Paul has been messing around with computers since he was six. He learned to code Basic on a Spectrum, experimented with game level design in the days of Doom, and generally explored everything the world of code and config had to offer. All this led him to the University of Nottingham to study Computer Science. Today, he works at Rusty Monkey, where he turns his hand to server management, back-end code, front-end code and website animation.
Q: What inspired you to do a marathon up Snowdon?
A: Since I took part in my first triathlon back in 2012, I've always had a key event that I've been focused on for my training in that year. I've mainly taken part in Sprint and Olympic distance triathlons, with the odd half-marathon and marathon thrown in. Last year the big event I took part in was the Deva middle distance triathlon. It was my first middle distance (2km swim, 90km bike, 21km run), and for me it was a huge challenge. I've done a few events for charity, but in general I do them for myself.
One of my partner's best friends took her own life last year. She was an absolutely lovely, kind, outgoing and successful woman. She has a loving partner with 2 lovely kids and a family around her who loved and cared for her. Her death was absolutely devastating. It shattered family bonds, sent others into depression and has been an absolute battle to deal with and process. We will carry the shock and pain with us for the rest of our lives. Mental health has been coming to the fore a lot more recently, and we need to do more to help anyone who suffers, as it can be just as debilitating and fatal as physical health problems.
This was so devastating that I really felt that if there was something I could do to help I should. It needed to be a bit of a special event, something that would be truly challenging, so I settled on a marathon that goes up Snowdon, possibly a little bit naively. Specifically the Snowdonia Trail Marathon. 1600m of climbing over 27 miles.
Q: How much preparation did you do?
A: As much as I could (and in retrospect I should have done more). I do a fair amount of exercise anyway, normally 1-2 swims a week, 2 runs and 2-3 bike rides. Quite a lot of that is just commuting to and from work so it's not hard. I switched to doing more running in December last year really and I've been slowly building up since then, with 3-4 runs every week while dropping off on the swimming. I managed 15 runs that were a half-marathon length or more over that time, up to about 38km. In June I managed 5439m of climbing over 273km of distance. Finding hills in Nottingham was easier than I expected once I started looking, but even though I thought they were hard in training they paled in comparison to the race itself!
Q: What was in your backpack?
A: Snowdonia is a place where you can get into trouble pretty quickly. If you fall and hurt yourself, or if the weather changes quickly - especially when you're so focused on getting round as fast as you can - you can be in real trouble. The organisers make you take essentials with you in case that happens, but it was only once I got out there that I really understood why. It's a brutal terrain and you can easily come unstuck. You have to take water, emergency food, windproof trousers and top, hat, gloves, foil blanket, whistle, money, sun block. I also had my phone, some energy gels, Vaseline and some plasters.
Q: What got you through the marathon?
A: We had a big team with us on the day and it really helped. I was the only one doing the marathon. Six others were on the half-marathon route (which also goes straight up Snowdon) and another five on the 10k route (which was still a hard run, with over 400m of climbing). We also had 17 friends and family members running feed stations or supporting, which was amazing.
We were all running for a great cause and for me I was also running for both my partner's friend, and for another friend of mine who was killed while out cycling on his bike just a few months ago. Every time I struggled I just kept thinking that I had to get round for them, and because I'd spent so long preparing that I wasn't going to give up now.
There's also a great communal spirit between people doing the race on this kind of events. It's everyone versus the course, and almost the harder the course gets the stronger that is. We all wanted everyone to do well and you get so many comments from everyone around cheering you on, keeping you going. It's an amazing feeling and probably the main reason I do this kind of thing.
Q: What would you do differently?
A: I'd have started training earlier to give me more time to build up. I thought I'd given myself enough time but we moved house in that time period so I couldn't spend as much time training as I wanted to. I'd also have done more slower runs for longer periods of time. Perhaps most importantly I'd have done more leg strength training. The route up Snowdon has a lot of really big non-uniform steps, and that really took its toll.
Q: What did you learn?
A: Even two years ago I would have called you mad if anyone had suggested I did this race, but I learnt that I have depths of energy and ability far beyond what I thought I had. I thought I was finished about a third of the way up Snowdon but I managed to keep going. You get so far that you just can't give up.
The reward is amazing too - we raised over £3,000 for Mind, which is just brilliant. And more than that, it was a really great event to help heal our friendship group. It brought us closer together and really helped us come to terms with some of the demons we've had since my partner's friend took her life.
My partner was an organising fiend and took a silly idea of mine and made it into something wonderful. She's an incredibly giving person, and it's really gratifying to see how so many people rallied round and came together to help and support. It sounds cheesy but you really do get what you give in this world.
Q: How did it feel to cross the finish line?
A: It was a huge mix of emotions. I was utterly broken so I was massively relieved it was over. I was also elated that I'd managed it, yet I broke down in tears as I'd carried a lot of grief with me and the event had become the focal point for it.
The further away I get from it though I'm just proud, and I really can't quite believe I managed it. We're all capable of so much more than we might think. I had chronic fatigue about 10-15 years ago. It lasted about two years and at its worst I struggled to walk to the corner shop. I was completely unfit both physically and mentally. I realise you see so many stories of people turning their lives around through exercise that it can sound clichéd, but it really has saved me and I love it now.
Q: Do you have any advice for others thinking of doing something similar?
A: Don't underestimate the event. Start training early and plan your training out. Talk to people about your training plan to make sure you're on track. Join a club too. Do not underestimate how important gym work is - core fitness and leg strength are so important in helping you avoid injuries. Don't over-train either. I had planned a full marathon a few weeks before the event as my last training session but it hit 30 degrees that day so I called it off after a half-marathon. It was just too warm. There is no point in pushing so hard you make yourself ill. Listen to your body and if you get niggles or injuries, talk to a professional like a physio. They are absolutely invaluable.
Q: What will be your next challenge?
A: I haven't thought about next year yet. I have a few half-marathons planned this year, including the Robin Hood half. I'm hoping to take some of the fitness I've gained through the training to break some personal bests. There's a part of me that wants to do Snowdon again next year (I've spoken about how hard it was, but it's just a stunning area and it was an absolutely EPIC adventure too), but I suspect I'll have an easier year and do some shorter triathlons instead.