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Episode 37 – 26.2 Miles to Happiness with Paul Tonkinson

 

Episode highlights

0:00:49 – How Paul is adjusting to life during the COVID-19 pandemic

0:13:50 – A strong sense of community

0:18:02 – Flip things around and take advantage of the time you have

0:27:08 – The backstory to 26.2 Miles to Happiness

0:30:57 – How he trained to run the marathon in sub-3 hours

0:36:45 – Don’t spend too much energy fighting the pain

0:39:04 – Focusing on diet

0:42:48 – Do runners need to have gels?

0:45:43 – The Running Commentary podcast aka RunComPod

0:49:03 – People find a lot of comfort in knowing there’s a structure

0:52:00 – Meditation and breathwork

Links

Transcript

Welcome to the Fitter Healthier Dad podcast where you can learn how to improve your diet, lose fat and get fitter in a sustainable and fun way, without spending hours in the gym. Here is your host, Darren Kirby. 

Darren: Welcome back to the podcast, guys. This is the #1 podcast for dads in their 40s who want to improve their health and fitness. This is Episode 37 and joining me on today’s show is Paul Tonkinson, comedian and runner. As well as being a comedian, Paul is an experienced club runner and in 2017 set himself the challenge of running the London Marathon in sub-3 hours. He’s also the host of the Running Commentary podcast with his co-host, Rob Deering. Hi, Paul. Thanks very much for joining me on the podcast today. How are you?

Paul: I’m okay, mate. That question has become ever more loaded in light of recent events, I must say. How are you? Are you safe? Wishing everyone well. Essentially, we’re fine here in the family. I’ve got a few teenagers around; they arrived from university last week. I sense the messaging was pretty weak with the students. Partly, it was because they knew they weren’t going to see some of their mates again, because University has been truncated. If you’re in your final year, that’s it now, you won’t see some of them again. Yeah, university’s shut till September. So I think the partying was quite intense and there wasn’t social distancing for a long time so I kind of assume that everyone’s got it. 

So we have had the last sort of week, 10 days… I’ve been eating in different rooms to the kids, I’ve been cleaning all the surfaces, everyone thinks I’m an absolute idiot but I’m prepared to be the fool; I just want to look after them, really. Obviously, we’re going to talk about this and running and stuff, but I think it’s quite a stressful time for dads because it brings out all your protective instincts, isn’t it? I’ve got to look after the family, you know. I feel I’m on a bit of a war footing, albeit in Crouch End and it’s quite comfortable. There’s no shortage of supplies but you clean the surfaces, you make sure people have got food, you also try and talk to your kids and make sure that they’re okay and try and get them to take it seriously without freaking them out. Which is hard when you are freaked out. It’s not an easy scenario. How are you? Are you doing all right?

Darren: Yeah, I’m very well, thank you. Like you say, I think definitely I found myself, the parental responsibility kicking in. Because I’m very relaxed about stuff and very blasé in some cases about stuff but this has really triggered me and I am… Not paranoid, but just very well aware of how serious this can potentially get, and just making sure that we are protected as a family as much as possible. So yeah, I can completely relate to what you’re saying. 

Paul: I think we’re at a time sort of personally and politically where there’s no real cost to overreacting because the best thing that any of us can do is not catch it or give it to anyone else at the moment, so the hospitals can cope with it. That’s sort of your first priority. I’m reaching out to people. It’s brought out lots of community spirit for people, which is great. I applied for a job as a shelf stacker at the local Co-op and I’ve yet to hear. I mean, how bad would that be for my self-esteem if I got knocked back? And I’m doing bits and bobs of volunteering and stuff, I want to feel useful as well. At the end of the year, what did you do in Coronavirus crisis? I don’t want the only answer to be, “I got drunk with all my mates on the House Party app.” I want something a bit more inspiring!

One thing I am doing and I’m sure you’ll know about this, is I’m trying to boost my immune. I’m trying to have the turmeric and ginger and honey and lemon in the morning, I’m overdosing my body with Vitamin C, I’m keeping really well hydrated as well as I can. I have to confess, I’m drinking a bit too much because I reach the end of the night and I’m just like… Which doesn’t help the immune but I just find myself sinking a little bit, just with the stress of it all as the drama plays out. I’m trying not to beat myself up about anything because life is hard work. It’s tiring enough just going through a day at the moment, isn’t it? 

Darren: Yeah, definitely and I think whilst social media and media is beneficial, I think there’s a danger to over consuming it and quite easily spiralling off. 

Paul: Absolutely, yeah. If you wake up hung over… Well, first off, if you drink too much, you’ll wake up hang over and you’ll think you’ve got the coronavirus. Then you go on Twitter and after three hours on Twitter, it feels like an act of courage to just leave the house, do you know what I mean? It’s just like it creates a real heightened sense of awareness, doesn’t it? So I think you’re right. I’ve been chatting to a few mates and they’ve been saying like no news, no booze. Which should be great but in reality, you need to know some news because the news might help, it might help you, it might save your life. So it’s getting the balance right but it’s not easy.

Darren: It’s not easy, but I think the balancing that you mentioned there is life, isn’t it? It’s a constant juggling act, trying to balance. We are in our perceived kind of normality, if you like, and trying to get balance now is more important than ever. 

