The Olympic Games has gone – for this year, at least – and athletes all over the world are having to adjust to a new reality. The target they had set themselves, often years ago, has shifted. But as Natasha Cockram tells Owen Morgan, the only thing to do is stay positive, count your blessings, and ring a new date in next year’s diary.
Natasha Cockram gave up her day job earlier this year to concentrate on an Olympic dream and to earn a living from being a professional athlete.
Now, the Welsh marathon runner is having to change course and the route to the finishing line is very uncertain.
Just weeks after Cockram – one of Wales’ top female athletes – took the plunge, the Tokyo Olympics have been postponed and the coronavirus pandemic has wiped out any prospect of earning cash through race prize money in the foreseeable future.
But the Gwent athlete is adopting a positive attitude despite the turn of events – focussing on the planet’s fight against the virus and keeping her sights on that Olympic dream, whenever the Games may take place.
Like athletes from all sports across the globe, Cockram has had to adapt to the news that the world’s largest sporting event won’t take place this year.
She admits: “It’s actually a relief now that it’s been postponed.
“For the past two weeks prior to the decision, it just seemed odd focussing on the Olympics when the health of the world is far more important.
“That was tough, so when it came out that it was actually postponed it was definitely a relief.”
— Natasha Cockram (@cockram_natasha) February 7, 2020
Juggling a full- time job at the Welsh Government with her gruelling marathon training regime, Cockram took the decision to give up her job to concentrate on running and relocate to Norfolk with her partner.
In the light of recent events, it would seem the fates were against her. But she is determined to look for positives.
The Micky Morris Racing Club athlete adds: “I quit my job and relocated, so that’s been a bit tough, too.
“I only did that at the beginning of March, so it’s all happened so quickly. But you’ve just got to keep focussed.
“I was working for Welsh Government and some days were starting as early as 3am and then not getting home until 10. Training was becoming impossible, so I had to make a sacrifice at some point.
“It just seemed the right time to do it. So, I relocated. It’s obviously not gone to plan now, but health is more important.
“My partner relocated to Norfolk for work. I wasn’t going to be relocating for a few months yet, but because of what my situation was with long hours, it was just getting crazier and crazier so I thought it was the right time to do it, especially so close to the Olympics.
“I was going to be training full time, but fortunately I have managed to get another job. I was relying on race money, but obviously we don’t have that money because there are no races with everything that is going on.”
Cockram acknowledges she is luckier than some.
“I’m one of the athletes who is fortunate to have another job. It’s a massive pay cut to what I was on, but there are always ways through.
“It’s just something to get us through while there are no races out there. I feel for athletes who do rely solely on race earnings.”
Cockram says she was approaching the best shape of her life as she prepared for the London Marathon, which was due to take place this weekend before it was postponed due to the global pandemic.
The London Marathon was to have been the Olympic trial for the Great Britain team and an opportunity for Cockram to achieve the qualifying standard of 2:29.30.
Cockram, who ran 2:30.49 in Dublin last October, was confident of achieving the standard, having regularly taken large chunks out of her PB since running 2:49.34 on her marathon debut in 2017.
The former University of Tulsa student says: “It was hard when London got cancelled because I was at the point where I was the healthiest and fittest I have been, but suddenly we didn’t know when we were going to be racing again.
“It was hard to keep your focus. But at the same time you have got to stay positive.
“All the hard work that we have done isn’t going to disappear. Nor will the dream of going to a first Olympics. That is always going to be there. It just might be a year later than planned.
“I had put all the focus into London since last October when I ran 2:30 in Dublin, so yes, we were pretty confident and I had made a lot of changes in my life to put me in a better position.”
Despite the setback of the London Marathon postponement and the subsequent decision over the Olympics, Cockram is determined to make the best use of the opportunity created by the delay.
“I was heading into my best shape, but I do try to look at it as a positive because time was always my restriction whereas now I have that time.
“I’ve been given an extra year to prepare, or most likely an extra year, because we don’t know the date yet. So I’m just trying to look at it as more time to prepare and be even more ready.
“We are going to try to carry on as normal as possible, obviously within the government guidelines.
“I’m quite lucky because we do live in the middle of nowhere, so I am able to get out for an hour each day and we get as much into that hour as possible, so it’s more quality rather than quantity at the moment.
“I’m doing home workouts – we’ve got our own home gym – and body-weight exercises. We’re working on weaknesses that I didn’t have time to work on before.
“Things like stretching was always something I felt I should have worked on, so now it’s forcing me to work on that!”
A horse and dog owner, Cockram has been joined in Norfolk by her four-legged friends, who are helping to keep her fit.
“They all moved up with me. I’m quite lucky because a lot of people are struggling because they were always running, or training, in groups, but I’ve never had that.
“I do all my training with the dogs, so that carries on as normal. So, I’m quite fortunate in that not a lot has changed for me.”
As an athlete, Cockram is used to taking precautions to avoid the usual coughs, colds and viruses which can disrupt an entire season and her familiarity with training alone is helping in the current health crisis.
“I’m fortunate that normally I train on my own, separated from everyone else, so it’s easier for me in this situation because I’m used to it.”
— BBC Sport Wales (@BBCSportWales) October 29, 2019
She also has praise for the support being received from Welsh Athletics.
“We get notifications from Welsh Athletics advising us on ways to avoid things, measures to take, which is really helpful.
“They’ve been really supportive during this, obviously they are aware of people perhaps feeling a bit alone as we are so segregated right now.
“But Welsh Athletics do a really good job of keeping everyone together, communicating, setting up buddy groups as well where we can talk to other athletes to work together to get through all of this.”
Beyond the current crisis facing the entire nation, Cockram’s ambition is unshaken.
“The goal doesn’t change. It will always be the dream to go to my first Olympics . . . whenever that will be.”