Verity Ockenden: "My Journey Has Definitely Not Been Normal"

Verity Ockenden: “My journey has definitely not been normal”

European Indoor 3000m bronze medallist reflects on the challenges she has faced after Olympic rejection, as she prepares to make return at the Night of the 10,000m PBs

Verity Ockenden

Verity Ockenden is back in Highgate next weekend (May 18) as she will make her fifth appearance on the track at Night of the 10,000m PBs.

VERITY OCKENDEN “MY JOURNEY HAS DEFINITELY NOT BEEN NORMAL”

Since changing her set-up and moving to Italy almost two and a half years ago, the 32-year-old has had great success. Last season, she finished eighth over 5km at the World Road Running Championships and achieved a lifetime best of 15:18 in Riga, Latvia.

Ockenden has since gone quicker on the track and recently clocked a super 15:16.29 over 5000m (May 1) in Modena, Italy.

However, it has not all been plain sailing for the British athlete, opening up about the struggles she’s faced – describing it as ‘putting herself back together’ – as a result of not making the Tokyo Olympic team.

While the On athlete hoped to run both the 5000m and 10,000m in the Japanese capital, she missed out on qualifying and watched Eilish McColgan, Jessica Warner-Judd and Amy-Eloise Neale make the trip instead.

Ockenden has since been on a journey, and with the help from On, now has Paris 2024 in her sights.  The first priority however is Highgate.

Her best time at Night of the 10,000m PBs came last year when she clocked 32:34:16. This time round, with a different training set-up, she hopes to break the 32-minute mark.

AW chats exclusively to Ockenden below:

Verity Ockenden (On Running)

How has the 2024 season been for you so far?

I think from the outside looking in I would say it’s nothing special what I’ve done so far. My first 10km of the year in Valencia was probably the most high-profile road race that I’ve ever done and it went horrifically for me.

So, it was a tough start of the year in January and it really felt like a disappointing run because I felt like my training had been going really well and it felt like the perfect race to show that off. I got quite a bad chest infection which really ruined it and I was then out for a month.

It was one of those scenarios where I should have made the executive decision that I didn’t make and I should have called it [Valencia] off and said I am not ready to race.

It’s really hard to say no to things and so that was a tough lesson to learn that it would have been better for me not to go.

But everything since then, such as running Trafford in 32:01, the Podium 5k event and Cheshire 5km, have all been really good. I’m not super excited about the times on paper but the feedback that we got was all really positive and the confidence in my strength in how I felt rather than the result on paper that was all really good.

How did it feel to run that 32:01 PB at Trafford this year?

It was definitely nice to prove to myself that I was as fit as I thought I was, particularly because our aim with doing those races was just to gain experience in the 10km in preparation for Highgate, that’s what it has all been about.

Getting a variety of different types of races and doing well in some of them has all been good preparation with how to deal with it if it goes your way or it doesn’t go your way, that’s what you have to be able to do in a 10km.

Do you have a preferred distance to race?

Definitely the 5km, that’s the reason we have been doing 10kms because it’s not my favourite.

My coach Chris [Jones] says, ‘well you know it can be once you get comfortable with it and you feel in control then you will be able to enjoy them’ and that is the goal but for now I just love the 5km, it’s my baby.

VERITY OCKENDEN “MY JOURNEY HAS DEFINITELY NOT BEEN NORMAL”

How has training been over the last few months?

Strangely I know a lot of people have already been away to altitude but we decided to stay at home and be consistent.

This is the first time in my life I’ve had some stability in my home set up and I am lucky that living in Italy it’s already starting to get quite warm so I am viewing it as being a kind of a warm weather training camp and get some heat adaptations in and then we will go to altitude later.

I’m pleasantly surprised sometimes with some of the things I am able to do in training. I know that there is still a lot of training left to do to really hit that peak and we are not quite there yet but I think coming into Highgate it’s really exciting for me.

What does a normal training week look like for you?

