European Indoor 3000m bronze medallist on how the event at Parliament Hill inspires athletes
Verity Ockenden is back in Highgate this weekend (May 20) for her fourth appearance on the track at Night of the 10,000m PBs.
The 31-year-old On athlete is part of a stacked women’s elite field in the championship race which kicks off at 8.40pm.
Just a few of her fellow Brits in that race include recent Olympic marathon qualifier Sam Harrison, reigning Night of the 10,000m PBs champion Jess Warner-Judd and fellow On team-mate Amy-Eloise Markovc.
For Ockenden, who is 16th on the UK all-time 10,000m list with a PB of 31:43.70, it’s a meet that runs close to the heart and one she has raced in on three previous occasions.
Her best time at Highgate came two years ago when she finished 11th and clocked 32:43.47, which was the best mark of her career over the distance at that point.
She also placed 16th and 11th in 2017 and last year respectively.
Ockenden opens up her season at Parliament Hill after recovering from an injury she picked up towards the end of last year.
AW caught up with European Indoor 3000m bronze medallist ahead of this year’s edition of Night of the 10,000m PBs.
What do you expect from yourself at Night of the 10,000m PBs?
For me it’s a massive unknown and that’s what I’m really excited about. I feel like things are going really well in training even after being injured in December. I don’t really know how it’s going to go as I’ve got a new coaching set-up to last year and that was different to the year before that.
It’s been about 18 months since being out in Italy now and I feel like I’ve finally settled in and I didn’t expect to get married to my best friend! He’s now coaching me with the help of his best friend. That definitely wasn’t the plan but it’s working.
Last year was definitely a bit rocky for me and I really want to go back to the form that I was in when I headed into the Tokyo Olympics. I think a lot of the changes I made moving to Italy, it took a long time to have the desired effect. Now I feel that’s really helpful.
How’s the mental challenge of overcoming injuries?
I think with injuries one of the worst things that can happen is when they get into a cycle. For example, last year I had to recover from a tibial edema and then I had an Achilles problem, before getting a hamstring issue in the autumn.
They are probably all connected in a sense as you’re overcompensating where you’re working on something and then neglecting something else. Until you really get it together with a strong foundation things will keep getting harder. You’ve just got to remember it happens to everybody. You might not see it on social media and it’s just about focusing on what you can do.
I never used to cross-train and it’s the thing I only used to do when I was injured. Not to say I’ll do it at the drop of the hat but on some days I will swap out my run for a cross-training session.
— AW (@AthleticsWeekly) May 17, 2023
What’s it like to race Night of the 10,000m PBs?
I’ve done this race since 2017 and pretty much every year I’ve been there either racing or spectating. Just to have it on the calendar is such a treat. That’s not just the party atmosphere but this is where you can go and perform well, without a question. Everything is set-up so well. The fields are going to be deep. There’s also Wavelight technology on hand.
The noise and the heat gets to you. It doesn’t matter what the weather is. When you run past those flames you feel the heat and it’s unbelievable. Have I ever experienced another race like it? Probably not. I’ve never run the London Marathon but it took me back to my memory of watching Paula Radcliffe’s British marathon record [2:15:25 in 2003] on TV.
My core memory of that is not even just Paula’s performance but the colour, noise and the hype. That’s what sticks with people when you’re an eight-year-old kid and it stays with you for life.
What’s the best thing about Night of the 10,000m PBs?
It brings the colour and character of the individual athlete to life. I think a lot of events are trying to follow the trend that Night of the 10,000m PBs has set. I saw they’ve had fashion walk-ins at some of the meets in the US and it was just really interesting. I’m not even into fashion that much but it really drew me in.
I think it’s important to nurture that individual identity outside of just being an athlete. Me being a writer and a poet helps a lot with that. I don’t want to just limit myself to just running and if that doesn’t go well there’s nothing else to me. It’s about getting those emotions out about how it’s going on track.
A lot of the things that I write I try to expand on the best bits of running that I’m experiencing. I think it helps the sport grow. I don’t know how much people are into poetry and it’s quite niche but I read a tweet from Michael Johnson saying he thinks it’s up to athletes to lift the sport up by showing what we can do.
How has On helped you as an athlete?
Well firstly, Chris Thompson has been a little bit of a mentor for me since I joined On. That’s probably one of the best things about On because you get that family atmosphere. The shoe technology is amazing and I genuinely believe they have the best products out there.
Even if I wasn’t with them I’d choose to join the brand and gives you a lot of confidence going out on the track because you get to work with the performance team and get a lot of feedback. I’ve only started using carbon shoes in training this month and I’m still waiting to see how that works for me.
I’m interested to see how I can recover quicker and get more high quality stuff in without as much wear and tear on the body. I’m quite old school and it took me a while to even race in carbon shoes.
"The thing with Highgate [Night of the 10,000m PBs], it gets you to your very core and the reason for that is because people are screaming right next to you."@Thommo10k on what it's like to race at @NightOf10kPBs and why the event is so special 🔥
— AW (@AthleticsWeekly) May 17, 2023
It’s probably hard to pin down an exact phrase “Thommo” has said because he says a lot! I think that’s what I really appreciate about him because he’s always been on the end of the phone. He spent an hour with me once trying to figure out what happened with my Achilles and you get reassurance and belief from that.
That’s the great thing about On because they’ve got him on as an elite athlete but someone who will be advising athletes even when he retires.
Do you reflect a lot and what are your goals for 2023 and beyond?
It’s funny looking back at my first races at a club at school. I was good and won the county championships but then I’d come 100th at the national level. I don’t think anyone from my club [Swansea Harriers] thought I’d be doing this now so I’d like to keep the perspective in that sense. I just want to compete at my best for as long as I can.
I really want to go to the Paris 2024 Olympics. It’ll be hard but I will give that my shot.
READ MORE: Night of the 10,000m PBs preview
I try not to think about it [the strength in depth of British distance running] too much. There are so many good women now and you never know where the challenge will come from. There are so many athletes who have such good range and they could do any event. I just have to focus on myself and getting a PB and back to where I was.
I believe I can run in the 14:40s over 5000m and it’s just a matter of when. The 5000m is definitely my favourite event. I’m setting myself for a tough opener in Highgate and go straight in at a 10,000m but that will set me up well for the rest of the season. Then we’ll focus on the speed and I’m also going to do Paris and Vienna at On Track Nights as well.
For fast times, festival vibes and free entry for spectators, see On Track Nights.
» Find out more about Night of 10,000m PBs here
» Subscribe to AW magazine here