Running coach Paul Miller recasts himself into “Iron” man

Toronto Inspires when passion and perseverance intersect.

Story shared by Lynda Chubak

Paul Miller

Paul Miller

You’d be hard-pressed to find an aspiring runner in Toronto’s High Park community that hasn’t received an encouraging nudge from neighbourhood running coach Paul Miller. After all, during the past decade or so, he has guided close to 2,000 race-completion hopefuls at the local Running Room. His training clinics are consistently packed-not only because he is a remarkably dedicated coach, but also because his own transformational story resonates.

In 2001, Paul’s comfort zone was better visualized as a sectional sofa than a patch of pavement. That was about to change. In April, an ex-girlfriend talked him into keeping her company by joining an upcoming Learn to Run clinic. Ten weeks later, after persevering with the program, in spite of running in cut-offs and cross-trainers, he and Gina crossed the 5K finish line at the Nissan Toronto Challenge in 0:36:37. Reflecting back, he recalls describing running “five whole kilometers” to a neighbour as unbelievable. That was also about to change.

Running ShoesFlash forward to 2013. Through incremental improvements and shear doggedness, Paul has transformed himself into a top-flight weekend warrior, moving up from 5k to 50k, from a single sport to tri-sports, including two Ironman races. A numbers-cruncher by day, his professional analytic bent has gradually seeped into his passion. He started keeping track of his accomplishments in 2004.

“Since 2004, I have run 22,064.8 km for a total time of 98 days, 17 hours and 57 minutes; cycled 24,974 km for a total time of 38 days, 23 hours and 58 minutes and swam 1,206.5 km for a total time of 24 days, 20 hours and 15 minutes as of February 28, 2013.  To put that in perspective, the equatorial circumference of the earth is 40,075.16 km.”

He now has more than 200 events under his belt, including having done marathons in 12 of the 13 provinces and territories; and in five of the seven continents, not to mention Antarctica. Australia and Africa are on the books for 2014 and 2015, respectively. This man clearly sees the power of goal-setting.

When asked to recount one of his most significant athletic achievements, his answer reveals his depth of character. It involved failing, repeatedly. Attempting to dip his toe into the challenging world of tri-sports, he entered the Gravenhurst Try-a-Tri. Like many before him, on race day he, unfortunately, missed his target. He DNF’ed-race jargon for “did not finish”. He re-entered the following season, and repeated his DNF performance. Though understandably disheartened, he signed up yet again, for his third attempt. This time he overcame his near paralyzing fear of the water. He finished the swim, hammered the bike and killed the run. Hanging in for three attempts, not ever giving up, led to his placing second in his age group. This man clearly sees that power of perseverance.

Two hundred plus event completions are impressive, but not the only measure of the man. It is Paul’s dedication to coaching and fellow runners which truly distinguishes him from the pack. Even though self-described as intensely shy, Paul still stepped up to lead his first Running Room clinic in 2004, as a way of honouring his own great running coaches and giving back to the community, leading various distances, before settling in on his favourite, the Half Marathon Clinic. He continues to this day, and, as a result, there is a brigade of grateful finishing line crossers who feel they owe much of their running accomplishments to Paul.

Through running, Paul asserts: “I have made friends for life and have a lifestyle that 10 years ago I would never have dreamed possible or would even have wanted.” Now, he takes immense pleasure in seeing athletes, at all levels, gain self-confidence, as a result of running, and seeing how that success extends to other endeavours in their lives. He recounts when Daniella, a former clinic participant who doubted her abilities right up until race day, triumphantly crossed the line of her first half marathon, as one of his most memorable coaching moments. Post-race, she was overcome with emotion, shedding many tears, as family members celebrated her completion. During the elation, Daniella introduced Paul as the one who had made her personal victory possible. He acknowledges that the nicest, most soul-satisfying thing someone can say to him is that he has made a difference.

Paul, there are legions who can confirm that you have undeniably made a difference.

Inspirational Takeaway: Find a passion. Share a passion.

Paul Miller Pace Bunny

Paul Miller Pace Bunny

P.S. At a recent race, Paul was the 2:00 Half Marathon Pace Bunny. He confidently led his grateful followers to the finish, crossing in 1:59:30.

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