Paul: I think we’re still a little bit in panic adjustment phase and the new normal hasn’t… I can feel it’s slightly started. I think the lockdown actually started to just chill everyone out a bit because they knew it was coming. On some level, obviously it’s very disturbing and odd and stuff but at least we were a bit like a kid who needed boundaries as a nation. That’s how I felt, anyway. Just tell us what to do. We know this is coming; just give us a lockdown. 

I don’t think people have quite clicked into what that actually means as yet but most people are and the social distancing is really kicking in where I’m from in North London, so there’s hope. It’s interesting for runners, though, because it brings up all the stuff about control. Different runners have different attitudes but you’ve got those people who are Strava and really schedule and event-orientated and it leaves them a bit discombobulated. Because this is something that you can’t really control. You control what you can control but there’s so much you can’t and I think people find it quite stressful.

Darren: Yeah, definitely. For me, particularly, I haven’t been going out on long runs and you could argue that you’re fine to go outside and as long as you’re not running with a group, you’re fine. But like where we ran last year when we did our interview, I can’t run down a canal towpath. So there’s that element and I heard a crazy statistic that there’s been a crazy increase in the purchase of treadmills so that people can put them in their lounge or wherever and still keep running. 

Paul: Yeah, I think a lot of people are doing that. I mean, we recorded our podcast last week, just pre-lockdown and we socially distanced and stuff, and we cleaned the equipment and handed it to each other and just followed all the protocol and stuff. It’s like Human Pac Man when you’re out running or walking, people waiting for others to move before they move. And every so often you’d see an old person just in a bush or something, just off the path, just totally freaked out. And I totally get that because you never know what their underlying health conditions are. I totally get it. 

And everyone was being sort of slightly neurotic but looking after themselves and each other and then this really sweaty, coughing Chinese bloke just run right through the middle of everyone. You couldn’t have written it, and everyone just went absolutely crazy. Everyone just went mad. It’s like a tidal wave of pure panic as people just dived into bushes. He looked so obviously suffering from it. Maybe he’s trying to run it off, I don’t know. Maybe he’s trying to run through it. God bless him, he’s still alive, but my goodness, he was just honestly just spluttering every third step and really sweating. 

Darren: It is quite amazing in some cases how people are unaware of themselves and the surroundings as well and what their actions can do to other people. But, yeah, it is crazy times. So the running side of things is almost a little bit on lockdown. 

Paul: At the moment, it’s hard for me because I’ve actually got a bit of a calf injury that keeps coming back and it’s like you want to rest it, but you want to run, but you know rest is a cure. It didn’t pain; it just keeps slightly sort of micro-tearing or something when I go for a run. Because now I really feel the need to run, I’m taking a really long slow walk every day. You don’t want to do too much running because you don’t want to weaken your immune system. When I chat to people, I just say, “Run for like 40 minutes a day maximum.” You’re just ticking along, really, trying to look after yourself. 

And you’ve got some ultra-runners just running all day and stuff because they’re allowed that once a day so they just never come back. People interpret it how they want to, but for me at the moment, just when I really need running for my mental health, I can’t do it. So it’s a long slow walk of an afternoon and I’ve been really enjoying it. I’m trying to do some strengthening exercises around the house and also trying to watch my weight as well. I just stepped on the scale–I haven’t run properly for about 10 days and I’ve put on three pounds already. It’s like Christmas without the fun, isn’t it? Let’s face it.

Darren: It is, absolutely, yeah. That’s a good comparison. Like you say, the running side of things for mental health; I think if you needed it more now than ever, obviously we can’t. When you are injured, you should take it easy but our instinct is “no, we’ll be fine, we’ll carry on running it off.” But we are confined and we can’t do that now. How long this goes on for, we obviously don’t yet know so we have to find other ways and means around… Maybe not running unless you want to run up and down the stairs 5,000 times. 

Paul: The treadmill thing, I can see that getting attractive because also we have to factor in the reality that being outside is not necessarily that relaxing an experience anymore. Everything is so heightened, it feels like you’re in the opening scenes for a horror film whenever you’re outside. The streets are empty and everyone you do see, there’s a heightened awareness of them. Because unfortunately you don’t see people anymore; you see potential carriers and you picture yourself as a potential carrier. 

What it’s done, it’s such a shame and I hope that what will come out of it is a sense of how much you really like each other. How much we like being able to talk to each other and be close to each other, that sense of community. Because you feel it like an ache, don’t you? It feels like an ache, that disconnection with people, that enforced disconnection. I feel it really strongly, I just can’t wait for it to be over just on that level, just so we can all relax with each other.

Darren: I think whilst in this time it’s difficult to recognise it, I do think a lot of good will come out of this. I’m not suggesting for one minute to anybody that this whole thing is a good thing. What I’m saying is I think like you’ve just said, people will recognise what’s important and they will be very grateful for some of the simple things that we take for granted.

