The Winning Formula: An Interview with Paul Atherton

Charlotte Looker
June 21, 2021

We caught up with Finance Director Paul Atherton following his incredible performance in the Parish Walk at the weekend. Paul crossed the line after 15 hours 23 minutes, earning him first place and a spot in the event's history books.

Q: How are you feeling today?

A: I’m feeling a lot better today than on Sunday after the race! I’m trying to stay as active as possible by doing lots of short walks around the office to prevent my muscles from stiffening up.

Q: Have you always been a race-walker? How did you get into it?

I got into race walking in early 2019 when Capital’s Chief Operating Officer Werner Alberts set completing the Parish Walk as one of my work objectives. He then coached me and helped me with my race-walking technique. We trained together regularly before entering the 2019 Parish Walk where I finished 8th.

Q: What’s been involved in your training?

A: My training started in early 2019, but when the lockdown came along in March 2020, I decided to focus on running instead due to only being able to train for 1 hour per day. After lockdown restrictions were lifted, I moved forward with a combination of both running and walking training.

My running had improved a lot during lockdown and on hearing about Christian Varley’s 19 Marathons in 19 days, I decided to run an unofficial marathon by myself, completing it in a time of 3 hours 22mins.

After this first attempt, I had definitely caught ‘the bug’. I wanted to beat my time and so entered the Isle of Man Marathon in August 2020, completing it in 3hours 5mins. I then competed in the IOM Vets Marathon in May 2021, achieving a time of 2 hours 37mins and coming first.

The fitness and endurance I have gained through my marathon training undoubtedly helped me in the Parish Walk. I’ve been training in both disciplines for over a year and am the fittest I’ve ever been.

Q: Do you have any rituals on race day? 

A: I have a very well-organised race day. I like to meticulously plan out my itinerary in advance. On the day of the race, I was up at 5.30am and at the NSC before 7.00am, so I could casually take a few steps around the track and talk to some of the other competitors who were there.

Q: What do you think about during the event to get you through?

A: I find a good distraction is to spend a lot of time thinking about where I’m up to on the course, what’s coming up next, what I should be eating and what pace I should be doing based on all that.

Q: What did you eat and drink during the race?

A: During the Parish, I knew I had to regularly take on a lot of calories, but after 4 or 5 hours of walking, you really don’t feel like eating. I try to consume as many non-sugary foods as possible earlier on in the race such as sandwiches, bananas and rice-pudding. Later in the race, it’s much harder to tolerate those foods so I tend to then turn to energy gels and Jelly Babies, as well as Crunchies (my favourite chocolate bar).

Q: Did you ever think you would win? 

A: I never thought I had a chance of winning. My aim was to improve on my finishing time of around 18 hours from 2019, and to get as close to 16 hours as possible. So to beat the time I was hoping for by 40 minutes and win the race was a real surprise.

Q: How did it feel when you finished? 

A: I’m not normally the sort of person to get emotional, but as I approached the finish line to the cheers of all the supporters and my colleagues, I could really feel myself getting emotional. There was such a long build up to the Parish walk with months of training which all culminated on the one day with incredible support all around the Island and at the finish. The icing on the cake was to see my two daughters at the finish line and get a big hug from them both.

Q: What’s the next challenge?  

A: Now that the border restrictions are easing, I’m hoping to get away to compete in a larger marathon later in the year and after that I’ll be working towards next year’s Parish Walk.

Disclaimer: The views, thoughts and opinions expressed within this article are those of the author, and not those of any company within the Capital International Group (CIG) and as such are neither given nor endorsed by CIG. Information in this article does not constitute investment advice or an offer or an invitation by or on behalf of any company within the Capital International Group of companies to buy or sell any product or security or to make a bank deposit.

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