After a long absence due to a serious injury, U.K. runner Tom Owens is returning to high-level competition this spring and he will race the 2014 Zegama-Aizkorri Marathon. In this interview, Tom speaks about his injury and rehabilitation as well as how he fared during his first major race back from injury when he finished sixth at the Transvulania Ulramarathon two weeks ago. He also talks about Zegama’s course record, this weekend’s competition, and his race strategy.
Be sure to check out our detailed preview of the men’s and women’s fields at the Zegama Marathon to see who else is running this weekend.
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Tom Owens Pre-2014 Zegama Marathon Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar with Tom Owens before the 2014 Zegama-Aizkorri Marathon. How’s it going, Tom?
Tom Owens: Pretty good, yeah. Pleasure to be here. Good to see you.
iRunFar: Likewise. It’s been a little while. You had some time away from running last year.
Owens: Yeah, that’s right. I think the last time I saw you was probably here in 2012. Last year I ruptured a peroneal tendon, so surgery was needed and I was out of action for the year.
iRunFar: That’s a major setback.
Owens: Yeah, it was really hard at the time. I just had to accept that it was going to be six months first in plaster and then in a boot and then a very gradual return. So basically nothing to do with running, but I did quite a lot of work which is good.
iRunFar: Were you able to keep yourself in check as you were coming back? That’s a problem for a lot of athletes whether they’re elite or not.
Owens: Yeah, it was really slow. I had to be very patient and do all the gym work and the pool work and running on a trampoline and cycling to start with as well. It was a gradual process. I think by that state, I was just so glad to be moving again in the correct direction. It was, yeah, it was alright actually.
iRunFar: So any progress was a positive and you could just accept that.
Owens: Yes, and certainly it was hard to stop running, but when I got over the first couple of weeks and started to run more than a couple times per week it was really enjoyable.
iRunFar: You’ve made some great progress since then. Talking to you before Transvulcania, it sounds like your fitness is back.
Owens: Yeah, it’s been good. I started running at the end of September and October and regularly running in November. So I’ve had a good chunk of training, five or six months now, and I’m just enjoying it so much. I feel healthy and fit and strong, so yeah, just enjoying it. It’s fun to do that.
iRunFar: Enjoying it. You jumped right into it. Was it your first ultramarathon at Transvulcania?
Owens: I’ve done… I did the [Trofeo] Kima race in 2012 which is a short distance but still quite a long time. It’s 6.5 hours time on feet. It wasn’t quite as hot, but Transvulcania just seemed like a great opportunity. Maybe not great timing before this race, but I just, yeah, it was really neat to try something new.
iRunFar: How did that go for you?
Owens: Yeah, it was okay. I had a pretty solid race. I learned an awful a lot. I suffered a lot with cramps from really early on. From about 2.5 hours I struggled on anything that wasn’t flat which is most of the course. It was a really interesting experience managing cramps for so long. The last descent was… hellish just because I couldn’t lift my legs very well and the heat and the elevation. It was a really good experience in managing an ultra, I guess. I was delighted to finish and was really wasted at the end.
iRunFar: You’re back on familiar terrain here. After a year off last year, you’ve run it twice before.
Owens: Yeah. It’s a course I know well. I really enjoy the course. It’s got a bit of everything. There’s some fast running; there’s some steep three good climbs; there are some technical sections and some steep descents. It could be muddy and slippery out there which I’m looking forward to. I do remember it being really, really hard and really fast. The competition at this race is always really high, this year, too. But the support on the course is pretty unique as well.
iRunFar: Do you think, I mean, right now a Brit has the course record, Rob Jebb. You had, until last year I think, the fastest second place time on this course. Is it a course that suits the U.K. style of running?
Owens: I think it probably does. Rob Jebb is a phenomenal runner. He’s still running and cycling at a really high level. When he was setting the record here, he was setting various Skyrunning records. It is a good record. It suits Brits because it is technical. I guess it’s quite similar to a race like the Three Peaks Race in the U.K. or a longer Lakeland race. Yeah, the Brits seem to do well here. I think Angela Mudge has done well here before. There’s a good group of Brits out here for this race. Hopefully we’ll have some good performances.
iRunFar: Do you think you’re ready to be back on the podium this year?
Owens: Ooof. I’m not sure about that. The level is so high. You’ve got Kilian [Jornet], Marco De Gasperi, [Luis Alberto] Hernando, [Ionut] Zinca, [Tadei] Pivik, Zait [Ait Malek]… I think certainly three or four of those guys are at a level above, but they’ll all be smashing it out at the front and there will be casualties. I don’t know. It’s just one of those where you can’t worry too much about other people and try and do my own thing and not get too caught up in the going too quick. It’s going to be very, very tough to be on that podium.
iRunFar: Do you think you have the self-control if they’re going out super hard that first hour and a half…?
Owens: I think it will be when they hit the first hill that will kick off the run-out. There’s quite a long climb and then the run-out and then the first hill when they’ll take off. I think I don’t have a choice. I’m not as quick running uphill. I will probably drop back there anyway and end up managing the race from there. It’s tricky because you don’t want to get left too far behind contact-wise, but it’s a long race.
iRunFar: So you think your strengths are that sort of technical ridge in the middle and that sort of steep descent early on?
Owens: I think I can sometimes get some time back on the descents if it’s slippery. Certainly some of the guys, Marco, Zait, and Kilian, are tremendous descenders. So, yeah, that will be tough.
iRunFar: So there are just a number of runners like yourself who are a level above on descending really technical muddy terrain. Is it training? Is it just experience on the terrain? Or is it mental? How are you able to just attack those descents that leave the rest of us just wanting to walk down?
Owens: I think it’s a mixture. If you’re not so strong on the climbs, then you don’t have a choice. You have to catch up on the descents. We also practice—a lot of the running in Scotland is wet and muddy and very steep. Certainly the more races you do into the season, you get better at it. Yeah, you’ve got to be in the right mindset on that day. Everyone can have a bad day descending as well. It could just be that you’re not relaxed.
iRunFar: Is that part of it as opposed to being hyper-focused?
Owens: I think so.
iRunFar: Being laid back and just going with it?
Owens: I think so. Yeah, you’ve got to just be adjusting all the time. You will slip. Yeah, I think you can’t be too tense otherwise it will slow you down.
iRunFar: So you don’t lock into a line and say I’m going to take this for the next 30 yards. You just take the next step and…
Owens: Yeah, see how it goes. Shut your eyes.
iRunFar: You’ve got a lot of closed-eye action here this weekend then.
Owens: Yeah, just hope for good days. I always think it’s easier if you’re chasing someone as well rather than having to lead it.
iRunFar: Is that for picking a line or knowing that there’s someone to catch?
iRunFar: Good luck out there. Enjoy.
Owens: Thanks, Bryon. Good to see you. Cheers.