Paul: I hope so. But then, of course, there’s always this thing of because people are having a lot of chats like this, “hopefully, we’ll see the simple things in life” but the bounce back might be even harder. Everyone just flying all over the place, open up stock markets again, sell loads of houses. There’s a reason why this system emerged over the years and it’s because we all liked it. We’d like to get out spending and earning again and stuffing and watching movies, but hopefully, there will be… 

I think the community thing, I think it’s always there and I think it just takes something like this for it to come forth. But, say, last night, the clapping of the NHS workers, that really surprised me. I’m not sniffy about it, but I’m just like anything where people are performing, being virtuous or whatever always does good… It was so amazing, wasn’t it? It was undeniably moving and community, and I thought it was fantastic. I really did. 

Darren: Yeah, it was a little bit emotional, actually.

Paul: It was like a little mini festival or something. It was just like a two-minute thing of like we’re cheering for the workers, we’re cheering for people at the front line and we’re also cheering that little bit of each other that’s desperate for it to end and wants everyone to survive. You’re right, it was emotional. It was just very affirming each other: people waving and stuff whilst trying not to gather. People so tempted to gather whilst knowing that they couldn’t. On the events as well. We haven’t talked about that–the events of the month. I was going to do Manchester Marathon, I was going to do London. It has totally changed the structure of the year in ways that no one knows yet. They don’t know how it’s going to go. 

Darren: All of those events as well, it takes so long to plan but it is all of the major events. The Olympics, that’s all been canned and the London Marathon and things like that that people have spent probably the last year training for. I know a few people that are very challenged about that, the fact that they put all this effort in and now they feel like it’s going to waste. And I think this is where the mental health element has to come in. You have to put a different perspective on it really to get through it.

Paul: And also people realising that the fitness, the miles you’ve got, don’t go anywhere. You’ve still got them. They’re still banked, but it is that reconnection with the idea of running just being pleasurable enough in itself, isn’t it? It’s worth doing in itself, even if it’s only purpose is to enjoy it, even if you just rip it apart from a plan. Which to be honest, this is a lot of my running anyway because for me, the norm is I’m just running for a laugh a lot and then I focus every now and again for an event. But my main thing in running is I run off watch for about an hour and I’m just enjoying myself, I’m just in the woods just doing it, running as free as I can, really.  So I think it’s a bit easier for me. If you can use it, it’s the time to get fitter and faster and work on your speed and all these kinds of things but you’re going to have to let go of things. 

And also looking forward in the future, it’s going to change people’s mindset because they realise that things are fragile. Let’s say the holiday industry, it’s a bit off topic, but people are going to be booking holidays in the future… You used to book your holiday like in January, you’d book July, you’d come out of Christmas and book a holiday. I think there’ll be a bit less of that going on because people realise that plans don’t always work out and that’s what runners are adjusting to. Were you training for anything? What’s happening with you?

Darren: Yeah, I was training for Ironman Switzerland and that’s in July so I doubt that will happen. This was my year for qualifying for Kona, but I don’t think that will happen. What I’ve done psychologically is I’ve just flipped it and now I’m going to use this as an opportunity to improve my cycle strength. I think that’s the key thing, isn’t it? I think it’s flipping it on its head, not getting frustrated. It’s: Okay, so I can’t do this right now but what else can I do or how can I flip it and get some benefits from it?

Paul: Yeah, it’s flipping it so it becomes an opportunity to do something whilst not making that in itself too much of a pressure, I think, for me personally, because every day there’s pressure enough. You’re right, if you look at it right, there’s never been a time to write the book you wanted to write or doing all these things… you have the time now. But at the same time if a Pot Noodle is going to make you feel better at that moment, I’m not going to deny you. 

I mean, we had an awful one the other day. It was my wife’s birthday and obviously we couldn’t celebrate with friends and then one of our dogs died as well… we had to let one of our dogs go. So we’re all in tears outside the vet’s, we couldn’t be with her at the end, we had to pass her through the doorway. It was like that film thing, the opening scene of a horror film about pandemic and you’re in it. 

These things are happening so I don’t want to over stretch my time yet, but there will come a time when I definitely will. I’ve started reading properly and thinking about what I want to do the next couple of months and hopefully I’ll reach a plan pretty soon. But I will say the house has never been cleaner. I don’t think I’ve ever cleaned a light surface in my life but it’s going on now on a daily basis. We’ve all upped our game in that respect. 

Darren: In terms of, like you just mentioned there about coming up with a plan and things like that… I think the benefits we’ve got now in the times that we’re in is that although we are physically disconnected, we are so much more connected. So from a running and a plan perspective, there’s so much stuff online now that you can look at and you can research that you perhaps wouldn’t have put the time into before. Which could ultimately, when we come out of this, mean that you are a more efficient runner or you’re more efficient in the way that you build your plans out.

Paul: Yeah, absolutely, yes. It’s all out there, the resources to help you. Some people are just going to fall apart and get drunk and eat loads and some people are going to use the time wisely and most of us are going to be somewhere in the middle. It’s that thing of like, it feels likely that this is going to at least limp on in some stage till the early summer, if not the late summer, but you’re hoping by the autumn that events are going to be happening again. You can’t stay with any certainty but you’d hope so, wouldn’t you?

It makes you realise what a physical thing running is, as well and how often we’re all crammed together… Like, you know, you’re running a London Marathon and people sharing water bottles and stuff; you’re wondering whether that kind of thing will ever come back, that sort of sense of collective physicality–what it is to run together. I hope it will, but it might who knows?

