For Helen to turn up, with only a limited amount of preparation, and to complete over 16 miles with full weight and then successfully completing the distance in light order but in the required time is an outstanding effort.

Lt Col Mike Geldard

She completed the course within the allocated time but carrying no equipment. Following this she returned in June and attempted a six mile speed march carrying a daysack with 28 lbs of equipment. Again she managed to complete the run but struggled with the weight and subsequently finished outside of the 60 minutes allocated to trainees.

Later that day she also had another physical training session and went around the notorious Commando Training Centre Royal Marines assault course.

Her final preparation visit saw her attempt the 30 miler in July without the test weight. She was very strong and managed to complete the route in the required time of eight hours. This set her up mentally for her full attempt where she would be filmed wearing the full weight and running round as part of a recruit syndicate.

The day before the actual 30 miler, Helen was issued the same safety stores and weight carried by the recruits, which was carefully packed and balanced in a military daysack.Unlike the recruits she did not have to carry a rifle.

She then sat in with the recruits for the march orders given by the Officer Commanding 159 Troop, Capt Harry Lane.

Whilst Helen was striving to attempt the 30 miler in isolation, the recruits had already competed 30 weeks of intense training culminating with the four Commando tests over a five day period. The 30 miler is the final test.

On 18th September, Helen set off from Okehampton camp in difficult weather conditions – dark, cold, windy and driving rain.

It is testament to her mental attitude that this did not phase her and she set off anxious but fully determined to complete the challenge ahead of her.

She started well and managed to keep pace with the recruits whilst still carrying full combat weight. However, the weight started to take its toll from around the 12 mile point and she began to struggle to keep up with the pace.

Through sheer determination and grit she carried on to Check Point Three which is at the 16 mile point. At that stage the weight she was carrying and the relentless pace which the recruits move at took its toll on her and she had to have her daysack removed.

During the speed march she was escorted by Physical Training Instructor CSgt Warren Keays-Smith.

“Helen kept saying to me ‘Warren, I’ve got to do it!’ but at about the 15 mile point she turned to me and said: ‘I’ve nothing left,’” said Warren.

“She showed she has all the Commando qualities of courage, determination and cheerfulness in the face of adversity.”

Helen was determined to carry on and despite the punishing conditions she continued to the end of the march managing to remain with the original syndicate she set off with until the end.

“It was always going to be a big ask for Helen to pass this test,” said WO2 Richard White.

“She only weighs about two thirds of the average recruit but had to carry the same weight, plus her height meant she had to work harder just to keep up. It was a fantastic effort though and everyone on the march massively respects her for attempting it.”

The Commanding Officer of Commando Training Wing, Lt Col Mike Geldard, who also ran with Helen from the 12 mile point said:

“Helen’s attempt at the 30 miler is nothing short of extraordinary. This is not an easy test and there are many young recruits, who have benefited from 30 weeks of preparation, who do not successfully complete the Commando tests.

“Indeed we have only ever had three female officers successfully complete the Commando course in the last 10 years. For Helen to turn up, with only a limited amount of preparation, and to complete over 16 miles with full weight and then successfully completing the distance in light order but in the required time is an outstanding effort.

“Whilst I know she was bitterly disappointed not to have completed the whole test with the required weight, we in the Royal Marines have the utmost admiration for what she has just achieved.”

"I am in awe of the Marines,” said Helen Skelton.

“Their dedication and hard work is obvious but their chivalry isn't as obvious until you spend eight hours on Dartmoor with them. Top guys in every sense of the word."

Photographs by LA(Phot) Emz Nolan  and LA(Phot) Ben Shread