My Approach to Ultra Marathon Running: Tom Evans
As Tom Evans tells it, his rapid ascent to the top rank of trail and ultra running has been something of a happy accident. Having not competed since school, he was posted with the British Army to Kenya for 10 months, and during this time he decided out of curiosity to spend two week’s leave running in Iten, rubbing shoulders with some of the world’s best athletes.
I really fell in love with running then and realised there is so much more to running than just going on a run. It’s a real culture for these guys, it’s a lifestyle, and so much can come from it
He returned to running in 2016, immediately performing creditably on the road, track and trails, but his emergence as a performer on the world stage came about through another piece of chance.
I had a couple of friends who did Marathon des Sables. I went to the pub with these friends who did it - and they did really well, they finished in the top 300 - and, I don’t know what persuaded me to say it, but I said words to the effect of: “Yeah, you guys did well, but there were still quite a lot of people ahead of you. I reckon I could do better.”
They sat me down the next morning - feeling slightly sore in the head - and I signed up for Marathon des Sables.
Ended up finishing on the podium in the race. It was so unexpected; the first European male ever to finish on the podium.
Following this huge result, Evans has gone from strength to strength, finishing fourth at the Eiger Ultra Trail and in May 2018 winning bronze at the IAU World Trail Championships.
His joy and gratitude for the path his running has taken him over the last couple of years is very clear.
More doors opened and I ended up being invited to all these incredible places to run, and the opportunity to me was just too good to turn down. I love running and I love travelling and being able to do them both at the same time is like a dream come true.
While he undoubtedly possesses certain physical gifts, his analytical approach to preparation and racing stands out.
Half an hour before I go to bed I turn off all my electrical devices. At that point I can really focus and I start visualising. Trying to learn the lessons from that day. I’m very much a process driven person. What can I do, every day, to get a tiny bit better?
This attention to detail extends to all aspects of his approach. As a long trail runner, dealing with heat and managing his hydration are especially important. To those ends he has used St Mary’s University’s environmental chamber to help his body acclimatise, and his hydration is meticulously planned with the help of Laurent Bannock and Precision Hydration.
It’s something I’ve brought with me from Marathon des Sables; preparing specifically for each race.
I’ve found it’s really worked. I raced in Costa Rica at the beginning of the year and being used to the heat just made such a huge huge difference. Your body is just slightly better adapted and you understand what happens to your body when it gets hot.
Simply being well prepared is not enough to achieve your best at any distance of course. On the day, it’s key to have a resilient mindset, and it’s instructive to listen to a man who races for hours on end:
I get this question a lot [how to maintain focus]. I think a lot of people expect you to say, oh yeah, I’m always 100% completed focused on a race, but a lot of things come through my mind. I’ll be thinking partly about what my heart rate’s doing, and I’ve got a nine-point checklist for making sure I’m being as efficient as I can be while I’m running, and I might be able to focus on that for ten minutes out of every hour. The rest of the time it’s a mixture of anything.
Still young for an ultra runner, it’s hugely exciting to see what the future holds for Tom Evans, and the world of running will be following his progress closely. Although perhaps not too closely:
I’ve got to wee quite a lot. And it’s something that I’ve got quite good at, doing a pee on the move. It goes everywhere, all over my legs, all over my shorts…