ATHLETICS: HELEN LAWRENCE will line up alongside one of the country's greatest athletes when she makes her Great Britain debut this month.
The Wirral AC runner will join Paula Radcliffe in the squad to compete in the Ekiden Road Relays in Japan.
She qualified after clocking a blistering time of 14.08mins in the national road relays in Birmingham, a time only beaten by internationals Hayley Yelling and Katie Reed, and then by just one second.
Now Helen is packing her bags for Japan to join Reed, Radcliffe, Lucy Elliott, Bev Jenkins and Amanda Allen in Tokyo.
"It is absolutely fantastic news for me because I have always hoped to get a Great Britain vest one day," she added.
"To find out that I had accomplished one of my major goals and then that I would be running with Paula Radcliffe too was overwhelming.
"She has achieved so much in the sport and is someone I have always looked up to as a heroine and idol really."
Helen said: "I am sure just being in the same team as her will be an experience because I will be looking to learn as much as I can from her. This is a fantastic opportunity to spend time with a world class runner. I managed to train for two weeks with Leander Payes, an international triathlete, this summer and that was brilliant, so I hope this will be too."
The championship in Japan will be split into six legs, two of 10 kilometres, two of five kilometres and one each of 4.7km and 7.4km.
Commonwealth 10,000 metres champion and London Marathon winner Radcliffe - originally from Northwich - is expected to run the opening 10km leg with Helen lined up for the crucial final leg over 7.4km.
She said: "I have never been to Japan before and I don't know what the course is like, or the level of competition, but they are all positives to me. I will just be going out there to enjoy myself and make the most of the opportunity, especially as I have had to turn down two Great Britain call-ups for triathlons in Portugal and New Zealand because of my studies at John Moores University.
"That makes me really determined. I always try to run my own race and this will be no different, especially as from what I can see, the weather will be similar to here.
"I just feel so excited and want to do my best. I certain ly won't be intimidated anyway and usually blast away from the gun, so that is the plan."
Even qualifying for the event was a massive surprise for Helen as she was only expecting a top-10 finish in Birmingham. However she puts her dramatic improvement down to her triathlon training, which she has increased recently.
"I had a goal in mind before I went to Birmingham which was maybe a top 10 finish, but I have been running really well lately and knew I had run a good race as I was going around," Helen recalled. "When I finally got the time I was really surprised, because it was better than I had hoped.
"I have felt the benefits of my training for the triathlon in my running because the work I have been doing is so much more varied than previously. Instead of doing two running sessions a day which can be a bit repetitive, I may be swimming or cycling and it is more fun."
She added: "I can also feel another benefit which is that both the swimming and cycling have boosted my upper body strength.
"I enjoy them so much and triathlon has definitely rekindled my enthusiasm for running."