Big miles, mixing up the terrain, has all helped Verity Ockenden shoot up the UK rankings. She shares some details about her training.
The track is Ockenden’s first love, but having impressed numerous times in the mud over the 2017/2018 season, alongside flying to a third-place finish at the highly competitive Armagh International 3k road race, the Swansea Harriers runner has shown great versatility.
When it comes to training, Ockenden does not have a large training group to share her 85 miles a week with, and the nearest track that she is able to train on is an 80-minute drive away.
The British international tells us what an average training week looks like, her key sessions and shares some other interesting running insights.
One additional thing Ockenden does admit is a need to improve on the amount of core work she completes.
What does your average week of training look like?
Monday PM: 9 miles of trail running
Tuesday: AM: drove 80 mins to Andover track, 2 mile warm up, then 3x3x400 (1-1-3 minute break) walk 400m then 300m fast. First set in 74s, second set 71s, third set 74s with the last 400m FAST.
2 mile cool down
PM: 5 miles. Core, stretching and foam rolling
Wednesday: 12 miles. Core work.
Thursday: 8 miles
Friday: AM: 1 mile warmup (Don’t do this, I should have done two – it didn’t go well but I was in a rush for a meeting afterwards), then 10 mile tempo at 6.06 pace with the last two miles fast, 1 mile cool down.
PM: 2 mile warmup, 8 x 300m (3 minute break), 2 mile cool down.
Saturday: 11 miles
Sunday: 18 miles
What is your favourite session?
I love tempos because they are something I haven’t always been good at, but I am now. So every week it’s a reminder of how far I’ve come.
It’s satisfying to prove to myself that I’m tough enough to run hard for 10 miles without faltering mentally or physically and that I’ve always got speed at the end too.
And your least favourite session?
The Mile Breakdown which consists of: mile hard / mile easy / 800 hard / 800 easy / 800 harder than the first / mile easy / 4 x 400 off 90 secs rest / mile easy / 4 x 400 off 90 secs rest faster than the last set.
This has always been a challenge for me because I’m quite numerophobic, so making sure I get all the splits right without getting confused halfway through can be a worry.
Having it all written down on my hand helps, and once I get on with it, the session itself is a good one.
Does your training differ from cross country season to track season?
My training doesn’t really change that much from season to season. We’re flexible with it and we work on a variety of things all year round.
Because it doesn’t change too much I’m pretty much always ready to go whether it be on the track, the mud or the roads and I think the consistency in what I’ve been doing is what has been paying off.
What is your biggest strength?
Physically, I think my biggest strength is the versatility that we’ve developed. I began as an 800m runner and now I’m into racing the 10k too.
Having that variety in what I do is something I really enjoy, so I’m glad that I trusted Tony when he said I’d be good at the longer distances too. Getting better at those has made me better at everything.
And what areas can still improve on?
I could probably drink a bit more red wine – they say it is very good for the heart. Haha.
How is your work / running balance?
I work part-time as a sous-chef at an art gallery. Although I’m on my feet a lot, I actually think that’s better for active recovery and posture than a desk-based job might be.
My head chef is really supportive of my running, so she makes sure I can balance work, rest and racing well.
You have competed in one half marathon, back in 2016, and finished fifth in 76:19. Do you see a see a future in the longer distances on the road?
I did enjoy that half marathon and I also think there is a huge margin for improvement at that distance, so I’m open to doing longer races in the future.
But we haven’t planned that far ahead and like to take things step by step. For now, I’m much more interested in seeing how fast I can run the 5000m on the track.
Where is the oddest or coolest place you have ever gone for a run?
At Lamar [University] in the US, I did many of my runs around a nature reserve called Cattail Marsh and I definitely saw some sights there I’ll never forget.
I loved the wildness of the place – we would see so many alligators, nutria, families of wild boar with piglets, opossums, armadillos, pelicans… and the sunrises there were pretty spectacular too.
Who is your favourite runner, past or present?
If we’re talking Olympians… I’ve always loved Haile Gebrselassie for his infectious smile. My current favourite is Alexi Pappas. She writes poetry about running too and uses it as a way to share her positivity and inspire other girls to believe in themselves the way that she does in herself.
Support is an important thing, so who has been there in your athletics journey so far?
I have been incredibly lucky that all of my coaches have been extremely conscientious and generous with me throughout the course of my career. This has all meant that I’ve stayed healthy and strong physically and mentally and never lost my love for the sport.
There is a long list of them: Ian Denison, Rupert Pepper, George Edwards, Maurizio Cito, Darren Gauson, Trey Clark and Tony Houchin who coaches me currently. These people have been life coaches as well as running coaches and have made me a better person as well as a better athlete.
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A lot of things wouldn’t have happened without some great athletic trainers and physiotherapists too, who are always there holding things together in the background and don’t get half enough recognition. Without Jeff Birchell, Devante Frazier, Geannina Rosa, Christina Fanning and Kyle Hackett my feet and legs would be in great trouble.
Somebody who has literally been there from the very beginning, however, is my mum, Fiona MacKenzie. She’s driven me to training and races for years, held all the kit in the rain, was never a pushy parent, but always the proudest. As well as picking me up every single time I feel like quitting and reminds me that I’m an ok human being.