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Helene Diamantides 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.
Helene Diamantides was born in 1964 in North Yorkshire, but she spent most of her childhood outside England. She lived in Ghana and later in Greece where as a teenager she competed internationally in the pentathlon and her running ability was encouraged and developed. At the age of sixteen, she completed her first marathon. In 1982 Diamantides moved to Durham to study for a degree in education. It was through the University of Durham's running club that she first began fell running. Over the next five years she competed in various fell races, including the Karrimor International Mountain Marathon.
Fell Running Achievements
In 1987 Diamantides 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 (who is the youngest woman to complete the BG) 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 Diamantides 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 Diamantides 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 Diamentides 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, Diamantides and Belton ran the final BG leg together. It took them 19 h 11 min; which meant not only had Diamantides completed all three rounds in seventy-two days but that she had also broken her own BG record by just over an hour.
Diamantides' 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. Diamantides entered the race with Martin Stone; she and Stone won the race in 38 h 38 min. The extent of Diamantides' 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 Diamantides 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, Diamantides set a course record in the Wasdale Fell Race which stood until 1997 when it was beaten by Mari Todd. Diamantides held the course record for the Langdale Horseshoe from 1992 until 2016 when it was broken by Victoria Wilkinson.
Diamantides has two children. She married her partner Jon Whitaker in 2005. She works as a physiotherapist.
- All information taken from: Askwith, Richard, Feet in the Clouds, Chapter 29, London: Aurum Press, 2005.
- Gear for Girls Owner Alison Wright at the age of 21, broke the world record for running from Everest Base Camp to Kathmandu; 188 miles and 42,000 ft of ascent completed in 3 days and 10 hours with her friend Helene Diamantides. The record has recently been broken by The North Face sponsored athlete Lizzy Hawker together with Stephen Pyke.