Athlete Interview: Paul Starling


This past weekend, a Twitter friend of mine ran a 24 hour race in North Carolina.  Paul Starling is 47 years old and has been running since high school days when he competed in track and cross country. His marathon debut was in 2002 and he ran his first ultra in 2008.  Currently, he has run 37 marathons and 35 ultra races.  Last year, at the 2013 Hinson Lake 24 Hour Ultra Classic, Paul ran 101.36 miles.  Below is a Q & A I did with him just after this weekend when he went back to Hinson Lake.

Paul at the Gator Trail 50k at Lake Waccamaw, NC - 1st place masters winner!
Brad Zinnecker/Trail Running Faith:  Paul, tell us about your most recent race, why did you choose it and what were your goals going into it?

Paul Starling:  My most recent race was the Hinson Lake 24 Hour Ultra Classic in Rockingham, NC.  I chose it for several reasons.  It costs only $24---$1/hour!  It is located about 1 hour 45 minutes from my home.  And finally, my past experience with it having run it last year.  My goal going into it was to surpass last years mileage of 101.36 miles.  However, I fell short with 79.5 miles this year.

Brad:  What went well?  What did you learn?  What would you do differently?

Paul:  The first half in daylight went well.  I had a friend to come pace with me.  I learned I needed more sleep the night before the race.  I had tried but only got around an hour.

Brad:  That night before a race is always tough with sleep.  I've heard it said that the night's sleep before doesn't matter as much as the night two days before the race and/or consistently good sleep leading into the race, perhaps during the taper.  But, still, one hour isn't much.  You mentioned the race was tough when we communicated with one another on Twitter.  What was tough about it?

Paul:  It was tough for several reasons.  The obvious lack of sleep.  When the sun went down, my body just didn't want to keep going.  The heat of the day---I do not do well in hot races.  I got sick during the night, becoming nauseated and having dry heaves.

Brad:  Yeah, I can see how the lack of sleep mixed with heat could lead to some unpleasant experiences.  Dry heaving is the worst.  I hate that.  So physically exhausting yet with little, if any, relief for the body.  We know that suffering and endurance are part of ultra & trail running, as well as life.  What do you think we learn through suffering and endurance in running that crosses over to life and vice versa?

Paul:  Life is hard!  We all know that.  Running ultras is also hard.  I have had to learn to endure the pain and suffering in these races just as in life.  Sometimes you have others to help you along, at other times you have to do it alone---the alone time helps develop patience.

Brad:  For sure.  Do you think that trail & ultrarunning can help us confront our struggles in life?

Paul:  Yes, I feel ultra runners have a lot of determination---a characteristic needed to help overcome the struggles of life.  Often I find myself thinking about life's problems while out running. It seems to help clear the mind and help me think about how to work through them.

Brad:  That's true for a lot of people.  Do you think that as suffering pushes us in endurance, endurance can lead us to joy?

Paul:  Absolutely!  If I didn't find joy in running there would be no way I would be running these crazy distances.  The reward of pushing through those difficult moments is very gratifying and many moments are shared with people I truly love.  My running friends are some of the most cherished people in my life and with the shared experiences comes much joy.

Brad:  That's awesome!  And I totally agree.  Those moments of coming across the line and seeing loved ones you care about, who are excited to see you finish and may have been part of your inspiration, is wondrous and awesome, even if we look and feel like death warmed over!


  Paul and his buddy, Nathan running the Virginia 24 Hour Run for Cancer in Hampton, Virginia.

Continuing on, how do you manage through the tough spots of a race?  Life?

Paul:  I manage the tough spots in a race because I've put in the work---training!  It helps prepare me for those moments.  My past experiences going through tough times reminds me that I can do it again.  I also have support of others which encourages me to keep on pushing.  I also draw strength from my faith in God and often find myself singing songs.  One of my favorites is "You Are My All in All."  I like the lines---

"You are my strength when I am weak,
When I fall down you pick me up,
And when I am dry you fill my cup."

This speaks to me physically and spiritually.

Brad:  Totally makes sense when you are running.  How many of us have been dry, weak, or fallen down, perhaps all in the same race.  The same is true in life, how many run around dry, weak, and falling down, looking for someone to sustain them.  God does that, He made us to be satisfied in Him and Him alone to paraphase Augustine in the beginning of his Confessions.  

Paul, what brings you purpose and joy in life?  Where/how/in what do you find joy?

Paul:  My faith in God brings me great joy and purpose along with my family and friends.  I work as a teacher assistant in an elementary school so I find great purpose in my job.  I certainly find purpose in my running as it motivates me---I love competing!---and it helps me stay healthy.

Brad:  Paul, thanks for your willingness to respond to my questions, especially so soon after such a tough weekend.  I truly appreciate your time and honest responses.  Good job this weekend in tough circumstances.  Hopefully sometime I can make it down to North Carolina and meet up with you for a run or race!  Keep on moving!