Olympian Paul Pollock: Completing the Belfast marathon was always on my bucket list

Gail Bell asks experts and people in the public eye what keeps them going. This week: Irish Olympic marathon runner, winner of this year's men's Belfast marathon and A&E doctor at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Paul Pollock


Up and at it - what is your morning routine?

With a three-year-old and one-month-old at home, morning times are largely dictated by them. A large coffee is always a 'must' to kick-start the day, normally followed by playing with fire engines until it is a more acceptable time for breakfast.


What might you eat in a typical working day for...Breakfast?

Coffee alongside a big bowl of muesli topped with yoghurt and raisins.


Normally, a sandwich of some sort with a portion of nuts and fruit. On gym days, I would include eggs for the extra protein.

Evening meal?

Most evenings, I tend to stick to a traditional carbs, meat and veg combination. Among my regulars would be spaghetti bolognese or fish with peas and mash.


Is nutrition important to you – do you take health supplements?

With a history of 12 stress fractures at the last count, looking after my bones is an essential part of my training. I take daily calcium and vitamin D supplements, in addition to high-dose vitamin C for my immune system.


Ever been on a diet – if so, how did it go?

One of the benefits of marathon training is that you can eat whatever you want and as much of it as you want. The body requires a sufficient energy intake in order to cope with running weeks of high mileage consistently without breaking down. So no, I've never been on a diet, other than largely trying to eat healthily.


Weekend treat?

I definitely have a sweet tooth and jelly sweets are my weakness, although I haven't managed to confine them to just the weekend.


How do you keep physically and mentally fit?

Running – it gives me simple enjoyment and time to think and mentally recharge. There is nothing better than after a tough shift at work to lace up the running shoes and run a few miles in order to clear the head.


Best tip for everyday fitness?

Consistency is key - 10 minutes of jogging every day is better than an hour at the weekend.


Were you a fan of schools sports/PE or do you have a memory from those days that you would rather forget?

Sport should definitely play a part in everyone's life growing up, as it teaches a lot of positive values that are transferable to life outside of sport. That said, I definitely wasn't the biggest fan of PE at school.


Teetotal or tipple?

During university, before I started running seriously, I definitely would have been more of a drinker. Nowadays, between trying to balance a young family with work and training, nights out with friends are a rare treat that have to be planned several weeks in advance.


Did you ever have a health epiphany which made you change your lifestyle?

Running has been a part of my life since my late teenage years, but when I was starting out, I was of the opinion that the lighter you, are the faster you will go. As a result, I was probably energy-deplete for large periods of time. You can only continue like that for so long and I learnt that the hard way, with multiple injuries over several years. These days I train and fuel much smarter and make sure that I listen to my body.


What book are you currently reading?

Winnie-the-Pooh short stories book (a present given to our three year-old).


Best Netflix?

The Queen's Gambit or Michael Jordan's The Last Dance - a fantastic sporting documentary.


Most surprising thing you've learned about yourself over the pandemic?

Perhaps it isn't very surprising, but I learnt that I am capable of spending long periods of time being extremely non-productive.


Any new skills or hobbies?

Cycling on a gym bike... Since I was injured for a large part of lockdown and couldn't run, I took to the (very) old gym bike in my garage for training. It took me a while to find my 'bike legs', but I got a buzz from completing a workout.


How do you relax?

There is no better way to clear the head than going for an easy jog.


What are your goals for 2022?

Completing the Belfast marathon was always on my marathon bucket list and to finally get a chance to do that, with the additional bonus of winning, was a big highlight for 2022. With a new baby girl having arrived into our family shortly after race day, I am now taking a bit of downtime to focus on family. With several athletic championships happening this summer (Commonwealth Games and European Championships), there is potential for a very busy few months ahead. Further down the line, the Paris 2024 Olympic Games qualification window opens in January 2023 and hopefully the build-up to my third Olympic Games will then begin.


What time do you get to bed and do you think you get enough sleep?

Normally, I would like to get to bed around 10pm or so, but our new baby doesn't follow the same (or any) routine. Sleep is currently in short supply.


Biggest gripe?

Life is too short to gripe, but if someone could find a way to widen the Lagan towpath at peak walking/long run time on a Sunday morning, I would be extremely grateful...


Have your priorities in life or perspectives changed?

I have always been an ambitious person with big dreams, but with a young family, I realise that all my ambitions can no longer take precedence and that compromises have to be made. Thankfully I have a very supportive partner, so I am able to pursue my running dreams for a little longer.


Has coronavirus changed your attitude towards your own mortality?

I think the bigger change to my outlook on life has been the birth of my two children. My life is no longer about me but rather all about them and teaching them how to grow up being happy and content in this complicated world.