It's a rare treat to be able to run with a bonafide athlete and it immediately reminds how you need to get back to the track and focus on your speed work, but thankfully 800m runner Marilyn Okoro was every bit as gracious as you’d expect and happily slowed down to joins us for a sunny 10K. As she returns from two years out with injury, we spoke about her training schedule, winning bronze in Beijing and letting go of those ‘bad’ runs -
Marilyn, how does it feel to be back?
So good! Injury has been a part of every elite athletes story, but my goal for the next two years is to stay injury free.
What does your training schedule look like at the moment – how much are you running?
I’m an 800m runner so there’s a lot of speed work involved, but on rest days you’ve got your mobility to keep up and often just a light run is better than nothing at all, especially if you are super sore. On those runs, it’s about mentally knowing not to look at your watch and think ‘oh god I’m running 9 minute miles’ because actually that’s ok, that’s your recovery. The average runner doesn’t have an injury specialist or a coach, but they know their body. I think one of the biggest lessons I’ve learnt over the past 16 years as a professional athlete is actually just been learning about Marilyn the athlete, Marilyn the 800m runner - knowing my limits and when not to push it.
How do you stop yourself getting drawn into a rut of comparing your stats post-run?
I think just age and experience helps me deal with it. I’ve been through the cycles long enough to know that sometimes less is more, so maturity and just knowing my body definitely helps. Sometimes, when you run a PB you’ll look back at your training diary and think wow – if someone had told me I just need to do five, 20 minute runs leading into this championship and I’ll come out and run 1:58 [in the 800m] then I’d have been chill! It’s about what you’ve done and periodisation throughout the year and making sure you’re doing the right work at the right time.
How does your training schedule vary throughout the year?
With 800m, a lot of the heavy volume is in the winter months. It’s a matter of getting that done and not panicking that I’m not doing loads of speedwork because number one, the weather is not conducive and number two, it’s not time for that yet. Once we get closer to the season, it’s time to start sharpening up and the speed training begins. At the moment, I’m doing a lot of the little details, the conditioning that helps buffer up the system so that when I start sprinting I don’t fall apart. I find understanding my goals and the process that leads me there helps me chill out.
We’re running today with Beats by Dre, do you listen to music when you run?
Yes, always. It’s normally a pretty eclectic mix and varies depending on the type of run - if it’s a recovery run, I try and keep it soft, so usually listen to R&B. I love to sing jazz so if I’m learning anything, I’ll listen to that when I’m running. If I’ve got a tempo session, which I hate, I know it’s going to be mind over matter so I’ll listen to something up-tempo to get me through it!
What about on race day?
I use music on race day absolutely. You usually have this area where all the athletes are in a pen and you’re staring at your competition, so I like to use music to zone out from that. If I’m leaving the stadium I have my music on. I have my warmup playlist, my championship playlist – music is a big part of my day when I’m waiting to race.
Finally, you’ve travelled a lot with Team GB, where is your favourite place to race or train?
I’ve got one for each of those! Definitely to compete it would have to be Beijing, ‘the Bird’s Nest’. It was my first Olympics and to come away with a medal was amazing. The Birds Nest itself was one of the most beautiful stadiums I’ve ever been in – the track was super-fast, so that was amazing memory of mine. To train, probably Potchefstroom in South Africa, which is about two hours out of Johannesburg. They have this amazing 400m grass track which you can do anything and everything on. It’s super good for preserving the body, especially when you go out for training camp and it’s time to ramp up the intensity. Usually I go out in January to prep for the indoor season and it has always been a nice way for me to start the year.