Today’s Guest Q&A is with Swansea Harrier and Lamar alumnus, Verity Ockenden. Verity is an inspiration and role model to all young athletes trying to pursue their athletic dreams as she gives running her all, whilst retaining her love for food, as a sous-chef, and continuing to write poetry. Verity has represented both England and Great Britain, and was a bronze medalist at the British Champs 10,000 road race, Vitality 10k. I spoke to Verity and asked her some questions that will be of interest to us all.
How do you manage the athlete/work lifestyle?
I work three to four days a week as a sous-chef, a job that I chose for it’s flexibility. I’ve been honest from the get-go with my employers about how sacred running is to me, and I was prepared to wait for the job that would appreciate this. I’m very fortunate that Messums are so supportive, particularly when I get surprise call-ups or my race calendar changes.
Day to day, I still have to be careful not to over-do it however. Time off really has to be time off. You can’t work all day, and then go home and do something else on your feet. You have to sit down. It isn’t always easy to fit training in, for example on a winter Sunday when I work 8.30am until 4pm and still need to fit a 2 hour run in. In times like those, the best strategy is to be well prepared; people laugh at the amount of luggage I always have with me, but having food, water and running kit 24/7 ready to run straight from work saves precious time and means I am eating my recovery meal and getting to bed earlier.
How do you ensure you eat enough alongside training?
I love food and I work in a kitchen, so I am constantly getting offered exciting new dishes to taste and we always use beautiful ingredients. But at home, I quite literally just follow my gut instincts. If I’m hungry, I know it’s for a reason, and if I’m craving something particular (usually liver, broccoli, orange juice or dark chocolate) it’s because my body needs it. I never weigh myself, so I don’t base my intake on that, but rather on how I’m feeling. Sometimes a pitfall has been forgetting to take a post-training snack with me, but knowing how important it is to refuel quickly I never feel guilty about stopping in the nearest service station for a smoothie and a wrap even if that isn't the ‘perfect’ thing. Something is always better than nothing.
What would you say to someone wanting to pursue their running career, but isn't sure if they can go anywhere with it?
I would always go for it, it’s good to be a yes person. Does it matter if you try and you don’t get anywhere? For me it doesn't, and for me the most annoying people in the world are those who haven't tried and want to tell you you’re doing it all wrong.
I don’t think you need to sacrifice anything major to run well either, so what’s to lose? Being unsure might even be the best thing to be; look at the things you don’t know as exciting presents to unwrap in the future, never something to worry about. You just can’t predict if you’re going to be a superstar or a nearly-but-not-quite - if we did we’d be boring, and arrogant. I think if you’re doing the thing you love, the outcome is just a bonus.
How do you stay motivated in the middle of a race when the pain kicks in?
I prepare myself for this beforehand. I think the easiest place for it to all fall apart mentally is that tiny moment of hesitation between knowing a question is being asked of you in a race, and coming up with the answer to it. So you can remove that moment from the equation by already knowing your answer before you start, and the more engrained as an automated response you can get it, the better.
During the Vitality 10K when it began to hurt, I asked myself if I had hurt more than that in training, and the answer was yes. So I made myself go to that place. I pictured the exact stretch of road I’d hurt more on during my last workout where I’d run a really fast last mile to finish a 10 mile tempo. I just imagined I was there again, and I knew I could definitely do the same thing over 6 miles.
Finally, where do you want to be in 5 years time?
In 5 years time I’ll be 33 and I honestly don’t see much changing. Although I’ve learnt so much from my various experiences in life, I’ve always been the same person inside and I think it’s my character more than anything else that makes me good at running. I aim to stay the same in that respect, and I hope it continues to earn me joy in my results. I love to push the limits of my mind and body, so I think I’ll still be in great shape to keep doing that for a long time. I don’t really think about the times or the placings that might take me; I’ve been surprised so much already on my journey, that it would be limiting to have too rigid a plan - I try to focus on just being my best in the present moment.
Thank you Verity for showing us all that if you love something enough, you should follow your dreams and never be left thinking 'what if'.
Please follow Verity instagram page here.