Chris Rainsford catches up with top British female athlete and fierce local athletics support, Emma Stepto.
Ranked inside the top-10 last year in distances ranging from five miles through half marathon all the way up to the full 26.2 mile distance, forty-four year old Emma Stepto has proven that age needn’t be a barrier to the upper-reaches of British women’s distance-running as her remarkable late rise in the sport continues.
Stepto has been in the running game less than a decade and the success she’s achieved so far has been a revelation. After starting her marathon career with a three-hour debut in 2009, Emma has progressed steadily in the years since and ran within two seconds of the England Athletics Commonwealth Games marathon qualifying mark in Amsterdam last autumn.
Despite not quite clocking another best at the London Marathon two weeks ago, the Cornwall AC athlete describes the elite start opportunity she was afforded in the capital as an “unforgettable experience” and credits joining up with her local club as the catalyst to her running success.
“Being on the elite start for the first time was a massive opportunity. I started running in my mid-thirties and never dreamt I would be in such a position – let alone in my mid-forties! Joining Cornwall Athletic Club and having proper training advice and coaching has really guided me and showed me how to improve.
Running does feel like a rollercoaster sometimes as you have incredible highs and achievements but also really tough lows with injuries and disappointments. All of it makes you stronger though and running gives me an enormous feeling of freedom.”
This freedom and enjoyment have been major factors in Stepto’s impressive progress but her time in London was one of her first tastes of disappointment as she failed to improve on her 2:35:02 PB in Amsterdam.
Emma was hoping to dip inside 2:35 for the first time and achieve the England Athletics qualifying time for the Commonwealth Games this summer. With first-past-the-post from the elite start only selection criteria also applied, Emma’s chances of running the necessary mark always looked unlikely as she and fellow-Brit Amy Whitehead were cut adrift from the leading ladies from the off.
Although her time in London was just a minute shy of her best, the prestige of the elite start was more encouraging for Emma and she doesn’t believe she would have ran any quicker if she had been in with the mass start.
“I was really hoping to achieve Commonwealth Games qualifying time and was most upset feeling I’d let my coach and family and friends down, who were supporting me and believing in me so much. It just wasn’t the right day. The crowds were phenomenal and I tried to stay positive but I seemed to be unable to up my pace in the second half as I usually can.
It was quite a lonely race but I don’t mind that, I like to concentrate. Amy ran really strongly and pulled away in the second half. I’m really pleased that she achieved 1st GB lady home and I wish her so much luck with the Commonwealth Games!
I don’t think I would have necessarily run faster from the Championship start. It wouldn’t have made very much difference. I’d love to do the elite start again, and run it better, as it would be less daunting and I would know what to expect.”
Stepto will almost-certainly have her time in London again. After successfully making it through a tough winter she describes as “unforgettable” and “the worst ever”, with relentless storms and falling trees in the south-west of England providing both a “physical and mental battle each day”, an injury-free and speedier summer should see Stepto kick-on again with a possible autumn marathon in the pipeline.
A full-time administrator at the School of Writing and Journalism at Falmouth University, Emma juggles training with her professional life and voluntary roles as secretary for both Cornwall AC and the Duchy Athletics Network. Leading the local beginners walk/run group each Monday on top of all that and she admits “it’s quite a juggling act.”
But with the “incredible support” of her husband Brett, who also combines full-time employment with extra-curricular activities as the drummer in local band, Even Nine, Emma admits “he has late nights at gigs and I have early morning starts at races but we both support each other’s interests and try to go to as many as we can together!”
Great Britain’s leading long-distance veteran lady takes her enthusiasm for the sport a step further in her position on the Cornwall AC committee. Away from her racing exploits, news of the Carn Brea track closure and relocation has caused a great stir about the reality of the Olympic legacy. Stepto says discussions are ongoing and stresses the hard work going on behind-the-scenes to ensure athletics remains at the heart of the local community.
“The plan is for the track to be relocated. Cornwall AC and many people in local running clubs, sports associations and other organisations are working extremely hard together to ensure the track is relocated within the Carn Brea area and that West Cornwall does not lose this essential resource.
We have a fantastic base of experienced coaches and officials – and talented athletes of all ages – so it is really vital to ensure the athletics facilities remain so that this can continue to develop.”
Cornwall AC has an impressive Hall of Fame of ex- internationals, including former England international Jon Richards and 2:11-marathoner and GB international Dave Buzza.
If further proof were needed of the importance of relocating the facility in West Cornwall then Emma’s recent success is certainly the pudding. The Alan Rowling-coached athlete’s impressive range of times combined with her dedication to the future of Cornwall AC in her voluntary capacity shows how pivotal the sport remains in the area.
Looking ahead, the 2010 British and Irish Masters Cross Country V40 champion is embracing the buzz of her relatively late-arrival to the sharp end of the sport and says she is looking forward to putting in more work to maximise her potential and inspire others to get involved in athletics.
“I’m incredibly grateful that I am able to run and most of all it means the world to me when someone says it inspires them to start running – regardless of age.
I encourage everyone to find out what they are capable of and just to enjoy the feeling and the freedom that running gives you. Whether it is track, multi terrain, cross country, road running, there is something for everyone.”