Athletics News

Invisible gains in athletics – AW

Invisible gains in athletics - AW

Verity Ockenden admits her results in 2022 have not been as she would have liked but the mental strength she’s been able to develop is a cherished prize

These days, both of my parents have long given up attempting to keep track of my precise whereabouts, while my friends have asked me to document my adventures in a novel so they may catch up at their leisure that way.

In general, I try keep my eyes firmly fixed on the horizon rather than losing myself in the tangled wake I’ve created. Occasionally, however, it is worth looking back and taking the time to appreciate all of the wild leaps life has taken and, during the festive period, it always seems like an apt time for stock-taking.

Zooming out on the year to appreciate its ups and downs in all their glory can be a useful tool as long as you always remember to value the invisible gains made and leave the comparison game aside.

Whenever I have had depressive episodes, it has always been an awareness of life’s unpredictability that kept me going. Depression makes everything seem hopelessly, irreversibly, unbearably awful no matter what the reality is, but what usually helps me is asking myself how I could possibly imagine exactly what is going to happen next. It might just be something very good. Something not worth missing. At the end of the day, it’s curiosity that keeps this particular cat alive. 

Our own perspectives also change with time and experience, allowing for greater understanding of our previous selves and, consequentially, the wisdom to make better future decisions. For example, when I look back at my greatest athletics achievement to date, the bronze medal that I won at the European Indoor Championships in Torùn in 2021, I am still incredibly proud of it, but I would not pursue the same path that led me to it again.

Verity Ockenden (Getty)

In retrospect, it’s blindingly obvious to me how unhealthy I was mentally at the time and I can see that I won the medal because athletics was the only thing I had left that I felt vaguely in control of. Negative energy can be a very powerful tool ­– and when it is present sometimes the best thing to do is acknowledge and make good use of it – but it is an extremely unsustainable source. It’s like burning a fossil fuel; sooner or later it will run out, and it will also leave a dirty great scar behind it.

Now that I am almost two years the wiser, and looking back at the material results of 2022, I’ll happily admit that they were…

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