Amid the jubilation and sweet, sweet relief you experience when you cross the finish line of your first marathon there is one thought that comes to the mind of almost every runner – “never again”. However, give it a few weeks, or months, or maybe a couple of years, and you may find the desire to tackle 42.2km again returns.
Comedian Rob Deering is an extreme example of this phenomenon. After his first marathon, he didn’t think he’d rack up one more, let alone eight, but he’s now training for his tenth in London this April, where he’ll be running for Parkinson’s UK.
Given his extensive experience, Coach thought it wise to ask Deering for some advice for first-timers and running in general. We also asked if he knew any marathon jokes, because that’s the rule when you speak to comedians – you have to put them on the spot.
Why did you start running and why do you keep coming back to marathons?
I run because I had a New Year’s resolution that stuck. I lost weight and then thought I’d try running. I was so amazed I could run and I loved it so much I kept doing it. Then I thought I thought it was a selfish waste of time if I don’t train for something and raise money for charity, so I signed up for a half marathon. Then I did my first London Marathon and I thought, “I didn’t enjoy that much, I’m never doing that again”. Apparently I was wrong about that.
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Have you ever fallen out of love with running?
Not really – I’m not very good at moderation. In autumn 2008 I thought, “I like running, I’m going to run three times a week from now on” and ever since then I have.
I have good friend who I run with and he says things like “I’m not going to go out today, because I’m a bit busy or not feeling very well”. I never have that conversation with myself. I think if you say, “Do I fancy running today?” then you’re dead, because nine times out of ten almost everyone will say, “No, of course not!” So I just go. The decision is long since made, it’s set in stone.
What’s the one bit of advice you would give to a first-timer?
The number one piece of advice is to not do your head in about it. Try not to worry about everything – your training, your sleep, going off too fast. Remember that after you’ve been running for an hour 90% of all that will be forgotten, because you can’t hold it in your head once you get started. So don’t worry too much about getting to the startline – it’s the finish line you’ve got to worry about getting to.
And try to be well rested in general. I think tapering is really important – it’s hard to imagine that not training is going to be helpful, but once you’re a month out from the marathon you’re not going to get much fitter, but you can tire yourself out. And you aren’t going to sleep very well the night before the marathon – no-one does – so make sure you’ve had a good night’s sleep the seven nights before that.
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As a comedian you tour a lot – do you have favourite running spots in every city?
Yeah, I really do! It’s funny being a comedian and a runner, because everyone has that nice relationship with their hometown and all their favourite runs there, and I have that all over the country.
I like running in cities – the idea of running in the country is very romantic, but it can be difficult. In cities there are lots of pathways and parks, and it’s all on a small scale.
I love the stuff that the Victorians laid out. Fantastic old railway lines in Oxfordshire and Edinburgh, and really good towpaths, like in Manchester and Birmingham, which are of course wonderfully flat.
I used to gig in Cyprus, where you run out the door and you’re running at altitude up and down mountains. It was so fantastic, you wouldn’t think twice about the difficulty of it, and it was superb training because it’s what proper athletes do – training in thin air.
How do you find running routes in new places?
I’m a map guy. I put some time in beforehand and look into it. I’ll take an idea and run with it. I’ll get to Newcastle and think, “I’d love to run along the Tyne”, so I’ll look at a map and see where I can go. I did that in Tallinn in Estonia and I had the most fantastic run. I don’t think there’s many people out there running in sub-zero temperatures in little shorts. I got some very funny looks.
You host a popular running podcast – Running Commentary with fellow comedian Paul Tonkinson – but what do you listen to when you’re running?
Music – actually running was something that got me back into listening to new music. I’ll always defend people who run with music, because I think there’s a slightly old-school idea that you’re not doing it properly if you listen to music. Quite often I hear people say they don’t listen to music because they like to appreciate the experience, and I think in a way, you can appreciate the experience more, because music takes you outside your body. Sooner or later a song will come up that absolutely defines a run – whether that’s a huge tune at the finish line of a marathon or just an appropriate wistful moment two miles in around your local park, sometimes it just comes together.
Why do you run for Parkinson’s?
My dad has Parkinson’s, but I was as inspired by his charity work as by his Parkinson’s. The moment he was diagnosed he got on to the local charity and started working with them, using the skills he had gained in business and management.
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On to the big question … do you know any marathon jokes?
The first marathon joke that people always make is, “Isn’t it called Snickers now?” and a few times I’ve had to point out to people that that name change was more than 20 years ago.
This is not really a joke, but it’s the first thing I thought of… it feels bad to tell it but I think it’s OK because of the podcast. The story that sums up the marathon experience is Paul Tonkinson’s first marathon. He was having quite a tough time. He always likes to interact with the crowds and this little boy gave him a jelly baby. And he was going to eat it and make that a really positive moment, but he took it and he immediately dropped it. He was just two feet away from the charming little boy, and Paul just started swearing…
I don’t think it really counts as a marathon joke. I’m still working on the perfect marathon joke, but in comedy it’s amazing how resistant audiences are to it. You say, “Anyone here run?” and they all go, “No! Not only do we not run, we disapprove of it.” And you realise that it’s true, because all the runners are home asleep, ready for parkrun or their Sunday run the next morning.
You can find Rob Deering’s fundraising page here, and for more information on Parkinson’s visit parkinsons.org.uk