Darren: I think it will definitely make people stop and think, like you say. I think the other thing, though, is the minute that this is classed as becoming less of an epidemic and people will start to be able to move a bit more freely again, like you said before, people very quickly forget and can revert back to how they once were, can’t they? And it can all just be forgotten.

Paul: Yeah, old behaviours. It’s all about the vaccine and hopefully in a year and a half, this will just be part of a seasonal flu that passes so we’ve got a vaccine and it’s a lot less scary. That’s the thing that makes it scary. I think once you’ve done that, then I think people will revert back, they’ll be sharing water bottles and sweating all over each other. And like they enjoy, like we obviously enjoy. To be fair, I was always a bit nervy about sharing water bottles anyway with people, but it’s something that people do to stop wasting all the water in mass marathons. You certainly couldn’t get away with it now. I know we keep veering back onto Corona but how are your supermarkets going? How’s that going? Are you well catered for?

Darren: They are, though obviously down on their stock. But I think the hysteria that was happening a week ago has subsided in so much as they’re not absolutely rammed with 500/600 people at seven o’clock in the morning. There’s a bit more sense of calm that’s come over. But there still are the people buying more than what they need to and I actually did a Facebook last week and said that if we just all ate less because we all need to eat less, we wouldn’t be in the position that we are. 

Paul: You’re right. I mean, you’d have thought that after a while the panic buying would abate because people would be sat in their house thinking: Do you know what? I’m surrounded by all this food. I’ve got 4,000 bug rolls. I’ve got enough, I’ve got this area taken care of. But people are nicking down and buying shelves and stuff, buying food and stuff. And the truth as well is they might be the clever ones, we just don’t know. But it wasn’t something I was doing but I try not to judge them because they’re just scared, aren’t they? 

As you said, the athlete in you coming forth, the reality is we need to eat less because we’re doing less. That’s the thing. But you’re at the same time where primitively, you’re under threat, you think let’s eat more because it’s a long struggle. So there’s a tendency you want to comfort eat, don’t you? You sort of want to build up stocks and reserves in a way but there’s no physical need for that at the moment. 

Darren: No, that’s right. And I think it’s our fight or flight, it’s our animal brains kicking in. The large majority of people will be unconscious to the fact of why they’re behaving like they are, they feel under threat and therefore they go into their caveman mode of just wanting to protect and hunt and gather and that’s essentially what happens.

Paul: Yes, absolutely. The hysteria in the supermarkets… It’s also of course that leads to hysteria because you get there and there’s nothing much shocking than a supermarket with no food because we’re so used to it having food. I was chatting with some mate the other week, a lovely guy, a little bit sort of wet behind the ears, slightly sort of middle class, just a little bit possibly naive about stuff. This is last Friday, he’s on the way for a walks, he says, “I’m outside, walking, it’s really nice, lovely.” I said, “Where are you going?” He said, “I’m off to the supermarket.” And this was at 1:00 p.m. I said, “There won’t be any food there.” And he said, “Oh no, I’m actually fine.”

Honestly, anyway, we talked for another 15-20 minutes, he gets to the supermarket and he’s like, wow. He’s there in the middle of the supermarket with a list for his weekly shopping. Some people are so far behind the curve, you worry for them. It’s like, you’ve got to wake up. But in London, we’re very lucky because there’s loads of local shops and stuff, but you’re not going to be able to mosey down to the supermarket at 1:00 for your weekly shop. It’s getting better this week, to be fair, but last week especially. You’re right, we seem to have crested that wave and a new normalcy is sort of developing, it’s just starting to happen. 

Darren: Yeah, exactly. Paul, let’s get off Corona and let’s talk about your book. Your 26.2 Miles to Happiness. Give us a bit of background as to why you decided to write the book. 

Paul: I’d been wanting to write a book for a while and I’d wanted to beat three hours for the marathon for a while and the two just started to gel in my mind as I was training for the marathon. I’ve been writing about running for a long time because I do a column from Runner’s World and I think about running and chat about it with podcasts and to people like you and stuff. And there’s lots of people who like to talk about running and I’d thought a lot about it. 

The two became one in my mind as I prepared for the marathon. I thought, “Let’s face it. No one really wants to read a book about a guy who didn’t beat three hours for the marathon.” So I thought if I can beat three hours for the marathon, maybe that’ll convince me to write a book about it. The two became one, they became sort of one project: if I can do this then I can write a book. And so I paid a lot of attention to the process and the mental physical process of preparing to beat three hours for the marathon, which for me was a big deal.

The time is not really that relevant. For me, beating three was relevant, but for others it can be any time. It was more about giving everything through a process, and I do that very rarely because, as we said, I tend to run for fun a lot. But I ran competitively as a kid and it was sort of like keying back into that state, it was sort of a bit of a re-emergence of that. And I really enjoyed embracing my inner extremist and really giving myself to it on and off training and watching my diet and doing everything right. I sense you do that a lot, but for me, it was quite an irregular thing to do.

