Helen Bacon is not expecting a personal best when she crosses the finish line at the Simplyhealth Great Manchester Run for the sixth time on Sunday, 28 May, but there's a very good reason for that.
Helen, 44, of, Manchester, has taken part in the 10k around the city centre on five previous occasions, but the run takes on greater significance this year as she is suffering from terminal cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy.
The surgery and treatment Helen is receiving to treat a secondary breast cancer has hampered her training for the 6.2 mile event, but, whatever happens in May, the inspirational runner is determined to be a part of Manchester's greatest run again.
Helen believes that exercise should be prescribed on the NHS – she has competed in a triathlon during cancer treatment – and credits running with improving her mental health in light of her devastating diagnosis.
She said: “I'd happily talk ad finitum about the mental health effects of running. My diagnosis is terminal. I could have months, I could have years – let's hope it's years.
“I was already very active, I completed triathlons, I swim, I run, I cycle.
“My initial thought after diagnosis was stuff it, I don't want to do anything, but I realised so very quickly that as soon as I started exercising again I felt better.
“Generally, even my partner recognises it now, so even on a rubbish day, when I'm really struggling, he'll throw me out the house and make me do just 1k. And he's right, I will feel so much better afterwards.
“I think it's keeping me sane. My friends who exercise with me say the same. They can tell, they know I can't do as much, but the fact I can still do it means that I'm still here.
“When I speak to friends who are doctors, all of them would prescribe exercise if they could. It is the best medicine. It's not going to cure me, but it makes a world of difference to my outlook.
Helen's care plan has been a gruelling year of chemotherapy, surgery, radiotherapy – then back to chemotherapy, with precious few breaks in between. She admits that the chemotherapy in particular makes the task of putting on a pair of trainers and taking to the roads to train for the 10km run a difficult prospect.
She said: “I'm finding running is one of the hardest things to do at the moment, actually. I'm doing 5ks and I'm swimming a lot. The chemo just grinds you down.
“My advantage, I'm hoping, is that I get a six week break from chemo just before the run and that will make a massive difference to how I feel. By the end of a 5k at the moment I'm struggling.
“I will get through the Great Manchester Run but I certainly won't be getting a personal best this time.
“It's like having a hangover. The worst hangover ever. It's depleting. You get lots of small irritating side effects, but the overall feeling is like a chemical hangover and that can last for two or three days. I'm okay most of the time, I still work, so I'm kind of doing alright, but it does deplete you for sure.”
Along with the natural endorphins released as a result of running, Helen is looking forward to playing her part in the biggest 10k running event in Europe in May.
She said: “It's a fabulous atmosphere. In the build up as well, that kind of hour before. I remember coming in on the tram and seeing the elites finish as I came in, it was such a great feeling.
“You have someone like Mo Farah running then four hours later people who might not run very much, have found themselves in the situation where they want to do this and I find that quite inspiring.
“I often find that the first few minutes after crossing the start line, I get quite choked up and that was pre-diagnosis. The emotion of running with that many people, many of whom who are running it for so many good causes.
“The finish line feeling, meeting up with everyone afterwards, is fabulous.”
The Simplyhealth Great Manchester Run is celebrating its 15th birthday this year, with Helen invited along by the organisers to mark the occasion with a launch at the Cloud Bar at the Hilton within Manchester's iconic Beetham Tower, which overlooks the finish line on Deansgate.
Hers was one of many inspirational stories on the day – so how does Helen feel about being called an inspiration?
She said: “It's funny because I write a blog since my diagnosis and one of the words that comes up all the time is inspirational in response to me. I say I'm not inspirational, it has become a bit of a joke, but I do get that, I hear that a lot.
“I guess the message I want to give people is no matter what situation you're in, if you exercise in your armchair, no matter what – try and do something because it will make you feel better, it's not necessarily going to cure you but god it will make you feel better.”
Helen will be raising funds for Pegasus Riding for the Disabled in Poynton, Stockport where she is a coach and trustee. Fellow trustee Klaudia Darbinova will also be taking part along with volunteer Jade Ong.
To enter the Simplyhealth Great Manchester Run 10k, visit greatrun.org/manchester