TOM EVANS - ULTRA-RUNNER
"I have always loved the outdoors; I get a lot of my energy from nature and I feel at one with the world when I am running."
Tom Evans burst onto the ultra-running scene this year, coming out of nowhere to finish 3rd in the iconic desert race, the Marathon des Sables. It was a remarkable achievement given Tom had only run one ultra-marathon prior to entering the Marathon des Sables and squeezed in his training for the race around his day job as an officer in the British Army. I caught up with Tom to speak to him about his stunning result at the Marathon des Sables, how he overcame the mental challenges involved in running 250kms through the Sahara, what he enjoys most about ultra running, his training camp for the Eiger Trail and what the future holds.
You have burst onto the ultra-running scene with your 3rd place finish at this year’s Marathon des Sables, were you surprised by this result or did you always think you have the potential for such a high finish from success at previous races?
Yes, I think I was as surprised as everyone else in the ultra-running world! I am in the British Army and had an exceptionally busy 2016 so my build up to the race had been far from ideal. Having said that, I did manage to get some good last minute training in. MdS was my first multi stage race, I had raced in one ultra before it, a 76km trail race in the Brecon Beacons, but that’s it!
Do you think you benefited from being an unknown with nothing to lose?
Being an underdog always has an advantage. For me, being able to stand on the start line with zero pressure was great. Like you say, I had nothing to lose. Having said that, I do like pressure. From my 6 years in the British Army, I have learnt how to deal with stress and pressure. It’s something that I have learnt to enjoy and I now thrive off it.
The MdS is a brutal race with many challenges, but if you had to pick out the most challenging aspect of the race, what would you say?
For me it was the mind-set. To have to do these long runs, 35-84km per day, day in day out! Your body never has the chance to fully recover, you are not eating enough so you are in a constant state of calorie depletion. It was really interesting to see the impact that this ‘low calorie’ diet made.
How did you prepare yourself mentally for the challenges you were going to face in the Marathon des Sables? How do you find the strength to keep going when you are really suffering?
My military career puts me in a really good place mentally. I have learnt how to deal with stress and hardship which I found really useful. You need to completely focus on the race, it’s not something that you should do without any preparation, the race must be respected. I went to Lanzarote for a week in my build up and this gave me the opportunity to re-focus and set some goals. I am a huge believer in visualisation and goal setting.
Does your passion for running stem from your childhood or is something that you have developed an interest in more recently?
I have always been an outdoors person; I played all team sports while I was growing up, as well as running. At school, I did a bit of cross country and ran on the track. I have played rugby for the army, that was my real focus when growing up. I was told by a friend that “you can’t show a girl your lungs in a bar!” so I should stick to contact sports! I spent the majority of 2015 in Kenya and was lucky enough to spend two weeks leave in Iten where I trained with Kenyan athletes in the build-up to the world championships. It was an amazing experience, which ignited my passion for running.
What is it about ultra-running that you enjoy most?
I really like the community in ultra-running, races become one big family where everyone shares everything. Everyone runs for such different reasons and I love spending time with those who just want to finish a race; it’s great to listen to their experiences, some are really inspirational to me. I have always loved the outdoors; I get a lot of my energy from nature and I feel at one with the world when I am running.
How has your preparation for your next big race, the Eiger Trail, differed from the Marathon des Sables?
My training for the Eiger has been really specific; I have spent a couple of weeks in the mountains focusing on my climbing and technical descents, which has given my body a bit of a shock as its very different to running in London! Having said that, I have still been working on my speed and improving my VO2 Max. I combine this with some strength and conditioning, yoga, stretching and sports massages to try and get myself in the best possible shape for the start line.
Why the Eiger Trail? Is the intention to focus more on mountain races and single stage races or are you open to any type of ultra?
That’s a question that I keep asking myself! I am going to race in the Frankfurt Marathon at the end of October and this will help to keep my speed on the road. Next year, I will race in a couple of multi-stage races and then at the start of the summer I will concentrate on 100km road races. The 100km World Championships are happening in Croatia in September 2018 and I really want to be a part of the GB squad for this. It will be a huge opportunity to represent Team GB and a real-life ambition.
Has your day job as a solider played a part in your ultra-running success in terms of the lifestyle it promotes?
Being in the military has taught me how to look after myself and others around me. It’s so important, especially in multi-stage races to look after your body so you can perform at a high level in the next stage of the race. Also, I am able to self-motivate, when times get really hard I am able to dig deeper and put myself in that dark place and be happy there. I like the suffering and the aches of running.
How much attention do you pay to your nutrition?
Nutrition is a really important factor for anyone, whether you are an elite athlete or a Sunday jogger. In my high-volume training weeks it’s so important to get the right amount of calories to allow me to recover and refuel for the next training session. For races, it’s equally important. This will allow you to keep that sustained effort for hours on end. A mistake with nutrition can have big consequences; nutrition alone won’t win you races, but poor nutrition will inhibit your performance.
Is part of your enjoyment of ultra-running the sense of adventure and going off the beaten track?
For sure, I love the outdoors and the excitement from the adventure. I have got a couple of projects that I am in the process of planning for 2018-2019 which will be enormous adventures.
Do you think you are only just touching the surface of what you are capable of?
I am really excited about my journey in the ultra-running world. I think that with some very hard work, anything is possible. I have got some big goals for the coming years which I am really dedicated to achieving.