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Helen Jenkins: My happier place

(8 minute read)

Sharing her insights on the psychology of challenges, self-doubt and learning from failure, three-time Olympic triathlete and twice Triathlon World Champion Helen Jenkins reminisces on her recent stay at Another Place. From relishing getting active in a beautiful new setting (without any training pressure), to failing at paddleboard yoga, she tells us how being active in nature boosts a positive state of mind.

Helen Jenkins

We – myself and my husband and coach Marc – had been looking forward to our weekend away at Another Place for a long time. Not only was this our first break without our two young children, but it was also a chance for us to step outside our normal training routines and try some new sports in an inspiring new location. It’s quite special to find a beautiful retreat away from home that supports – and encourages – the active lifestyle that we thrive off.

We both consider ourselves lucky to have created a career out of our passion for triathlon. And Another Place allowed us to take the pressure out of training and coaching, to simply enjoy being outdoors and in the water while revelling in the natural beauty around us.

“It’s quite special to find a beautiful retreat away from home that supports – and encourages – the active lifestyle that we thrive off.”

Team GB's Helen Jenkins exploring Ullswater by SUP

My career as a professional athlete has helped me realise what is essential to me as a person. I have had some really tough periods with injury – almost career-ending injury – which led to some dark times. One of my toughest moments was before the London 2012 Olympics where I was one of the favourites to win a medal, but with four months to go, I had a huge injury that left me struggling to walk. For months I dealt with the pain of injury and the weight of expectations for the race – my face on billboards around the Olympic Park – and sadly in the end I missed my goal of Gold and finished 5th.

After the race, Marc and I felt so burnt out mentally by the experience that we had to figure out a way to be happy and to love what we do again.

It involved a lot of soul searching with some incredible people that helped us. Our solution came down to a few basic rules, that I feel most people could probably benefit from:

  • Get outdoors, be outside in nature
  • Spend time with the people we love
  • Train for the love of it not just for a goal
  • Have a challenge – something to strive for, not just sporting
  • Enjoy the process

If I can incorporate a few of these points into my day or remind myself of them I am a happier soul!

With direct access to the lake shore and miles of hiking, running and cycling trails through the fells and forests on its doorstep, Another Place gives many options to do all these things and more. It became a happy place and we left in a more positive state of mind. We’re already planning our next trip back.

Whether it’s the challenge of swimming across the lake or leaping down into it from a rocky crag, running a countryside trail, or hiking a fell for the jaw-dropping views from the summit, there is something for everyone. It’s got the perfect combination of allowing you to challenge yourself balanced with having a relaxing time at a beautiful hotel with amazing food.

Helen Jenkins wild swimming in Ullswater

“The feeling after completing something that challenged you, made you work hard, outside of your usual day-to-day life, is amazing.”

Finding a challenge that pushes you outside of your comfort zone is key, not something that will feel impossible or overwhelming. If you have never hiked before, then start with a small loop – not a six-hour trek. If you haven’t swum in a lake before, then start with a few gentle strokes around the end of the jetty or edging out towards the closest buoy. The feeling after completing something that challenged you, made you work hard, outside of your usual day-to-day life, is amazing.

As for anyone, all athletes – myself included – have their moments of self-doubt and their abilities in being able to accomplish what is set out in front of them. When I hit a hurdle I remind myself that it’s important to focus on one step at a time.

Through all the years of training I’ve done – early morning swims, long bike rides in the rain (I live in Wales, it rains a lot!) – there have been times I’ve been so unmotivated, but the feeling of satisfaction on completing the session, that sense of being a step closer to achieving my goals, is something I never regret pushing myself for.

If I fail, I analyse what I’ve learnt from the challenges and what I enjoyed about the process of trying. To bring it back to my London Olympic experience, my failure at achieving Gold has been one of my biggest learning experiences; it set me on a path of self-reflection and finding out what makes me happy, feel alive, what I enjoy the most. I’m incredibly proud of giving it everything I had, trying my best, and the learning that has since helped shape my life.

Helen Jenkins taking part in an open water swimming session at Another Place, The Lake
Helen Jenkins and her husband Marc with their Ullswater Swim Place medals

“My failure at achieving Gold has been one of my biggest learning experiences; it set me on a path of self-reflection and finding out what makes me happy, feel alive, what I enjoy the most.”

There are no downsides to taking on a challenge. You can achieve it and feel good, or don’t achieve and learn for the next time. We found a  host of experiences and challenges at Another Place, including the cross lake swim. While it wasn’t a huge challenge for us, as we’re both experienced swimmers and regularly complete the distance – the challenge for myself and Marc was who got back across the lake fastest. He won!

Marc beating me got my competitive juices going, so the next day I jumped into the endless pool that was on site to get a bit of video analysis of my stroke to see what improvements I can make to be sure I beat him next time 😉

The endless pool setup at Ullswater Swim Place is incredible. I have had a lot of swim analysis in the past, but this was the most thorough. It was also really friendly and relaxing. Lots of camera angles so you can see exactly what is happening with your stroke and Colin Hill’s expert advice to help you improve it. I came away with some great insights and areas to work on.

After the swim challenge, I wanted to try something totally new so we headed out to try paddleboarding. I’m not the most coordinated so was nervous to give it a go but it was such an amazing experience, fun to meet other guests and try it as a group. We were lucky to have a clear and calm day, so the water was smooth. We paddled as a group down the Ullswater shoreline, and were joined by a group of swans.

Before heading in, I thought I’d try some yoga moves on my paddleboard. Turns out my balance isn’t as strong on water as it is on land!

Although I swim a lot, the muscles used for paddleboarding are slightly different and I was definitely feeling the after effects the next day. I spent some time in the gym working on mobility and doing some pilates to get my body moving again (you can find some of my favourite exercises in this article here).

The hotel swimming pool with views over Ullswater

“Somehow they’ve made it feel like you’re sitting among the fells as you look out over the lake.”

Post swim dinner in Rampsbeck restaurant

Following time in the gym I headed straight for the outdoor hot tub to ease my sore muscles and take in the views. Somehow they’ve made it feel like you’re sitting among the fells as you look out over the lake. There’s a view of a single large tree with a swing, reminding me of simpler times, and we couldn’t help but talk about how much our kids would love it here.

All in all, there was so much for us to do and you don’t need to be a professional to give it a go – as I proved with the paddleboarding! Plus, you can always reward yourself with the luxurious surroundings and brilliant food when you get back to the hotel.

We can’t wait to come back, and will definitely be bringing the kids!

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helenjenkins.co.uk

@heljinx

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