Running on: Oak Parker Helen Nuttall pushes her daughter Zoe during a recent training run. Nuttall is a former rugby player from England turned casual runner.Photos by J. GEIL/Staff Photographer

Early last December I was checking Oak Park Runners Club members’ results from the annual Thanksgiving Day St. Giles Turkey Trot 5K for our club newsletter. Someone named Helen Nuttall was the second woman (and fourth overall) with an excellent time. “Must be a new member,” I thought, since I had never met her. And she was obviously a good runner.

Helen Nuttall and her husband Steve moved to Oak Park only last September. She had an excellent sports background in England (they’re British), but was just a casual runner. Nuttall, 29, was an outstanding rugby and field hockey player in England, and was a member of the UK National Junior Rugby Team. She also played rugby in college. It’s not a gentle sport, and Nuttall incurred various fractures, bruises and concussions while having all that fun. Running was just something she did for fitness.

After moving here, Nuttall joined the Oak Park Runners Club since she had been running through her pregnancy, and intended to continue running with daughter Zoe, age 1, in a baby jogger. But she was not a competitive runner even though she had completed three marathons (London twice and Chicago – just for fun!). And until last November she had no idea of what the Boston Marathon was about.

“I remember telling a fellow club member how I ran every race at the same pace (usually 10 minute miles) and always talked, whether it was a long one or a 5K,” she says. “I really had no idea that a 5K was meant to be run at a faster pace than a marathon.” Nuttall also admits to running one of those London marathons just three weeks after appendix surgery. She is obviously one tough athlete.

This year her focus and training changed quickly. Suddenly she is one of the better runners in the area, and has placed in the top 20 in three major races over the past few weeks, including eighth overall at the Wisconsin Marathon with a time of 3:24. That time easily qualified her for the Boston Marathon (she only needed 3:40). She says that first competitive marathon was a struggle, but the results speak for themselves.

Nuttall is now guided by a formal training program taped to her refrigerator and is setting new personal records at practically every race this year. She does much of her daily running with Zoe in the baby jogger, so she’s probably safe from progressing too far, too fast. She currently is in second place in the Chicago Area Runners Association age group standings, and thoroughly enjoys the competitive side of her new sport.

The Nuttalls came to the U.S. as the result of a job transfer for her husband Steve (now a runner, too), and for a time they lived in separate countries until Helen’s medical studies were completed. She’s a doctor specializing in emergency medicine, and is currently studying for recertification in the U.S. With running, caring for a toddler and studying for medical exams, she’s on a busy schedule.

Watch for her name among the leading women in Chicago area races.

Paul Oppenheim is a member of the Oak Park Runners Club.

Join the discussion on social media!