The Virgin Money Giving Mini London Marathon was an important part of the start to the world and Paralympic champion’s career

Hannah Cockroft is one of Britain’s most famous and decorated Paralympians so it is hard to believe that she took up wheelchair racing just months before her first Virgin Money Giving Mini London Marathon victory in 2009, writes Ryan Goad.

The Yorkshire star was at a British Paralympic Association identity programme in Loughborough as a seated thrower having won the discus competition at the UK School Games when Ian Thompson, the husband of Tanni Grey-Thompson, asked if she had ever thought about wheelchair racing.

“My dad was with me and, being a typical Yorkshireman, he said: ‘Well, we are down here now, you might as well have a go’,” Cockroft recalls. “So I did and I loved it so much that I quit throwing on the spot.”

That decision changed Cockroft’s life. By 2012, she was at her first Paralympics where she won gold in the 100m and 200m in London. Four years later in Rio she retained her 100m title and collected further gold medals in the 400m and 800m.

She has also won 10 World Championships and two European Championships gold medals but for all that success she has not forgotten her first major wheelchair race victory – the 2009 Virgin Money Giving Mini London Marathon.

Hannah-Cockroft-Mini-London-Marathon-2009-by-Mark-Shearman“I was 15 when I did my first Mini Marathon,” Cockroft says. “It was only a few months after that talent ID day at Loughborough and it was the first event I had ever competed in that was televised so it was massive for me. It was very exciting.”

Cockroft was a comfortable winner in 2009, finishing in 15 minutes and 42 seconds – well over a minute ahead of runner-up Louise Hunt.

But the following year she knew she was in for a much tougher challenge as Jade Jones – the winner of the previous year’s under-15 girls’ race – was stepping up into the under-17 age group.

Jones went on to be a team-mate of Cockroft at the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Paralympics but they were very much rivals on the streets of the capital.

“That year the competition was on,” says Cockroft. “Jade had come up into my age group and we both just got our heads down and raced.

“We were quite close and I just got past her in the last mile. My lasting memory of that year’s race though was thinking ‘cool, I’m going to be on the telly when I get home’, only for me to then get home and see that I was named the winner of the boy’s race and Jade the winner of the girls’ race!”

Cockroft says the event was an amazing experience for a teenage athlete and that it would prepare her for racing in front of the sort of crowds she would find at London 2012 just two years later.

“It was incredible,” she says. “The amount of support we got out there on the roads was amazing. We were used to just competing on a track in front of every dad and a dog, now we were racing in front of thousands of people, everyone willing us on.

“I didn’t notice any of the landmarks on the course. The Mini Marathon is only three miles so for us it’s almost a sprint. We don’t have 26 miles to think about things, we just have to go. But it’s just fantastic to get out there and have all those people cheering you on.”

“The Mini Marathon is only three miles so for us it’s almost a sprint. We don’t have 26 miles to think about things, we just have to go”

In 2010 it was Cockroft’s final year to be eligible for the Mini Marathon as she entered the under-20 ranks afterwards. British Athletics coaches knew they had a talent on their hands but originally earmarked her for the Rio Games in 2016, rather than the London Olympics.

“That was the original plan,” Cockroft remembers. “But everything happened so quickly and before I knew it, there I was at London 2012. I felt like the junior of the team.”

Cockroft went on to win two golds in London and looks back on that period as a glorious time of pressure-free competition.

“Because I was young and everything was new, I just didn’t have time to panic. As you get older and people know you then the pressure comes on. And that is what is so good about the Mini Marathon. It brings young athletes together who are all in a similar boat, all starting out in their careers and it’s about enjoying yourself still at that stage.”

Still aged just 25, Cockroft has set her sights on adding to her Paralympic medal collection at Tokyo 2020 but after that, who knows, maybe she will have a crack at the full Virgin Money London Marathon – although the distance does fill her with dread!

“I don’t think I’m quite ready for a full marathon,” she laughs. “Maybe they could do a ‘masters’ Mini Marathon over the three-mile distance. That would suit me much better!”

2009 Virgin Money Giving Mini London Marathon 14-17 girls’ wheelchair race

1 Hannah Cockroft 15:42
2 Louise Hunt 17:08
3 Rebecca Harding 18:07

2010 Virgin Money Giving Mini London Marathon 14-17 girls’ wheelchair race

1 Hannah Cockroft 15:48
2 Jade Jones 16:29
3 Colette Martin 20:07

» The Virgin Money Giving Mini London Marathon is one of the most prestigious youth events in the country and has seen some of the cream of British runners come through the system and then go on to make their mark on the world stage. This year is the 10th year the Mini Marathon has been the British Championships for under-13, under-15 and under-17 athletes and held over the three mile distance. This year’s event is on April 22

» Look out for further interviews with athletes who have gone through the ranks of the Mini Marathon to make it on the global stage