Ask any runner, juggling love and a running obsession is a tough ask. Generally one has to give a little… and it often isn’t the mileage!
This Valentine’s Day we spoke to inov-8 ambassadors Paul Tierney and Sarah McCormack. They not only have us constantly swooning with envy over their social media posts of their shared adventures in some of the world’s best running locations, they’ve racked up an ever-growing list of some of the world’s most prestigious running achievements AND they’ve built a successful business, Missing Link Coaching, that continues to go from strength-to-strength.
Most of us struggle to get just ONE of those 3 things right. Paul and Sarah do it effortlessly, whilst smashing out one epic running performance after another without missing a step, literally. Can we take a little credit here for giving them both the world’s best grip?
Both have run for Ireland on numerous occasions, Sarah is the two time winner of the International Snowdonia Mountain Race and recently ranked 3rd in the Mountain Running World Cup. Paul is an experienced mountain ultra runner – having won the Lakeland 100 and completed the infamous Tor des Geants (twice!)
We’ve asked the inspirational pair to share their tips on balancing love and a love for running… on how they met, how they keep the balance and, because they are generous like that, they’ve flung in a lot of valuable coaching tips too!
IT BEGAN WITH INOV-8
Yes, it really did
“Funnily enough we met at the inov-8 sales conference in November 2012. I still lived in Ireland at the time and Sarah was based in Scotland. Myself and Guy Russell (who used to be a rep for inov-8) were chatting in the bar on the first night and Sarah came over. Guy very tactfully asked Sarah if she was seeing anyone. Sarah grinned and said no, Guy turned to me and said, “there you go Paul”. And the rest is history. True story!” – Paul
IT HELPS TO DATE A RUNNER
“We both love running and our lives revolve around that to a large degree, so we both understand that the other wants to run every day. We always make time to do so. It’s just the done thing and a day doesn’t feel complete without a run in the fells or on the trails.” – Paul
OR JUST SOMEONE WHO UNDERSTANDS
“Having a partner who understands how important running is to you, whether they’re a runner themselves or not, definitely helps.” – Sarah
GIVE EACH OTHER SPACE
“You don’t want to spend 24/7 in each others’ pockets. We do very similar things both in terms of work and our hobbies, so it’s good for us to get out running with other friends – as well as doing different types of training. He’ll often be doing long days out with hiking poles and a big pack, maybe stopping at a café along the way. In comparison, I do fewer long runs and more speed & hill reps sessions. Last year I did a few running & racing trips with other friends, to Macedonia, Andorra, Germany and Slovenia, so having Paul’s support in doing that was brilliant.” – Sarah
MAKE THE MOST OF TRAVELLING TOGETHER WHEN YOU CAN
“Last summer was amazing. We were out in Europe in the van, and although I’d only planned to do three races I ended up doing eight, as I’d meet local runners and race organizers, get chatting, and sign up for something else. I was lucky that Paul was happy to stay in the van with the dog in the Aosta Valley each weekend while I caught trains to get to races in other parts of Italy and Switzerland. We can work from anywhere that we have a phone or a laptop, and so the only trouble sometimes was getting 3G!” – Sarah
THE LITTLE THINGS COUNT
“When I was racing every weekend I wasn’t doing a lot of hard training in between, so there was plenty of opportunity to just go out with the dog and enjoy the mountains. I loved being in the van, the villages in the Italian alps that we went to were so accommodating and often had dedicated van parking with electrical hook ups – so you felt like you were a valued visitor to the area. My favourite thing was waking up in the morning – Paul’s more of a morning person so he’d pop to the local bakery for some pain au chocolat and make us both a coffee.” – Sarah
SUPPORT EACH OTHER
“Paul has done Tor des Geants the past two years (it’s a 330km continuous trail race in the Italian Alps which took him 4 days to complete), which is a really unique race for supporters and competitors alike. So myself, the dog, plus our good friends Joe and Lee, followed Paul around in the van, meeting him at checkpoints in remote mountain villages. We’d bring him food and spare gear, put up with a bit of verbal abuse (he now swears he wasn’t grumping), wake him up after an hour’s kip and see him off on his way. That was really good fun as we usually had time for a beautiful alpine run and a picnic at each location when we were waiting for him to appear.” – Sarah
IT’S NOT A COMPETITION
“I’m delighted when she races well and vice versa. Usually our goal races are different anyway so if we are in the same race it usually isn’t a priority for one or both of us. Sarah had a great run at the Kendal Mountain Festival 10km race last year and it’s really nice to see her perform well and be happy with how she’s done. If that means kicking my ass, it’s a small price to pay” – Paul
SCRAP THAT… THE RACE IS ON!
“Honestly, Sarah waits until there’s a guy on a tannoy at the finish and I’ve got a serious case of man flu to beat me and I will never hear the end of it.” – Paul.
