Q&A with Paul Pollock
Paul Pollock is a well-established and extremely experienced long-distance runner who has competed on the highest stage in sport, the 2016 Rio Olympics. The 33-year-old balances his running career with his other life as an emergency medicine doctor in the NHS.
This week we caught up with Paul about his training in lockdown, the feeling of finally winning the Bath Half Marathon as well as injury & motivational advice for runners.
“The Bath Half Marathon is one of the best races in the UK”
How has training been in lockdown?
After crossing this year’s Bath half marathon finish line in first position, I was filled with hope and confidence. Having run the Olympic marathon qualifying time (2.10.25) in December 2019, I was feeling fitter and faster than I had ever been in the past. Training was building progressively towards what I hoped would be a peak in Tokyo in August 2020. And then the lockdown began and along with it came the realisation that all races were to be cancelled or postponed, including the Olympics.
Training reverted to a steady base building block, without the need for ‘going to the well’ sessions or pushing the limit. With facilities closed, track sessions have been put on hold and gym work has become improvised exercises in the living room.
Running has been more about mental relief and enjoyment, whilst maintaining a decent level of fitness. Having moved my base to Yorkshire a few weeks before the lockdown started, I have been fortunate to have new places and trails to explore from my doorstep.
How are you keeping yourself motivated? Do you have any tips for our runners who might be a bit low on motivation at the moment?
One of the good things to come out of lockdown is the number of people who have taken up some form of exercise, whether it be running or cycling or simply getting out for a walk. Exercise is a fantastic way to reset the mind and relieve, at least for a short while, some of the stresses that lockdown has caused. I try to remind myself of the happy, enjoyable moments that running and racing has brought me in the past, and that always makes it that little bit easier to lace up the trainers and get out the door.
Do you have any tips for beginner runners who are just getting started with their running?
My biggest, number one tip for anyone trying to get into running is to enjoy it. It is that simple. Enjoy the feeling of going out for a run. Yes, you can get bogged down with paces and distances but talk to any regular runner anywhere in the world and they will tell you why they do it. It is because they enjoy it. The first few days or even weeks will be tough, they always are, whether you are starting afresh or returning from an injury. But once you get over that initial bump, there is so much enjoyment to be had from the simple art of going for a run.
What advice would you give to someone who is either injured or just coming back to training from injury?
Don’t rush. When you think you are ready to return, give it another day. Or maybe even two. I am just as guilty of this as the next person. There always feels to be a big need to rush back to running and back to the point of fitness of where you were. Don’t, otherwise you will just find yourself back at square one again. Take the time required , if things are pain free, then excellent. But definitely give yourself more time than what you think. Slow and sensible is the key.
What would you say to younger runners who want to take their running to the next level?
I would say two things. Firstly, like I said above, enjoy it. When you are younger especially, if you aren’t enjoying the training then you won’t stick with the sport of running. It is very easy for younger runners to become preoccupied with the small details and wanting to run fast every single session. But that is impossible, and when a bad run comes along, which it inevitably will do, the stress levels increase and a downward spiral of training begins. Training should be enjoyable. Tough at times yes, but always enjoyable.
The second thing I would say is find yourself a coach, which is easy to say but sometimes much harder to do in practice. A relationship with a coach can take years to form but from the outset there should be a mutual trust. I would say don’t be afraid to ask around and try to find a coach that you think will fit for you.
What is your favourite meal to eat pre-race day & in training?
Like the majority of runners, I eat massive quantities of pasta. When you are in the midst of a hard training block running upwards of 15 miles a day, replenishing the muscles is vital to avoid injury. One of my favourite meals is sitting down after a hard session with a big bowl of pasta with various chopped up vegetables, bacon and some pesto sauce. Simple but tasty.
Who do you look up to in the elite sporting world?
There are so many sporting superstars that I think it would be near impossible to pick just one. I respect those who are willing to put in the hard work in order to gain results, those who are not afraid to put themselves on the line in front of the public and those who can perform under pressure, when it really matters.
What is your long term aspiration?
I have always had two goals in running – to run a sub 4 minute mile and to compete at the Olympic Games.
In August 2016, I was fortunate enough to achieve one of those goals in Rio. While I may be getting older, I still hope to achieve the other before I hang up my spikes for good!
What does it feel like winning a big race like the Bath Half Marathon joining a select group of previous British winners such Nigel Gates, John Wheway, Steve Anders, Colin Walker and Chris Thompson?
I have competed at the Bath half marathon twice now, having finished 3rd in 2014. The atmosphere and support around the course on both occasions has been fantastic and it is always a day to remember.
Running down the finishing straight in first position this year was a proud moment and one that I would love to repeat in future years.
How does Bath Half Marathon compare to other races you have run?
The Bath half marathon is one of the best races in the UK, there is no question of that. With exceptional organisation and supporters, there is always an air of excitement around the city on race day.
I would highly recommend the race to any seasoned runners or those looking to compete in their first ever half marathon.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Work, hobbies etc.
I balance my running career with my other life as an emergency medicine doctor in the NHS. Having worked full time for a number of years, in recent times I decided to shift my focus and concentrate on my running and therefore currently work as a part-time locum doctor.
While getting out for a long run after a hard shift standing on my feet all day is not always particularly pleasant, I find that the two careers balance themselves out reasonably well and each provides a good outlet for the other.