Marilyn Okoro has been plagued with injury since the 2008 Beijing Olympic but now with the London 2012 Games just weeks away she is back to full fitness and running well.
She now has her eyes on a place in the Great British squad and the trials will take place in Birmingham later this week.
I caught up with her to talk about the shape she is in, the upcoming Olympic trials and what she will be doing between now and the Games.
- The Olympic trails are now just around the corner so how would assess the shape that you are in at the moment and how has training been going?
I am really pleased as training has been going really well. I have wintered well and had two trips away and I have worked really hard on those.
Early season form has been good and I have been happy for that as I have been posted Olympic A qualifying times three times already so I am pretty confident going into the trials and I am really looking forward to them.
- I had read that you did some warm weather training in South Africa at the beginning of the year so how has that benefited you and how did you find you time out there?
It’s brilliant as it is a nice time after the crazy Christmas period to just get away so I really enjoy my trip to South Africa every January.
I went to Potch, which is just outside Johannesburg, and it’s slightly at altitude not as high as Kenya, I struggled with the altitude there, but it’s about 1,800m above sea level and so that is a nice height for 800m and all the best girls in the world go there.
I really enjoyed it as I got to put some real quality base work as well as 800m specific work as well. So I left there feeling really strong and we just really worked on my endurance.
- But what works still needs to be done between now and the trails and you look for a place in the Olympic squad?
Right now at this point in time it is really about resting up as the hard work has essentially been done.
I have probably only got a couple of sessions between now and Friday and they are going to be feel-good sessions where I will be working on my speed, feeling light and agile and working on my race rehearsal.
So it’s kind of a nice time as I am pretty much travelling and racing and resting so I am just trying to feel as fresh as I can come the weekend.
- The Olympics are creeping every closer, there are less than fifty days to go, so how excited are you at the prospect of a home games?
I am really excited. When everything is going in the right direction and you are feeling in control you can really enjoy the process and the journey. I live about twenty minutes from the stadium and I was in Westfield for dinner last night (laughs) and am monitoring every change that goes on.
The stadium looks awesome and I have had a chance to visit. I don’t think a day goes by without hearing something about the Olympics so I am really excited and really looking forward to it.
- Since the Beijing Olympics you have been blighted by injury you have had a very severe knee problem so just what has it taken to get you back on the track and racing?
It has taken a lot and I really have had to dedicate myself to getting back on form and overcoming all of that and also learning about what has happened and what I have been through in my event, my body and preventing it in the future.
But it does take real strength of character and I think that you learn a lot about yourself and what you are made of and why I am doing this through times like that when it is not going to plan and it’s not perfect.
It has made me stronger both physically and in the mind and that can only help my performance.
- Bearing your injury issues in mind what do you now in a bid to keep any problems at bay?
Basically my whole attitude to training and being an athlete really changed - before it was all about pushing and pushing myself and running fast ever day all of the time. I have really learnt about pacing myself in both life and in training as well as in my race.
Also just incorporating new strategies into my programme as I have really learn the importance of strength and conditioning and really have a conditioned body and working on my smaller and less obvious muscles group.
I have learnt to plan my week’s training much better and I now listen to my body as well, I think pain is a massive sign and it is your body’s way of communicating with you.
As athletes we have this innate nature where we want to push on through pain - essentially when you are running you are like ’what’s a little pain? No pain no gain’ but actually when you not running and there is pain it is actually telling you something.
So it was about being sensible and taking it one day at a time and I have just learnt to chill out as well and that has helped me enjoy what I am doing so much more.
- Are there any products that you must have with you when you travel to use before and after training and racing?
Definitely, if I could I would take someone like Sally the physio here with me in my suitcase but unfortunately it doesn’t work like that.
I was really lucky to be sponsored by Deep Heat last year and it came as a fantastic time because I was travelling a lot and I didn’t realise just how much travel affected my body.
So it’s just nice to have travel size things that I can chuck in my bag so I have got the patch and the spray that I can use on the plane to keep my muscles warm, I also use them before races as well as an aid before I warm up to give me a bit of a head start. So it has been a real boost and I can’t really travel without them.
- As I mentioned you were at the Beijing Olympics four years ago so how will you be able to use that experience as you prepare for the trials and the London Games?
I think that London has come at such a brilliant time for me in my life as I am twenty seven and it’s the start of the peak years for middle distance running, especially here in the UK.
Beijing was really just a springboard for everything that has happened and I am really going to be able to draw on everything that it took, the memories that I had and all of the feelings and emotions that come with a major championships.
It was a great year for me and I really started to establish myself on the world circuit that year and I think I went to the Games ranked pretty highly in the world and it’s nice to be emulating that kind of form again.
I love the trials every year as it is a brilliant crowd as they really get behind you and it is an exciting one as it is the Olympic trials as well. I am familiar with Birmingham as I go there every year so I am really really looking forward to it.
- The 800m is one of the most competitive events so where so think the major challenges for medals is going to lie?
Well you can’t ignore the African as the Ethiopian and the Kenyan girls are really super women (laughs) - but then I think that every 800m runner is as it is such an insane event.
The medal threats so come from Africa but the USA have some strong girls as well and you can’t discount the Russians.
But I am very proud to sit here and say that the UK have produced some of the best middle distance runners and myself and who ever is joining me we will definitely be contenders. The first aim is to make the final and from then on anything can happen and that is what I love about my event.
- We have seen some great British performances over the last couple of years at the world indoors and the world championships last summer so how successful do think that track and field can be this summer?
I think it always has been quite successful it has just not been that known about because it does take a backseat to bigger sports, that is why having the Olympic at home is brilliant because when you think of the Olympics the first sport you think of is athletics.
We haven’t really had that awareness and so it has been nice that people are becoming more familiar with out names and who we are and our events and that will help the sport in the future and help it to grow and getting youngsters involved.
At some point everyone has done athletics at school and it’s nice for people to see those that have continued and made a career out of it.
- The Olympics are going to be a huge inspiration for kids up and down the UK so what advice would you give to any of them who want to get into athletics?
For those who are starting out I would definitely say try everything because there is so much to try in athletics. Get down to your local club, there is usually one in every area, and just don’t give up.
You may not be a runner you may be a jumper and even within running there is sprinting, long distance and middle distance so give everything a good go before you specialise.
- Finally what’s coming up for you after the trails?
After the trials I call that phase two and that will be qualified and just preparing for the Games so I am looking to get into a couple of fast races; Crystal Palace is one of my favourites every year and I will be racing there. I will be looking to really post a fast time that reflects the shape that I believe I am in.
Then it’s off to Portugal for the holding camp and final preparations and a bit of warmth - hopefully it will be hotting up here as well. So it really is a time when momentum gets going and it’s a really exciting time as you are a bit more relaxed by then and you know where you are (laughs).
Marilyn Okoro takes Deep Heat Patch and Deep Freeze Patch in her kit bag – great for providing effective relief with thermotherapy and cold therapy for muscular aches, strains and pains.
FemaleFirst Helen Earnshaw