FEBRUARY 2018: When Paul Pollock announced that he was planning to come down to race the Grand Brighton Half Marathon, there were pretty good odds that this would be our 2018 winner.
In 2016, Paul was the first Irishman to cross the marathon finish line at the Rio Olympic Games.
The best time in the 28 years of the Brighton Half is Paul Martelletti’s 64:53.
Pollock’s half marathon PB is 62:09.
Well, yesterday’s time was not an event best, but indeed Pollock was our winner of the men’s race, finishing in 66:57.
He kindly agreed to an interview after the finish.
Paul, firstly, congratulations on being first over the finish line in the 2018 Grand Brighton Half Marathon.
How did you enjoy the course and how would you describe the race?
I thought it was a beautiful course, and the atmosphere was great. Having 12,000 people cheering you on is a real buzz. The crowds certainly give you a lift, running into the wind on the way back, helping your legs turn over a bit quicker.
It wasn’t a day for fast times, with the gusting wind, but I’ll settle for the win.
Where did your running career start? Did you discover a talent at an early age?
My brother Connor ran a lot; he’s a 16:15 5k runner. I suppose I followed his footsteps. At 17, I ran my first race on no training… I did 17:20 for a 5k and won the under-20 junior prize.
My parents and Connor realised there was some talent there, so I started doing some races with him. But unfortunately, the coach died, the club fell apart and I drifted away from running, which coincided with me going off to university to do my medical degree.
I always thought I had talent in running if I put my mind to it. In 2011, I decided to take a break from my medical career and focus on the 2012 Olympics. I met my current coach, Andy Hobdell, who lives in St Albans, and I moved over to London at that stage, to train with his group.
I’d had a complete break for 7 or 8 years. I came back in August 2011 and tried to make the 2012 Olympics 5k. But, as these things happen, I wrecked my knee after about 4 months, having tried to take a corner too quickly, and needed surgery. So, I went back to Belfast to do medicine, full time.
Thankfully, the surgery worked, and I got back into running a year later. Just by chance, I did the Dublin Marathon in October 2012 and didn’t realize at the time, but I ran a qualifying time to run for Ireland in the 2013 World Championships. Once I found that out, I thought, oh well, I’ll give up medicine again and focus on the running.
Going on to compete in the 2016 Rio Olympics must have been a career highlight. What do you recall about your experience of that?
I’d always said it was one of my goals to make the Olympics. Just to be on that start line and soak up the whole atmosphere was unbelievable, even though I wasn’t as fit as I wanted to be, particularly having family and friends out there.
My other brother, Noel, is the UK Medical Doctor for the UK Athletics team, so he was at the start line with us in Rio when we were warming up, and I even have a photo with him at the finish line… it was just one of those really special moments.
Do you prefer racing marathons or much shorter distances?
I think they’re very different experiences. Every marathon, in fact every race you do, you learn something new and get a different experience, no matter where in the world it is.
I’d say I prefer half, as opposed to full, marathon distance, turning the legs over a bit quicker, although it’s a bit more painful really. In terms of time, I’ve run best over half marathon.
But, in the marathon, there’s something to be said about going into that zone where, mentally, you start to crack, and that’s definitely a very addictive place to get to! I think you see that with so many people doing the marathon, time and again. For me, I know I’ve still got unfinished business over the marathon distance. I’ve done 62:10 for a half and 2:15:30 for a marathon, so the half is currently much better.
I’ve never actually come into a marathon injury free and after good training blocks, so hopefully the Commonwealth Games will be different this time around.
What happens between now and the Commonwealths?
The World Half Marathon Champs, in Valencia, are in 4 weeks’ time, and the Commonwealths 3 weeks after that. So, I’ll use the Half as a build-up and fly out to Australia straight after to prepare for the Commonwealth marathon.
Hopefully, I’ll get a PB in the Half. Training was going well until about 3 weeks ago, but then I picked up the flu and am only just getting back. We’ll have to see how it goes, but the course is supposed to be flat and fast and conditions look perfect at the minute, so fingers crossed.
What’s your current weekly mileage and what will that peak at closer to the Commonwealths?
Well, until I got the flu, I was up to 125-130, but currently it’s dropped down to about 80-90 because I don’t want to push too hard until I’ve properly recovered.
What would you say is the greatest challenge in terms of your preparation for a high-profile race?
I think, to be honest, staying injury free is the biggest challenge for me. Over the last few years, I seem to have picked up injury to almost every part of my body, so, as I mentioned, I’ve never really had a proper training block, injury free, coming into a marathon. So, that’s been my biggest hindrance really, holding me back.
Other than the knee surgery, I’ve had some quite serious injuries… a tear in my hip, a cartilage tear twice, a 15cm tear in one of my quads muscles, a couple of stress fractures in the metatarsals, and a pelvic stress fracture as well… so, it all adds up!
Wow, you really have had some setbacks! Hopefully you’ll remain injury free now, at least for the next 7 weeks!
We have lots of runners at RunBrighton, currently preparing for their first ever marathon. What key bit of advice would you give to any first-timers?
To be honest, it’s nothing ground breaking, but be patient and be consistent with your training. And just be very sensible about your pace when you start your race, and stick to it. Everyone says it, and everyone doesn’t do it! It’s the biggest thing… go into it, knowing what your game plan is, knowing what pace you’ll do and stick to it for 20 miles. See how you feel then; if you feel good, push on at that stage. But, so many people go off too hard. That’s the one big problem with the marathon.
Thanks for that, Paul. Great advice! It’s been a pleasure chatting with you. Will you be sticking around to enjoy some relaxation time in Brighton?
We’ll hang around today. We’ve got some friends down. The sun’s out now, so I think we’ll go and have a walk along the pier and play the machines there.
Paul, thanks again. Enjoy the rest of your stay in Brighton, and best of luck in both the World Champs and the Commonwealths.
By Mike Bannister