By Owen Morgan
Last year’s Virgin Money London Marathon saw Natasha Cockram win the British title on an enclosed COVID-secure loop around St James’s Park.
The achievement was all the more impressive considering the Micky Morris Racing Team athlete was suffering from an ankle injury which has only healed in recent months.
Twelve months later Cockram leads a strong Welsh contingent of elite athletes into Sunday’s event, which will look far different to last year as the event returns to its more familiar guise as a mass participation race around the city.
The 28-year-old is excited by what she might achieve running injury free on thespectator-lined streets of the capital.
Cockram said of last year’s race: “I probably shouldn’t have run it and made the injury worse. It took quite a long time to recover. Hence why my build up this time has been a bit shorter.
“I wasn’t even expecting to make the start line last year. So to finish as first Brit last time was not expected at all. At least I’m injury free this year.”
Asked what her hopes for Sunday are, Cockram said: “Always a PB! Every race I run I’d always like to PB! So that’s what I’d be happy with. And obviously breaking the Welsh record as that is my PB!
“It’s hard to tell exactly what shape I’m in because my marathon block has been a bit shorter compared to normal because of the original ankle injury.
“It’s taken a long time to heal, but the last 12 weeks have been injury free. So it’s been a 12–week block of good training. We’ll just have to wait and see how it goes on the day.
“I think just going into a marathon injury free is one of the hardest things to actually accomplish. So the fact that I am is just really nice.”
The ankle problem was still hampering Cockram when she ran in the marathon trial for the Tokyo Olympics at Kew Gardens in March of this year.
Despite that hindrance, Cockram came agonisingly close to qualifying for Japan as she improved her Welsh record to 2:30.03, but missed the Olympic standard by just 33 seconds.
The Gwent runner, who is now based in the east of England, is philosophical about missing out on the Olympics.
“At the time, I was really disappointed I didn’t make the team,” she said. “But knowing that I’d never actually aimed for the 2020 Olympics – my aim was always 2024 – it was always going to be a bonus.
“What was more frustrating was the fact that I come so close. Had it been different on the day, I could have actually made the team.
“That was the hardest part to accept, knowing that I could have done it. But you’vegot to pick yourself up and focus on the next one.”
The next one in terms of major championships is yet to be decided.
Next summer sees three championship marathons in quick succession at the European Athletics Championships, World Athletics Championships and the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
Cockram already has the qualifying time for the Welsh team at the Commonwealths, while a good performance in London could be a huge step towards the Great Britain team at the Europeans or Worlds.
Next summer’s hectic schedule will mean marathon athletes will have to make some tough choices – if they qualify for all three.
“I’ve talked about this with my coach,” says Cockram. “Right now we’re very open about which one we do. Obviously, I’d like to do all three, but it’s just not possible.
“We’re just going to see how Sunday goes and the next couple of months and see which options are available to me.
“Hopefully it will be all three and then make the decision on which to run when we’re closer to the time when we have to.
“It’s so hard, because obviously I’d love to do all three, and I’ve never actually done any of them. So it’s going be a tough call to decide which one I do. But we’ll see.”
Cockram will have plenty of competition to repeat last year’s achievement of finishing as the first British athlete. She is up against the likes of Charlotte Purdue, who has a personal best of PB of 2:25.38.
The overall favourite for the women’s race is Kenya’s Brigid Kosgei, who will be going for a hat-trick of wins in London.
The men’s race sees a number of elite Welsh athletes competing including Josh Griffiths who famously finished as the first British runner in 2017 and qualified for the World Championships later that year.
Like Cockram, Griffiths already has the Welsh Commonwealth standard but the 2:13.11 man isn’t ruling out the possibility of earning a place on a GB squad next summer.
Hot on his heels in terms of times is Mold’s Charlie Hulson, who will be keen to make up for the disappointment of missing the Olympic trials at Kew Gardens due to injury and bidding to improve his best of 2:13.34.
Current British Champion Jonny Mellor, who is favourite to be the first male British finisher again this weekend, singled Hulson out as one to watch at the pre-race press conference.
Mellor also referenced veteran Andy Davies for his incredible longevity at the top end of British marathon running. The mid-Wales athlete will again be looking to be among the top domestic finishers on Sunday with a PB of 2:14.36.
Another Welshman lining up within the elite ranks is Cardiff’s Dan Nash, who was also forced to withdraw from the Olympic trials after contracting COVID-19 and will be looking to challenge his best of 2:18.51.