Behind the shared #instarunner pictures, many of us live a less than perfect life. And as gorgeous, bright and happy as Emma Cockroft looks on our cover this issue, she’s here to remind us that being perfect is overrated. “I don’t want to say I’m suddenly clean-cut, I don’t eat this or that,” she says. “It’s all about moderation. I do still go out every now and then, but I pick my battles and make sure everything is balanced in my life.”
This grounded approach comes from hard experience. A few years ago, Emma was working as a bar manager and leading a hectic lifestyle. “I was working late hours and out quite a lot and it got to a point where I had no focus at all, no end goal with anything.”
But when serious illness struck her family, the harrowing experience sparked a change that has transformed Emma’s life. Her cousin Aaron was in hospital, being treated for cancer, and at the same time Emma was going through a traumatic relationship break-up. When Aaron’s friend mentioned that he was signing up for a half-marathon, Emma liked the idea – and the reaction she got from those around her just made her more determined. “Everyone laughed at me because of the party lifestyle and I just felt like, ‘No, I want to show people I can do this.’ I was trying to find where I was at that moment in time.”
The focus of having a goal to aim for – completing the Great North Run – proved just the motivation Emma needed to get stuck into running. She didn’t have an easy ride, though. “I remember running around [the park outside my flat] and it was not even 15 minutes in and I was walking, sweating, bright red. People were watching and I think they genuinely thought I was having a heart attack. I remember just thinking, ‘How am I going to get used to this?’ If I hadn’t had the half-marathon [to aim for] I wouldn’t have done it.”
Moving away from her hectic lifestyle wasn’t straightforward, either, particularly with the emotional stress of her cousin’s illness and the recent break-up. “There were times when I was thinking, ‘I’m just going to go out and drink loads of alcohol’, and just being a bit wild,” says Emma. “I was doing that but then feeling bad about it the next day and there was just no need. Even now people say to me, ‘I can’t believe you were that person.’”
Sadly, Aaron passed away before Emma ran the Great North Run in 2013, but running had given her a new way to cope with the sadness. “After that first race, everyone was like, ‘Oh so now you’re a professional runner!’ and [would]take the mick out of me, but [running] was my happy place,” she says. “I’ve always been quite a bubbly person and running made me happy; I was constantly in that zone when I was running so I felt it was better for me and for everyone around. With everything that had happened, I tried to use it as my positive therapy.”
Emma’s friends soon got used to the idea that Sunday mornings were for running rather than hangovers. “Obviously I still enjoy a drink but it’s for a social reason – I was doing it to numb pain [before], it just wasn’t the way to go. Now I drink to enjoy the taste or enjoy the moment – it’s not just to be silly drunk.”
Keen to maintain the focus that her first half-marathon had given her, Emma set herself the target of running five more 13.1-milers over the next year, with the ultimate aim to run a full marathon the year after that. At the same time, at the suggestion of someone she’d met during her low period, Emma started her blog – lipstickandtrainers.com. “I started writing about my fitness from [being] a complete beginner runner – I think the first post was just about waking up a bit hungover, having pizza, thinking should I go running or should I not go running… It was my lifestyle change, from that New Year, I wrote it week by week. It was about ‘I’ve not been this fast before, this is my PB’ but also trying to keep the other half of my lifestyle, trying to just be normal. I don’t do the whole clean eating thing but I do look after myself, because my body is a machine, you’ve got to use it wisely, but don’t beat yourself up if you have a naughty night. I wanted people to see that we’re not all perfect.”
The blog quickly gained followers but, for Emma, it was just as important to use personally to track her progress and stay motivated. “Looking back at who I was then, who I am now and even who I could be – seeing how different I was then to now keeps me going and keeps me on my toes. Anyone should do it, because we all need progress and goals,” she says.
For any runner, reaching the full marathon distance is about as good a marker of progress as anything and, one day in May last year, Emma woke up to face that test. “I never thought I would ever run a marathon,” she says. “I’d trained so hard for it but when it came to marathon day, I was so anxious. I didn’t trust in my training and I just felt like it was such a big thing. I remember being in my flat with my sister and I just started crying – it was just this emotional connection, everything was a step to me, and I just got to this day and I was like, ‘I’m not sure if I can do it’. It was just self doubt.”
Emma took the race at her own pace and, although she felt she was holding herself back, the doubts all vanished as the finish line finally came into view. “I remember that last 10 seconds and just seeing the finish line and then crossing it – I just remember that feeling so clearly. I’ll never get that elation again, no matter how many times you do a marathon, your first is always like that.”
The race taught Emma a lot about herself. “I’ve always been quite an impulsive person and want things now,” she says, “but [it taught me that] anything good doesn’t come easy. You’re going to have to have the hard times to get the good times, so it taught me to have that patience. I never thought I could do it, and there I was, a marathon runner.”
Now a seasoned runner – and aiming for a sub-four-hour marathon in Amsterdam this autumn – Emma is looking forward to welcoming women to her home city on 10 September as the official Women’s Running Race Series Ambassador for our Manchester event. Although she’ll soon be moving to London, it’s clear that the city holds a special place in Emma’s heart – never more so than after the recent terrorist attack at Manchester Arena. “I remember going to bed [the evening of the attack] thinking it’s going to be OK, and then waking up and it was not OK. And that was quite scary because you realise how fickle life is. Even though I didn’t know anyone who passed, I just felt quite emotional about the situation. People were saying to avoid town and I was like, ‘No, I need to go and see what’s going on.’ I got my running kit on and ran and just went straight to the city centre. It was just my way of coping. It’s amazing to see how people come together in a time of need.”
She was one of thousands who took part in the Great Manchester Run just days later. “The race has always been a big thing for Manchester,” she says. “We didn’t know whether it was going to go ahead, but I just felt like, ‘We need to do this, if anything we’re going to be stronger than ever this year.’ It was a good feeling to know that everyone had each other’s backs.”
That feeling of support will be there to greet women at the WRRS event in September, too, and Emma hopes that the event will inspire women who, like her, weren’t sure running was for them. “I hope they’ll get the same feelings out of it that I did when I first did a race,” she says. “Whether you run the 10K, the 5K or the mile, it’s all an achievement if you’ve never done that before. I’d like people to know that feeling is great and it’s something you should work towards.”
And if you need any recommendations for pizza and a pint afterwards, she should be able to help out there, too – after all, it’s all about balance.
Follow Emma (aka Lipstick and Trainers) on Instagram (instagram.com/emajoyc) and Twitter (twitter.com/EmaJoyC ) for updates and special discounts on the Women’s Running Race Series – Manchester, taking place on 10 September.
Images: Helen Turton. Hair and make-up: Rebecca Anderton. Kit: Top by ASICS, bra by ZAAZEE, tights by F&F at Tesco, shoes (Emma’s own) by adidas.