THE smile on Natasha Cockram’s face says it all.

After 26.2 miles, the 28-year-old has just won the biggest race of her career, the Los Angeles Marathon.

Victory puts Cwmbran-born Cockram alongside athletics legends Steve Jones and Tanni Grey-Thompson as Welsh winners of major marathons.

Back home in Norfolk, where she relocated with partner Jim in March 2020, Cockram is still on a high following last weekend’s efforts.

But it could have been very different had she succumbed to a serious knee injury six years ago.

After nearly quitting the sport, Cockram showed all her resilience to bounce back and, in 2019, became Wales’ fastest female marathon runner in history.

Another injury, to her ankle this time, struck as the country went into its first pandemic lockdown, but with that hurdle overcome, she returned to the road with gusto.

Cockram’s success out in California again demonstrated that she could be in the mix at next year’s Commonwealth Games, while the Paris Olympics in 2024 are also firmly in her sights.

Not qualifying for Tokyo this year has acted as the perfect motivation to get out there and compete on the biggest stage of all.

But there’s only one place to start and that’s LA.

“LA wasn’t on my original plan before London, but after London I just wanted to get back out and race,” said Cockram, who was the third fastest British woman at the London Marathon in March.

“Although I wasn’t injured or ill in London, something wasn’t quite right and I felt that affected my performance on the day.

“I recovered well and felt in better shape than London, but travelling out to LA wasn’t so great for me.

“I didn’t really adapt to American time and felt jet-lagged pretty much the whole time.

“But I think it actually worked in my favour. The race started early and I had to be up at 3am, but I was already up because of the jet lag.

“Looking back, I was probably in PB shape, but it just wasn’t possible because the course was so hilly, much hillier than I thought it would be.

“Other than that, everything went to plan.

“The favourite was a girl who has run 2:24, but she had raced not long before and around halfway I could she was working much more than me.

“I felt really comfortable and made my move at around 17 or 18 miles, and she didn’t respond.

“It can be hard to run on your own for a long time but because the atmosphere was so good, and my coach was in the lead car, it all helped push me through.

“Crossing the finish line was surreal, I just didn’t expect it at all. It’s definitely the biggest win of my career so far.

“It was especially nice because it was an ASICS race and they sponsor me. I got to meet the CEO and it was good to see the team behind the company that sponsors you.”

For Cockram, running a marathon with jet lag is nothing compared to the injury she picked up in her last year of university out in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

“I had knee surgery in my final year of university and that put me out of competitive running for two years,” she said.

“I wasn’t planning on coming back to it but I did.

“I started to run with my dog for fun and to keep fit, and then I was roped into joining my local running club [Micky Morris].

“I did some trail and mountain races, but I always thought the marathon would be my best event.

“But after my knee injury, I didn’t think there was any way my body would hold up to 26 miles and so I wrote it off.

“I kept doing the mountain races and thought they were probably harder on my body than a marathon, so then I tried the marathon and have kept at it ever since.”

Cockram’s ankle problem last spring damaged her chances of qualifying for the Olympics, however, the disappointment has only served to add extra fuel to the fire with Paris in mind.