And so I just wanted to write about that process and the mental state about running marathons. And be funny with it as well, but also a book for runners can learn something from it and non-runners can be a bit inspired. It’s just a nice mix of different elements. So yeah, it just came together and the good people at Bloomsbury agreed to publish it. It’s gone quite well; the audiobook’s selling very well and the book’s selling well. It’s been really a very enjoyable experience, the whole thing.

Darren: In terms of when you were writing the book and when you were training to break the three hours, was it a simple case of you had a plan and you would go through blocks of training then you’d write various different elements of the book? 

Paul: I wrote the book about a year and a half after I’d actually done all the training. In terms of the writing of the book, I did the chapter breakdowns and I knew what I was writing every day and stuff. Every day when I sat down to write, I knew what I was going to write about. And a bit like sort of training for the marathon: slow and steady wins the race. You set down these blocks of time where you’re going to do certain things and you do it.

For the marathon, I just gradually increased mileage till I was running about 55–60 miles a week which for me is sort of the upper end of what I can manage. And then just increasing long runs every week and trying to get that down to 85 minutes for the half marathon, just doing all the threshold runs. Just following a schedule for like the three months before and I really enjoyed it. Yeah, I really enjoyed that.

Darren: What would you say was the biggest thing that you had to do in order to achieve that time? Was it more specific speed training? Was it distance? Was it a combination of the two?

Paul: I think it was a combination, but I think a lot of it was–which I talk about in the book–the mental state of what happens between 20 and 25 miles and just focusing in on that. Focusing on just the wall and what it is. Physically, I tried to do four or five runs in the 18-22 mile zone and tried to concentrate on at least increasing effort. It’s not too much speed; try to run faster, but just try to hit the last four or five miles of those runs a bit more harder, rather than just fading away as I used to in the past. You’re training your body to run fast when it doesn’t want to. You’re just trying to build that effort and speed when you’re really, really tired. 

So I did a fair bit of that and then just concentrated on the mental “getting your game together.” Just trying to frame those five miles from 20–25. I talk about it in the book how I came to the conclusion that in most races, the last mile takes care of itself because there’s something about you, you can shrink it down to four laps of a track. It’s got something in it that draws you towards it, it’s like an inoxerable pull or something. I was wanting to concentrate on the 20–25, so I thought what I’m going to do is I’m going to restart my watch, and I’m going to run a five mile race from 20 to 25. And that was an attempt to kind of tether myself to something that I could manage, to something I could get my head around and it just about worked. 

It was quite nice to just physically, not just look at my watch and say, “I’m starting a five mile race,” but just to restart it–I’m going again, now. And that did help me but it didn’t make it any easier. It was still really hard and I wasn’t like overtaking loads of people because everyone in that zone doing that time is a really good runner anyway. It just sort of gave me something to cling on to because I used to find I’d constantly begin to unravel a little bit at 22/ 23 miles, just sort of start to lose pace and form and just deterioration. You’re trying to chunk it down, aren’t you? How do you do marathons?

Darren: Yeah, it’s definitely for me, I can relate to what you’re saying about the mental element. I think physically, you get to a level of fitness when you’re training for a marathon that it’s marginal gains at the end of the day. You could do a little bit more in training, but the actual gain you’ll get is marginal. Then the thing that I find you can do in training but it doesn’t really kick into a race and that’s the mental side of it. And for me, I break it down into kilometres and so when I’m getting to the latter end of the marathon, I just think about each kilometre and I celebrate each kilometre as I go. 

I find the biggest struggle is mental. What I mean by that is the fatigue, the mental fatigue you get when you get over the 20 miles because all this stuff is going on in your brain. Yes, it hurts, but it is how much you can manage that mentally to keep one foot moving in front of the other, it’s essentially what you just have to keep doing. Physically, I think you can carry on and what you were saying there about the last mile, yeah, you’re done then, aren’t you? In your mind, you’re done; you can see the finish line and actually, I find I speed up at the end.

Paul: Yeah, I do. I find that, yes. It’s that sort of you try to trick the central governor, you try to trick the mechanism in your brain that constantly says “slow down.” You know, you think you’ve given everything but there’s always more to give so you just try to trick that, so that was what the five mile race was about. Most of the times in marathons as well, I’m a big fan of the kilometre thing, just clicking off the kilometres because there’s more of them and they’re a bit shorter. You can get a bit lost in a mile but a kilometre is two and a half laps of a track and it’s sort of like, I prefer to measure kilometres in my mind when I’m running. Certainly, I look out for those very much.

Darren: I’ve never run just a straight marathon. Do they mark the course out in miles or kilometres when you’re doing it?

Paul: They do it in both. They do miles and then every five kilometres they’ll tell you and they do mile markers as well. Especially when you do a big one like London, you’ve constantly got mile markers, people telling you how fast you are and water and stuff. They’re great but it’s a different experience I’d imagine to running at the end of an Ironman. I can’t imagine that.

Darren: I’m sure it’s a little bit similar for the marathon, I draw energy from the crowd towards the end and people you don’t even know cheering you on and just kind of trying to motivate you and stuff like that. And I really buy into that.

