athletics career – that would benefit young people – Kelly set up the charity with the vision of transforming young people’s lives. She has also opened up her own café in the Kent village where she grew up, which has become a central outlet for her many fundraising activities and events.
Kelly’s venture into endurance running is worlds away from the track distances she was setting world records in 10 years ago, and with the pressure of a hefty fundraising target of £250,000 in her sights, she knows it won’t be a walk in the park. We caught up with Kelly about her training and fundraising, and the things she’s enjoying – and finding most challenging – about her training so far.
How confident are you about running the London Marathon?
I don’t have any expectations, but I just want to get there, injury-free and take part in one of the biggest and best marathons in the world! When I was an international athlete, it’s different to being a runner on that mass-participation scale. I realised after mentioning I’m doing it, there is a big raft of people of all ages, abilities, sizes and backgrounds taking part for all different reasons, and it’s quite inspiring, so I’m just pleased to be part of that.
What made you choose the London marathon?
If I was ever going to do a marathon, it had to be London’s without a doubt. I think we’re fantastic in Britain at doing our big events, and it’s so iconic in the city of London.
Do you have a time in mind or is it far too early?
Far too early. I have no idea. For whatever reason, and I have nothing to go on, I wonder if I could run 3hrs 30mins, but I have no idea why that even is. I’ve seen different people running different times and I know a few who have done it, and I think, “Well I’m sure I can run eight-minute miles over a long distance, as I know I can run six-and-a-half minute miles.” But let’s see later on because I don’t want to put pressure on myself. I want to do the training and then look at it and think where that will get me nearer to the time, as opposed to trying to go for a time now, over-do it in training, not even get there because I’m injured and ruin everything for everyone.
You’ve obviously kept yourself fit over the years since you’ve formally retired. What do you do normally to keep fit when you’re not training for an event?
I do a lot of stuff in the gym, a lot of HIIT training. I go on the cross-trainer and do circuits, I’m kind of more into that to keep my fitness up. I have been doing the odd bit of running but I haven’t been an avid runner. But certainly my premise this year is to get back into the running fraternity because there are so many angles it takes – from fitness to psychological mindset to wellbeing. So, for me, running is a good way to get back into that and keep my fitness up.
How will this tie into everything else you’re doing?
Before, I’d look at the marathon and think, “How do people get their training in?” Because you see all these people, who are literally giving their life up, training at a silly hour in the morning, a silly hour at night and are so committed – hats off to them! But I will follow a structure, I downloaded some plan, which has three sessions a week and states the type of mileage to do. I think in life you need to have a plan, a goal, an outcome, and you need to know where you’re going. So it’s given me a structure to work against, but I’m going to make sure I fit it into my life. If I can’t do it on a set day, I will just change it; I’m not going to be precious that I have to do it on a certain day, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to cope! The reason I downloaded it was to know how to increase the mileage as opposed to knowing how to run.
What is the most challenging aspect of the marathon training for you?
Boredom. I get so bored going for those long runs. I live near a coffee house and a lady in there asked me if I would run with her friend, who’s 40th birthday it was, if she donated £200 towards any charity. So I said, “So what does she do?” and she told me she’s done three marathons and she’s doing London. So I looked at her times, and thought, “That’s alright”. I had to go for a run anyway, so at 8am, I took Emily out for an eight-mile run and it was the fastest she’d ever run it, which was good and we chatted the whole way, which was really nice! It didn’t even feel like eight miles, I got £200 for the charity and it made her birthday! So I figured there’d be things like that that I could do to raise money for charity, do a little bit of training and have someone to run with!
And how’s your coffee house going?
It’s going really well. I can’t believe it’s now been open for 14 months. The premise is all about making people feel happy and socialising through meeting up, having coffee or food together. There’s a big variety of food; you can eat really healthy or you can have a lovely cake if you want! I encourage people to walk, run or cycle there as part of it, as it is all about having an active soul, so connecting people in a healthy environment and feeling good about themselves, whether it’s physically or mentally.
Tell us how you came up with your fundraising target of £250,000, and a little bit about the charities you’re running for.
I have no idea. It just came into my head and that’s what I’m going to go for. And now I’ve set myself that mission, I will do as much as I can to raise awareness because all of the charities mean a lot to me. Firstly, there is the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust, which I founded eight years ago, for disadvantaged young people in areas of deprivation through unique development programmes. The unique part of it is athletes becomes their mentors and our objective is to change their perception of who they are and give them the motivation to change and get back into work.
Hospice in the Weald is a local charity, which I started supporting after my coach, Dave Arnold, passed away two years ago to the day after I won my gold 1500m medal in Athens. There is also Myeloma UK. My mother is going through treatment for blood cancer, an unknown cancer, with not a very big success rate, and they need more awareness to get the right drug for the right patient. But I am very pleased to say my mum is doing really well through her treatment. Then there is The Pickering Trust, a very small cancer charity run totally through volunteers. The lady Pollyanna Pickering is a forced to be reckoned with. When I was winning my gold medal she’d been told she’d survived cancer for the second time, and she is the most engaging lady, who wants to make a difference. The last one is Mind UK, I have suffered with depression myself, a lot of young people are now diagnosed with depression and I think, as someone in the public eye, if I could give awareness to the fact it’s a hidden disability almost, then why not. They don’t know it yet, I haven’t told them I’m raising money for them, so hopefully it will be a nice surprise.
If you’d like to donate to Kelly’s fundraising, visit her fundraising page here.