On Tuesday I will go down to the track with the local group of teenage boys who are brilliant, they are so passionate and they give it everything to pace me as much as they can, a very selfless group of guys. It’s a very important social thing for me and a grassroots thing which helps keep my head in the right place because it’s all just running and we are all the same no matter what level you are doing it at.

Depending on the week, it is a two or three session week alternating. We do a lot of tempo stuff still, a classic Sunday long run and then I will go to the gym a couple times of the week.

How did it feel to run for GB at the World Athletics Road Running Championships last year?

That was a really important moment for me because it had been a long time since I had last worn the vest and I’d had really quite a lot of struggles about putting myself back together about not making the last Olympic team.

That was kind of a moment of ‘you actually can do this, you do belong here still, you are still good enough. you always were and this can be a new beginning.’

To do it with my new set up as well cemented that belief that I have chosen the right people and it made me feel confident in what I’ve built here.

How did you deal with the process of not making the Olympic team in Tokyo?

I really didn’t deal with it at all last time and that has been one of the biggest things that I have focused on since.

I am thinking if I am going to put myself through that again I have to be able to deal with it better if I don’t get what I want. There is always such a huge chance that you are not going to make it and you have to make sure you are going to be okay with that.

I think that is a huge part of what I have built over here now is that my life as a whole is so much happier. Not only does that make me be able to perform better so it increases my chances of being able to make the team but if I don’t then it also increases my chances of still being able to perform well after that disappointment and being able to carry on in my career and do well in other races.

How has your set-up changed in the last few years?

I had a wonderful coach in Tony Houchin who was brilliant during that whole six-year build-up and the Olympics and I had a great team back at Salisbury where I used to train in the UK but I think one of the major changes is now I have a sponsor.

In that build-up to start with I was working part time as a chef and then when I quit my job as a chef to focus on preparing on the Olympics it was all based off my family and friends chipping in to get me out to Flagstaff.

Afterwards, when I came home and I didn’t make it I had nothing. They supported me up until that point but then when you come home and you don’t have a job, I didn’t have a house either, that is what made it really hard.

I just felt like I had nothing but now this is my job and I can rely on On to support me and I don’t have to be asking my friends and family for help which makes a huge difference.

What was it like to get that sponsorship with On and how has it helped you as an athlete?

It was actually a huge surprise when they approached me. I think I was still feeling quite low about myself and I didn’t see the value in myself that they saw.

That was an amazing boost in itself and I think one of the best things about them is they really focus on the individual. They recognise that not everybody’s journey is the same so they are very patient with the athletes and listen to what you need. My journey has definitely not been a normal journey, they understand that if that is what works for you then they work with you on that.

What has your past experiences of Night of the 10,000m PBs been like? 

I have always loved it. I will admit that I have never really gone into the race 100% prepared.

It has always been something I have done and always wanted to do because of the atmosphere and because it is the Olympic trials and you just can’t say no to it. For that reason I have sometimes done it when I haven’t really done the specific training for it, I just thought I wanna do it anyway and I don’t really care if I am not in the shape for it.

The crowd can really get you through it, you still enjoy it even if it is a hard race. I have always had to jump in at the deep end because it’s always been my first race of the season and because its a 10km that is really nasty way to do it.

What do you expect from yourself at this year’s Night of the 10,000m PBs?

This year is the first year that it is not going to be my first race of the season. We have planned specifically to train for this race, I have done a 1500m and a 5km now in the build up to sharpen up for it and I feel a lot more prepared.

I always enjoyed it anyway but this time hopefully its going to make it that little bit more enjoyable performance wise.

The time I ran last week at a meet in Italy [Meeting Internazionale Frate 150] gives me a lot of confidence. I ran 15:16.29 over 5000m so in theory I think I should definitely be able to break 32 minutes at Highgate. By how much, I don’t know.

GEMMA STEEL WINS THE GREAT BIRMINGHAM RUN 10KM

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