By Luke Jarmey
Tom Evans leapt into the annals of history with his epic third place in the Marathon des Sables. He seemed to come from nowhere to overtake the pack and get himself on that podium. The long day – over 80 kilometres – saw him put in a stunning performance to come in second after the champion, Rachid El Morabity. Here, he talks to Luke Jarmey about his background, the desert and that brilliant run.
Q. I think it would be fair to say, you were rather unknown on the ultra scene until last week… so who is Tom Evans?
A. I am currently a Captain serving in the Welsh Guards, British Army. I am 25 years old and live in in Sussex, England.
Q. Have you always run or is that something that developed through the army?
A. I first got into running when I was 13. I competed in the National Schools Athletics Competition, racing in the 1500m. I continued racing track and some cross country while I was at school. Since joining the army I have increased my running, however due to being away for periods of the year it has been hard to plan seasons and races.
Q. When and what was your first ultra? And how did you do?
A. I raced in the Beacons Ultra in November 2016. This was my first ultra and I managed to win. MdS was my first multi stage race!!
Q. Homing in on the army for a minute, would you attribute a large portion of your general fitness to routine military life? Or have you very much developed it through personal training in your own time?
A. I think the training that I have received from the army has been fantastic. Not just physically but also mentally. Racing in ultras requires lots of discipline, determination and being positive when things seem bad. Also, through my military training I have developed my robustness and ability to administrate myself, preparing for the next day of racing.
Q. Ok so on to the MDS, what inspired you to give it a crack and what did your preparation look like?
A. I remember watching the James Cracknell documentary on the MDS. This got me interested as it looked like a great challenge. I applied for the race in 2016 as the beginning of 2017 looked as if I would be able to get some time off work. My preparation was disjointed due to work commitments. However, I managed to get some quality weeks of training in the UK and Lanzarote. I was averaging 100 miles per week and two weeks of 120 miles in the final stages of my training.
Q. Now you shot off like a rocket on day one, leading the quartet of elite Moroccans for most of the stage. Had that always been the plan? And as someone relatively new to ultras and as such ‘untested’ in this calibre of race, what gave you the confidence to do that?
A. I managed to get to the front of the start line and the atmosphere was amazing. I had planned on running how I felt. As such an inexperienced athlete, day one was the first time that I actually ran on sand! I felt good on day one and think I gave the Moroccans something to think about. They are all amazing athletes, they are superb runners but also very humble and kind. The friendships I made there will last for a very long time.
Q. Fantastic and how did you feel finishing that first day? I think the collective thought on Twitter was ‘who the hell is Tom Evans!?’
A. I felt surprisingly good. My hydration and nutrition plan worked well and I was already looking forward to the next day. I have spent such little time with this calibre of athletes so I had lots to learn and then try and implement. I don’t think my tent mates, who were all part of the Walking With the Wounded Team, could really believe it. It was my ambition to come into the race under the radar. My goals for the race were to finish in the top 20, which I thought was still going to be a serious challenge. I think I surprised myself as much as everyone else.
Q. After some great running in stages 2 and 3 to keep yourself comfortably amongst the front runners. The ‘Long Stage’ turned into an all-out attack to finish in 2nd place that day. Take us through your strategy and a personal assessment of your performance?
A. The long day for me was a real challenge, it was the furthest I had ever fun by 15km, plus being in the Sahara with LOTS of sand. My strategy was, once again, to run how I felt. As that distance was unknown to me, I had lots to learn. I ran the whole race with Mohamed which was great, we were able to work off each other and run to the best of our abilities. When the sun went down I started feeling strong, in the last 2km I picked up the pace and managed to pip Mohamed to the line. The long day was, I think, my best performance and has given me lots to think about when choosing future races.
Q. Moving onto stage 5 which saw your finish the MdS in 3rd overall. How did that final push to the finish go?
A. The last stage was amazing, the scenery was fantastic and we ended up running in a big group for the first 10km. I knew the finish was in sight, but a marathon is still a long way. Due to the amount of food I was eating, I was pretty tired. I was averaging 2300 Kcals per day, which, for a 75kg runner is not enough. Having said that, due to all the amazing support from the British public and athletes racing, I was able to finish the marathon stage.
Q. ….and how did you feel crossing the line?
A. One of the best feeling ever. Seeing Patrick on the line with the medals was very welcoming. I was very emotional when I finished. The support from the team at MDS was amazing and the result them became very real.
Q. Just touching on army life again, do you feel it that it made a difference to your remarkable performance out in the desert?
A. Yes, I owe the army so much for my performance. The mind-set that I approached the race in is very similar to how I approach my work. Determination and robustness are probably the two main factors.
Q. Ok so looking to the future, you’ve clearly got an an amazing talent for endurance running. Which ultras will we be seeing you at next?
A. Thank you very much. I still see myself as a blank canvas. I am going to be getting support from a proper coach as well as some sponsorship from some great companies. I am racing in the Anglo Celtic Plate, 100km road race in May and then will be traveling to the Dolomites and racing in the North Face Lavaredo Ultra Train on 23rd June.
Thanks, Tom, for talking to us at RunUltra and a massive congratulations once again!