Emma Stepto is one of the UK’s top distance runners. She earned herself a phenomenal year in 2014, winning the highly competitive runbritain Grand Prix, and setting new PB times over 10k (33.02), half marathon (1:12.28) and marathon (2:32:40). She finished in an impressive seventh place in last year’s Frankfurt Marathon.
An inspiring example
This year Emma showed she meant business again with a win at the Bath Half Marathon in March. She then returned to the elite women’s start line at the London Marathon, running 2:35:41 to improve on her London time from last year and retain the veterans’ title.
At the age of 45, she is pushing back the boundaries of age-related expectations. She consistently wins the veterans’ category in her races. She is clocking up a mighty track record, particularly for someone who only started running in her 30s and ran her marathon debut (3:00:40) at the age of 39.
Emma is a truly inspiring example. On top of working full-time, she trains three times a day, is committed to her role as secretary of Cornwall AC and the county network, and enthusiastically leads a weekly beginners’ group at the club.
We were delighted to make contact with Emma and find out more about her training and motivations…
Fitting it all in
Hi Emma. Congratulations on a fantastic year in 2014, and a cracking start to 2015 with your recent performance and vets’ title in the London Marathon. Thanks for joining us to share some insights into your training and racing…
You have a packed schedule, with working full-time, fitting in training and racing, as well as commitments at your athletics club. How do you manage to balance your time?
It is probably the biggest challenge I have, but it’s really important to me to be able to contribute to the club’s (Cornwall AC) activities and wider athletic events in Cornwall, as well as doing my own training. I am also passionate about encouraging people to get into running, as I have seen how much good it can do and as I found from my own experience.
It just means using every minute of the day to the fullest and being on the go from early morning to late nights. But luckily I love being busy, so it works fine. It can be tough in the winter, but now it is really a way of life and I don’t think much about it.
I also have a very patient and supportive husband, Brett, who also works full-time and plays in a band (Even Nine), so he has his focus and achievements too and we encourage and support each other in everything. I couldn’t do as much as I do without his support.
What are the main challenges of this? Do you get time to rest and recover enough?
The main challenge is that I can’t get all the rest and recovery that would be ideal, for the amount of training that I am doing. But everyone has pressures on their time and if you truly love and believe in something, I think you can put 100% into it, even when it is tough.
It would be a huge benefit if I could work part-time and recover more from training, but that’s in an ideal world!
The benefits of experience
Running has definitely given me more confidence, by pushing my boundaries, and given me a real curiosity about what is actually possible…
You’re among an exciting crop of 40-something top class runners, including Jo Pavey and Steve Way. What do you think helps you to continue improving regardless of age?
I like to think that age actually brings as many new benefits as it does in perhaps losing some things like youthful speed and bounce! I have definitely gained endurance, and you learn from every single race, which helps you think more tactically about races and preparation.
I wasn’t as strong mentally in my 20’s and early 30’s, so I don’t think I could have coped with the pressure of racing and training to my limits back then.
Running has definitely given me more confidence–by pushing my boundaries–and given me a real curiosity about what is actually possible and how much you can get from your body, if you refine the ways you train and research and learn about physiology, nutrition and psychology for instance.
The love of running
Have you always been a runner? What drew you to running?
I have always loved being active and did a whole range of sports at school including hockey, squash, swimming, tennis, athletics, netball and football. I also did a lot of horse-riding and cycling, as well as just being outdoors and walking, orienteering etc.
The feeling of running, when you get fit, is such a high. It’s a blessing to be able to run through the Cornish countryside, going wherever your feet take you. It’s just a real sense of freedom!
I am always grateful that I had the opportunity to do so many sports at school and as a child. I think that ingrained the love of fitness in me, and running just felt very natural. That really came back when I started training for a Race for Life in my early 30’s, and since then I have never looked back.
I am very lucky to be able to run, so I make the most of every opportunity.
Becoming an elite runner
Was there any pivotal race or season when you realised you could train and race at the highest level?
I never took myself that seriously, because there is always someone faster than you, and you are always striving to do better. Also it takes months and years for your body to adapt to the training load, so it has just always felt like steady progress.
My coach was the one who really encouraged me to try for selection to run for England, and to aim for big key races that I would never have considered myself good enough for. But I trust him and his judgement implicitly and if he thinks I can do something, I give it everything to achieve that. Sometimes it has worked and some other goals I am still working towards.
How closely do you work with your coach?
My coach is Alan Rowling. He is Chairman of Cornwall AC too, and coaches many of our endurance runners.
Everything I have achieved is thanks to his advice, guidance, encouragement and experience. I have enormous respect for him and he is one of my closest friends, as well as a coach.
I only started to improve after I joined Cornwall AC and attended the track training and club sessions and had proper coaching advice. I would encourage everyone to join a club, as it’s invaluable to run with other people of different levels and get sensible advice that will help you improve and avoid injury.
Training at the highest level
What does a typical training week look like for you?
I get up early and go to the gym before work, run in my lunch hour and then do my main training run after work, in the evening.
Weekends are slightly easier, unless I am travelling to races. Brett and I always make sure Sunday night is our ‘time out’ for a chill on the sofa, with a takeaway or a film.
I generally run around 75 miles a week, but up to 100 miles per week during peak marathon training, with a mixture of easy running, track sessions, tempo runs and a long run on Sundays.
I also take out a beginners’ group once a week, which is very sociable and a nice recovery run! I really enjoy that evening and seeing people progress from being complete beginners, to being able to race and run for fitness.
Do you have a main racing or competitive goal at the moment that you’re training towards?
I have lots of short local summer races, to help get my speed back after the London Marathon.
My next big target races in the autumn will be Cardiff Half Marathon (which are the trials for the World Half Marathon Champs, and should be a great experience) and Frankfurt Marathon (with the aim for a PB, I hope, but that’s always the aim!).
Thank you so much for sharing this with us Emma, and good luck for your upcoming races!