Paul: You’re right, and that can really, really help you. You can spend too much energy trying to block those things off. I think the only real tactic has to be to open out and just soak it up and get strength from that. And also, I was thinking about that when you talked about pain. You know it’s coming, you know it’s going to hurt, but don’t spend too much energy. For me, anyway, it’s that thing of not spending too much energy fighting the pain. It’s going to come; don’t spend any more energy than you need to fighting it. It’s going to come.  

For now it’s just that sort of short fast steps, just try to keep your steps going, just try to keep your form together. It’s a fascinating experience, which of course is why we do it. We obviously like to be on the edge of extreme physical pain and feel that and the strength you feel when you come through it and the deep feeling of calm you get at the end of these events. When you know you’ve given everything, there’s something about it that’s very deeply satisfying.

Darren: Yeah, and I think that for me is one of the things I draw on when you mentioned there about it being painful. I often try and project forward and say to myself, “Yes, it is painful. It might be painful now, but when you cross that finish line and you stop, within a few hours, that pain would have gone anyway. You might be a bit stiff, obviously, but that pain is gone. Like you say, don’t put time and energy into telling yourself how much it hurts now; just try and put it to one side. 

Paul: It’s interesting, that moment when you stop is so sort of glorious. There’s such a relief to stopping. To never run again would be awful, but to run forever would be another kind of awful, but to run hard and then stop is just so fantastic, isn’t it? It’s such a great feeling. It is lovely.

Darren: You mentioned, Paul, in your training you were focusing on your diet; is that something which you found difficult?

Paul: It’s just unusual for me. I’m very much a sort of fun runner, sort of blending into club runner, I sort of mix the two. So if I’m not training for a race, I can drink a bit too much and put on a bit of weight and then if I’m training and taking something seriously, then the drinking goes. And also if I’m not bred off, then I’m fitter and I’ll lose weight. My best sort of racing weight is about just under 12 stone. By that I mean that I was starting to look a little bit unhealthy to friends who’d say “you look a bit thin.” But then my normal weight as an adult is about 12 ¾ stone, so I’m just trying to lose that… almost a stone, and that comes from not eating late, the odd bit of fasting, no breads, put down on pasta, no biscuits. 

Just simple things that we all try and do; loads of fruit and veg and drink loads of water. We know what to do. There might be the odd tweak in terms of like someone knows about this great supplement or they found an exotic vegetable but basically everyone knows what you’re meant to do. 

Darren: Yeah, it can be simple. Humans love to overcomplicate this and, like you say, we know you only have to have your mate who’s found this magic gel that’s going to help you and we love buying stuff like that.

Paul: Someone sent me one of those, is it Maurten? Have you tried that? Would you recommend it?

Darren: Yeah. I use it quite a lot.

Paul: So that helps in recovery or that helps for the event itself?

Darren: It helps for the event itself, definitely, because of the amount of carbohydrates it’s got but sometimes I think it’s just because of marketing. It’s is only because of Mr. Kipchoge who uses their products as well. There are others out on the market which are similar but you know, it’s almost like he uses it so it must be good for him, so I must use it. 

Paul: I’ll give them a go when this lifts. And also, doesn’t all this palaver put the Vaporfly thing in perspective? Why is everyone making so much of a fuss about we found some trainers that made his legs faster? But it’s interesting what you said about that. I’ll have a look when it all comes back and races come back because I’ve heard a lot of people really liking that Maurten stuff.

Darren: I think the difference between that and the other products on the market is that they don’t tend to put too much nonsense. What I call nonsense is the really highly refined and manufactured sugars that they put in a lot of this stuff. Where do you sit, Paul, on the whole kind of diabetes side of things? We’re perceived to be healthy and all the rest of it when we’re doing these endurance sports, but yet there’s growing concern and evidence that all of these sugary drinks and gels that we have are creating a bit of a diabetes issue. 

Paul: To be honest, I didn’t know that. On a personal level, I don’t take enough of them for that really to be a fact. That’s not to say I don’t like sweet stuff; I definitely eat chocolate and stuff. But I suppose it’s inevitable, isn’t it? What you just said is we sort of know when we’re running that this might be useful for us but it’s a bit over sugary, because those gels, a lot of them, you can’t have many because they will just make you sick. Facts indicate that they can’t be that good for you. Like anything, even in the current climate, it’s just got to be science-led, hasn’t it? If there’s a problem, then people need to look at it because you can be doing things that feel right in the short term but they’re a problem to your long term health. Is that a real issue?  

Darren: Yeah, it is something I’m very concerned about and as a result, I’ve actually switched to becoming more fat adapted because, obviously, fat is more of a sustained level of fuel for the body. When I’m doing long distances now, I don’t have nearly as many gels as I used to; I’m having starch and things like that to give me the energy.

Paul: In what form, then?

Darren: It’s in a powdered form in the form of a drink. You can also mix it up and you can make it gel-like as well. Funny enough, the last half marathon I did, I tried to make my own gel pack and that didn’t work too well because it all exploded in my pockets. I was scooping it out with my fingers as I was running!

I came across a guy last year who’s a pro mountain biker and he does some of these extreme endurance mountain bike events like 48 hours and they feed him chips. He doesn’t touch any gels or anything like that. Every time he goes round his lap, he has a bowl of chips.

Paul: We reach conclusions about these sorts of foods and then the science changes. Who would have thought, you know, all this time?

