4th May 2017
People run for a great many reasons, and it’s as much a pleasure to hear about those who run for the sheer love of it as it is to hear of those who run to push themselves to the absolute limit and see where it takes them. It’s fair to say that Gemma Hockett falls into the latter category, the self-professed ‘Marathon Girl’ achieving quite extraordinary targets and proving that we can all do something if we put our mind to it.
It was at the recent Women Run Strong event in London, led by running heroes Susie Chan and Kelly Roberts, that Gemma realised how everyone has their own running journey and reasons to feel empowered.
Gemma’s journey began back in 2012 when she had found herself supporting the Virgin Money London Marathon and was overcome with emotion for a runner struggling at mile 20. She instinctively wanted to cheer him on and repeatedly shouted at him that he could do it, until he too believed that he could and continued to the finish line. It was one of those life-changing moments where she thought “if he can do it, so can I”.
It wasn’t long after that Gemma declared that she would enter the 2013 Virgin Money London Marathon and run it in under four hours – an ambitious target for a first-time marathoner.
“I had just completed my first half marathon and thought, I think I can run a marathon!” Gemma recalls. “Everyone thought I was crazy but I didn’t care. I had been warned off endurance running as I have mild spondylitis of the spine, but I believed I could do it. I trained really hard and I came in at 3:59 on the day. I was ecstatic.”
For most of us that would be ample achievement, but Gemma simply turned around and upped the ante. “I thought, I could really give this some welly,” she laughs as she tells me how she decided then and there that she would return and run the marathon in 3:30. “I trained really hard, and in 2014 I ran it in 3:21!”.
We’re already getting an impression that this girl does what she sets out to do, and it’s no surprise to hear what happened next. Sub 3-hour was the next target, but this is where the going got tough and over the next two years Gemma found it hard to bring her time down below 3:07. The battle became mental as well as physical, and she admits it took a huge effort to ‘man up’ and work out what she needed to do to hit the magical sub 3-hour mark.
“I went to Kenya to train at altitude,” she concludes, as if it’s the most normal thing in the world. “I sorted out my diet, I ran longer, I found the mental strength and I worked really, really hard. When it came to the 2017 ASICS Greater Manchester Marathon I knew I had one crack at the whip and that it had to happen. I went to a place in my mind where I had never been before and I collapsed at the finish line, but I had done it: I came in at 2:59:37!”
Not only had she done it but she had come 16th in the women’s field at what is widely known to be the UK’s flattest, fastest and friendliest marathon.
“The ASICS Greater Manchester Marathon was absolutely brilliant,” confirms Gemma. “In my opinion, it’s for people who want to go out there and achieve. It’s a serious race, the course is fast, it’s really well managed and the atmosphere is fantastic. I loved it and I’ll be back next year – top 10 and 2:50 is my next target!”.
What is most striking about Gemma is not just her physical capability but her determination to achieve her goals.
“I am not a runner,” she states quite surprisingly. “I don’t have a particular talent for it, but there was no reason why I couldn’t do it. I just wanted it, I wanted to achieve, and with enough effort I got there. I want others to see that we can all have a crack at things and achieve things we never thought possible.”
Gemma is the author of award-winning blog www.themarathongirl.com, which has recently won the Bronze award for Best Blog at The Running Awards 2017, the only independent awards ceremony celebrating the best of running and its culture. It’s easy to see how her story and her honesty resonate with runners of all abilities.
“With my blog I want to keep things real, like Caithy Walker, who I hugely admire,” Gemma explains. “If I have a bad run I will talk about it, as it’s part of the journey. If I have an injury I don’t give up, even if the wait is agonising. Marathon training is brutal and it tests you on every level, and I want to share that with my followers so they know they are not alone. Most of all, I want to inspire people to have a go.”
We finish our chat with Gemma telling me, quite refreshingly, that for all the hours she puts into running, she ‘flicks the switch’ as soon as she walks in the door from work and settles down to family life. Running may be part of her identity, but it’s not all of it.
We wish Gemma the best of luck with all her training and look forward to being inspired by many more phenomenal feats in the future.