How did you get your passion for running?
I don’t remember knowing why I loved running as a child, it’s just something I always did. Now I know that I couldn't live without running as an escape, freedom; something that I can do anywhere in the world, and that takes me all over the world. I love travelling and running is the most primitive beginning of that. It’s such a positive feeling to always be going somewhere and that has buoyed me up when other parts of my life felt deadlocked.
Did you always want to be a professional athlete?
I remember being in awe of Kelly Holmes when she won her double Olympic gold at Athens back in 2004. That was the first time, at 12 years old, that I really thought 'Wow, there’s somebody I’d like to be like'. Kelly’s achievements seemed such a world away from my level however, that I didn't even entertain the dream of professional athletics until ten years later, when I graduated from Lamar University. That forced to make a decision about what I wanted to do with my life.
Who would you say has inspired you the most throughout your career?
Everybody can be inspired like I was by achievements such as Kelly’s, but I think it’s important to remember that no champion is ever trying to be like somebody else. My coach Tony Houchin always reminds me never to put anybody on a pedestal and to be proud of what makes my own path different to everybody else’s.
"Although the end results of these races were important stepping stones, the value that I place on them comes from how I feel about the way that I ran them."
What is your greatest accomplishment so far?
I’m proud of the last race that I competed in: the 3000m Indoor British Championships in January, at the Glasgow Emirates Arena. A British silver medal is the highest accolade I’ve achieved so far.
I still feel that there are races that have been greater than that however, for example, the race that qualified me for the NCAA track championships and the race that qualified me to represent Great Britain internationally for the first time at the European Cross Country Championships.
Although the end results of these races were important stepping stones, the value that I place on them comes from how I feel about the way that I ran them. I think it’s really important to be conscious of these kinds of accomplishments that are never officially documented, but show you your own more intangible progress in terms of things like confidence which can’t be measured in numbers alone.
You had a tough year in 2018 with injury and illness, but last year you raced for Great Britain at the European 10,000m Cup. You even gained a PB! How did you get through that difficult time and come back even stronger?
I had a great support system. People talk about the loneliness of the long-distance runner but I think communication with coaches, physiotherapists, friends and family are crucial to maintaining self-belief in this sport. I also think that the greatest sportspeople are good philosophers. You have to be able to rise above things and that’s a skill that you can cultivate through experience.
You graduated from Swansea University in 2014 with a BA in English Literature and Italian. Have you used elements of your degree since graduating?
Yes, I have always carried on writing in one form or another. It has become much more creative than analytical, but I find my poetry a very useful tool in distilling memories and feelings that then serve as motivation, therapy and can even be incorporated into pre-race visualization and mantras. Other than that, I think the strong work ethic that university instilled in me is important to hold on to; a good athlete should always be a good student.
Did you find it difficult to balance your workload at university whilst training?
Initially, I was a little lazy with both my training and my reading lists, and I partied quite a lot. However, in the final years of my degree, one of my professors took me aside and said I could get a 1st if I worked for it, so I did. That increase in workload along with the realization that I had the potential to medal at BUCS and the subsequent increase in training did require me to be extremely focused and organized with my time. I would wake early to grab a good spot at the library, taking a packed breakfast and lunch with me, and I would stay there all day, except to go to lectures and then on to the track afterwards. I started listening to the audio versions of books on my runs, which was a really helpful hack.
You’re also a chef and poet. How do you balance all three, and do you find they complement each other well?
I do have to be wary of getting enough rest and eating at the right times when I’m working in the kitchen, but fortunately, my employers at Messums Wiltshire are really supportive of my running career and have arranged my shifts to fit around my training, so I have my hardest training days (Tuesdays and Fridays) completely off work to focus solely on that. I do think that my understanding and enjoyment of cooking is very beneficial to providing myself with the best level of nutrition to help fuel my body.
In terms of writing, I do a lot of composition and editing while I’m running which keeps me amused, so the only problem is remembering it until I get home. I don’t submit as much work as I’d like to, but there’s always time for that later.
(Since this interview, Verity no longer works as a chef at Messums Wiltshire. She is currently looking to change career paths toward something that makes greater use of the writing skills she developed during her degree. We cannot wait to see what is next for Verity, and we’ll make sure to keep you all updated!)
"It’s OK to do things your way, in your own time."
Do you have any advice for those hoping to follow your example? Is there something you wish you’d known/been told?
I do wish I’d had more self-belief earlier on, both in regards to my running and my studying, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s possibly quite lucky that I didn't start training intensely too early on in my development. There’s such a huge risk of burn out, particularly in women. It’s OK to do things your way, in your own time.
What are you currently working towards?
We’ve known that I have the capability to run sub 15.20 over 5000m and under 32 minutes for the 10,000m for a while now, but a part of that process in the current situation is being patient in waiting for my opportunity to do that. When we can race safely again, I hope that achieving these times will give me a chance of qualification for international championships like the Europeans, Commonwealths and one day perhaps even the Olympics.