“It’s also worth mentioning the Langdale 10k, where once again Paul found the pace too hot for his liking. He then tried to invent a best-of-five ‘Christmas race series’ so that he could redeem himself from back-to-back losses. It was a transparent and rather pitiable plan.” – Sarah
FIND POSITIVES IN THE NEGATIVES
“Paul once mentioned a quote to me that Conor McGregor (UFC fighter) trains by – ‘win or learn’. You can’t have a good race every time, but you can gain something from each and every run. If you have a bad race, find one or two positives to take away from it, even if it’s just something you now know you’d do differently, and then start looking ahead to the next one.” – Sarah
GIVE EACH OTHER PERSPECTIVE
“We can all get into a headspace where we overanalyse or put too much emphasis on the most recent race result. Having someone else to provide perspective and keep things in context helps. It’s not always easy if one of you is ill or has picked up a niggle and the other is still going out running. I usually try and channel my energy into something else I enjoy, like baking or going for a fell walk.” – Sarah
“If Sarah is disappointed after a race I will try to take the positives from the situation and point to how she could rectify what she felt didn’t go well. We both love running enough to just get back at it after a disappointment. It’s one of the great things about the sport. There is always another chance right around the corner to make up for it.” – Paul
TURN YOUR PASSION INTO A BUSINESS
“For a long time, Paul had been interested in running technique and biomechanics, and was studying this in his spare time when I met him. My background at university was in biochemistry so I had more of an understanding of the physiological processes and biological energy systems. I’d always enjoyed helping out a few friends with training programs in my spare time, so we both started doing more training courses and reading, and it sort of went from there.” – Sarah
KEEP WORK TASKS SEPARATE
“To be honest it can be difficult sometimes when working with each other as well as being in a relationship. Usually because I’ve not done something that I should have and Sarah has had to tell me off for it. So we try to keep our work tasks separate from each other where possible. ” – Paul
“I think that it’s good to keep our responsibilities very distinct so that we can work independently. Paul unfortunately has the memory capabilities of a goldfish that has suffered a series of concussions so I do sometimes end up having to remind him of things. We spend most of our work time apart – you don’t want to be just staring at each other across a desk all day. My parents owned a business together for many years, and at the end of the day when they came home, they’d still want to go out for a walk or a run together. So I definitely keep them in my mind as an example.” – Sarah
ACCEPT YOU’LL ARGUE
“We definitely argue at times because of work. But I think accepting that it is going to happen occasionally and being able to argue, come to the conclusion that Sarah was right all along and then put it behind us seems to work for us!” – Paul
MANAGE YOUR TIME
“Especially during the winter, we’re lucky that we can get out for runs in the daylight, so we end up planning work around that, including doing a lot of work early morning, late afternoon and evening. Like everyone, the temptation is to try and do too much, and we don’t always get the balance right. I’m still getting used to the complete time flexibility of being self-employed. Writing down a schedule for the next day helps, as I give myself a set start & end to the working day.” – Sarah
SPEND TIME TOGETHER
“We run together regularly so that is time we can spend together and we travel a lot together too so there is no issue with not seeing enough of each other. Also because we both run for the same club, Ambleside AC, we mix in the same circle of friends so that also helps.” – Paul
TAKE A BREAK (OFF RUNNING)
“I try to take a week off running twice a year. I know I won’t get through the winter without at least one cold, so I make sure my training plan has the flexibility to account for this – it means when it happens I’m not getting too frustrated or feeling like I’m missing sessions.” – Sarah
“Rest is important. Neither of us like to go more than a couple of weeks at the end of the year without running. Finding other activities to do for a few weeks so that you aren’t totally resting is probably the best way to do it. And then just getting back into running without much structure for a few weeks tends to be enough to recharge the mental batteries.” – Paul
WHEN INJURED, DO NOT EVEN WHISPER THE WORD RUN!
“We have both been lucky and taken the right steps to avoid any serious injury for the most part but when it occasionally happens it’s usually best not to mention running in front of the other person for a while! It helps to have something else like bouldering, jiu jitsu, cycling or hiking to take the place of running. I think if you can find something you really enjoy to replace running while injured it becomes much easier to deal with.” – Paul
LOOK AT THE BIGGER PICTURE
“Before leaving my last job as an ecologist, I was able to use work to take my mind off running if things weren’t going well. Now that I work with runners full-time it’s pretty hard to ignore that frustration when you can’t go training. I think something to bear in mind though is that your fitness doesn’t start to dwindle after a couple enforced rest days. It’s usually 10+ days before your fitness actually starts to decline at all, even more if you’re training for a very long event (that empty-leg feeling after a few days off isn’t lack of fitness, just a slight lack of muscle tension that will come back after a run or two). I always try and play it safe now if something in the legs doesn’t feel right – missing a session or even taking a week off isn’t going to ruin your season. Also, hiking is a very undervalued form of cross-training – if you have a niggle that isn’t affected by walking, it’s a good way to keep the legs ticking over until you can run again.” – Sarah
To find out more on Paul and Sarah’s coaching business, visit Missing Link Coaching