Darren: Obviously, you’ve got your Running Commentary podcast with Rob; what’s happening now in these times? How are you managing to keep that going?

Paul: What we did initially as it went into this is that we recorded two, so we’ve got this week’s and next week’s. And then Rob has sent me a remote device so at some point in the future, I can imagine us running separately but talking to each other on our phones. I’d imagine that’s how we’re going to do it.  To be honest, I’ve got no idea but Rob’s the tech guy. Rob has sent me something through the post, I haven’t even looked at it yet. Such is my disengagement with all things tech, I’m a bit rubbish, but I’m committed. It’s nice, I get a lot of joy out of doing the podcast, I get a lot of that community thing that makes podcasts so good. We’ve always done one a week for the last three/ four years so we want to keep the one a week thing going. 

People start relying that it comes out every Friday and it’s one of those things that you want to give people, don’t you? At this time where there’s no football, there’s no church, if you can give people any kind of structure, any kind of hub, sort of, to key into and connect with people, I think that’s really important for me as well as for them. Because I love doing it and it’s part of my week’s structure so we’ll do everything we can to keep it going. And if that involves me learning something about tech, I’m prepared to make that sacrifice. Here we are on ZenCast, I didn’t know that existed until today so there’s progress. We can all make progress, you know?

Darren: Like I said, there are good things that come out of all of these kinds of things.

Paul: There is. If you have that sort of willingness to change as well. Maybe there’s stuff the other way as well for people who are really… Because I’m always sort of more, not laisse faire but trying to roll with things and not over-control things and I’m okay with chaos. I’m sort of okay with it. I know I’m going to have to get a handle on this to impose structure on it in order to properly get through it and just look after my health and be good for my family and look after everyone. 

At the same time, most people who are used to a life of control might want to factor in something that they can probably do, but it might not be that healthy for them to really over-control every waking hour of this as well. I mean, there might be some relaxation. I don’t know, do you know what I mean? Just a loosening of something as well, which we’re all going to learn through this and we’re all going to change. Society will change a little bit and as humans, we will change on an individual level and we don’t know how yet.

Darren: I think you’re right. I think we will all change and we will all do things… not all things slightly differently. But also what you’re saying there about structure, we might not acknowledge that we want structure, but I think we find a lot of comfort in knowing that there’s a structure there, don’t we? 

Paul: Absolutely. Of course, and that’s what makes this so hard because there’s no end points. We just don’t know. And that’s why panic buying makes a bit of sense. It’s easy to judge and feel a little bit above it and then in three weeks’ time, you’ve got no food and you haven’t got any toilet roll. It sort of makes evolutionary sense, doesn’t it? 

And work as well. People like going to work, they like the rhythm of the week: Friday, Saturday night, we all go out and do this and on Sunday, it’s a bit quieter but there’s football on the telly and all this sort of stuff. It’s a real challenge for them. I’ve got some stuff kicking in next week where I’m just helping people deliver food and stuff and that’s going to happen between half eleven and one next week for me and that’ll give me a nice bit of structure. Just that little thing will help. Because it’s always nice to do a bit of volunteering, but it’s just that that will really help me and then I want to do a bit of writing and then I want to do some exercise. It’s just those simple blocks and then you get a bit of food and I’ll be fine with that. 

But I must say the first couple of weeks have been a little bit discombobulated, as most people have. Boris Johnson’s got the coronavirus this morning. Prince Charles… Things like that, they affect you, don’t they? Sorry to break it to you so casually! I was just trying to disengage from news and then a mate said, “Oh, Boris has got it.” I thought he was joking, he said, “Don’t you watch the news?” And I was like, “I’m just trying not to watch it.” 

So Boris has got it so you just realise that it’s a great equaliser.  Everyone is getting it; it’s going through all society. But at the same time, that’s also a shock for the country and hopefully there won’t be too many more. But that’s what I’m saying: I’m still a little bit in that stage of sort of reacting to shock. 

Darren: I bang on about this a lot and I’m sure people close to me get bored of me saying it but it’s a classic scenario of: It doesn’t matter your stature, where you are in life, health effects alld. And it’s irrelevant as to how wealthy or “unwealthy” you are, there’s no way out of this. You can’t buy your way out of this. 

Paul: You might be able to buy yourself a test but it doesn’t affect whether you’ve got it or not. You’re right. In many ways, we’ve always been aware of this as people value being healthy. Health is wealth, isn’t it? The extent to which you’re healthy is everything, mentally and physically. Do you do any sort of meditation or anything like that? 

Darren: I do.

Paul: You do? What kind of meditation do you do? 

Darren: I do a guided meditation and it’s only 10 minutes a day. It took me a long while to find something which really fitted with me. I tried all these different apps and 20 minutes a day and everything and I just couldn’t calm myself enough to kind of sit there. But now I’ve found something, it’s a thing called Daily Calm and I just sit there 10 minutes every morning, just go through it and it does have an impact in terms of it just calms the mind, gives you a clearer perspective on things. So yeah, I have started doing that and it’s one which I do now habitually. 

Paul: I go to church, I’m a church man and when they pulled the Catholic mass, that really affected me because it’s just that communality and that people being together and stuff, so I’m going to have to find some sort of daily thing like that to key into, just that internal moment stuff. Just really sink into that and get that perspective of all things passing and stuff. I’ll have a look at some of those things to get those blocks in place. 

Darren: Yeah, and again, it’s having that structure, it’s taking that time out to look after yourself, not just from a physical aspect, but from a mental aspect. And the other thing that I started to do now is a bit of breathwork as well, which I find really helps.

Paul: Okay, that’s interesting. A lot of people, and I include myself in this, they’re waking up in the morning… Sometimes I’ve been drinking too much and I wake up in the morning and I can’t get back to sleep and then you go on Twitter and then you get tense and then your chest starts to get a bit tight and then you think, “Oh, Corona’s chest tight.” And then before you know it, you’re just willing yourself into this anxious state that’s entirely self-created. You’re dehydrated through your own idiocy…

When you run, you’re feeding your body and everything that you ingest mentally is feeding your mind. It’s all content you’re putting into your head and it affects your state. So what sort of breathing stuff are you doing? That’s interesting.

Darren:  It’s called box breathing. So I’ll just go outside in the morning, six o’clock in the morning, I’ll stand outside, about five or six times, I’ll breathe in and I’ll empty my lungs out. And then I will just breathe in, hold my breath for about 10 seconds, but then I’ll breathe out for about eight seconds. It’s a real controlled exhale to fill up the lungs and empty the lungs. What it does, obviously it helps the lungs, but it also calms the mind as well and just gives you that clarity early in the morning. I just do that and go back in, have my cup of tea and that’s it. It doesn’t take ages. That with the meditation really works quite nicely.

Paul: And of course, that’s always available, the breath thing, just to key into it. Just to take some nice deep breaths and really fill yourself.

Darren: Particularly those that have got young families and young kids right now and obviously you’re all confined in one space. If you take yourself away for 5/10 minutes and just calm yourself down and breathe, you’ll find you’ll deal with situations in a much more measured way.

Paul: Yes, of course. Because everyone’s panicky and everyone’s a bit weird, everyone’s a bit freaked out and obviously there’s a lot of stress points around the house and you’ve just got to be able to cope with them. And it never helps anyone better when papa starts getting stressed. You’re there to soak it all up, you’re there to be the big sponge but to do that, you might have to nip off and take a few deep breaths sometimes. We’ll all end up like Buddhist monks.

Darren: Yeah, exactly. So chilled out that the country won’t return to work. 

Paul: That’d be good! You’re right, it’s very, very important to get your deep breaths and enjoy the time that we can get outside whilst we can still do that. The fact is this lockdown… And I know this will date quite quickly. Hopefully, people will look back on it saying “oh, I remember the lockdown” but at the moment, we are still allowed to go out twice a day. It’s a very generous lockdown. You can go for a walk, have exercise and you can go to the shops every day. To be honest, that’s probably a little bit more than some people were doing. It’s only when it’s imposed on you that you feel it, isn’t it? Let’s just be grateful for what we’ve got at the moment and get outside and have a good breeze.

Darren: Yeah, definitely. Paul, I normally ask people what are the five key actions that listeners can take away today from our podcast, but it doesn’t really seem that appropriate today. So before we wrap it up, is there anything that you feel that I didn’t ask you that I should have asked which would benefit the listeners?

Paul: To be honest, I think we’ve talked about a lot of things: don’t over stretch your running but find a way through it. There might be new things you can learn, do a bit of deep breathing, find a meditational practice. Food is important; there’s a temptation to eat more when really we should probably be eating less and that will tax our bodies a bit less as well. It’s just the basic stuff. It’s probably a bit easier to do that now because there’s less… We’re not fractured by work demands or all the stuff. We have all this time and if we can really connect to those simple things, there’s a chance that we can come back stronger and more content into a glorious new dawn, hopefully, when this ends. There is opportunity here, it’s just being clear-eyed to see it. I don’t think there’s anything you haven’t asked me. It feels that we’ve just had a very time-specific Corona podcast special.

Darren: Absolutely. I think we’ve set the world to rise in a number of different ways.

Paul: And I really appreciate some of the advice you gave me as well around breathing and meditation stuff. I’m going to try and use that, so I really appreciate that. 

Darren: Good stuff. All right, Paul, how can people connect with you? I know you’ve got the RunComPod.

Paul: RunComPod on the Twitter and I’m Paul Tonkinson on Twitter as well. My book, 26.2 Miles to Happiness is out on Amazon, there’s audiobooks as well which is doing very well, people listen to it while they run. There’s a lot of what we’ve been talking about there in that as well and there’s comedy memoire and bits and bobs so it’s a nice little mix and, as I say, people are responding to it. We have got time to read books at the moment.

Darren: No excuse! And listen to podcasts as well. Awesome. All right, Paul, thank you very much for your time today. Stay safe and I look forward to catching up with you again soon. 

Paul: Absolutely. Stay safe.

Darren: Thanks for listening to the Fitter Healthier Dad podcast. If you enjoyed today’s episode, please hit subscribe and I would really appreciate it if you could leave a review on iTunes. All the links mentioned in the episode will be in the show notes and a full transcription is over at FitterHealthierDad.com.

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