As part of his rapidly ascendant trail running career, Tom Evans will compete at the 2018 Trail World Championships for Team Great Britain. In iRunFar’s first interview with Tom, he talks about his career in the British Army, his quick but successful entrance into trail ultrarunning over the last year, how he’s prepared for this competition, and what he thinks of the unique race course.
Tom Evans Pre-2018 Trail World Championships Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and I’m with Tom Evans. It’s the day before the 2018 Trail World Championships. We’re on the Mediterranean coast of Spain. Good morning.
Tom Evans: Good morning, Meghan. Thanks very much for having me.
iRunFar: How are you doing? This is my first time meeting you.
Evans: I’m good. I had a good flight yesterday. It’s so nice to be here. I’ve been lucky enough to have spent a bit of time out in Spain preparing for the race. Training has gone as well as it can, so I’m just really looking forward to toeing the start line tomorrow. I’m trying not to get too excited today.
iRunFar: I think you’re pretty excited today. We’ve just had a nice conversation. I think you’re pretty excited.
Evans: Yeah, it’s been… representing Team GB for me is a huge, huge honor. It’s my first international vest. What a place to do it—amazing place, amazing trails. I have loads of friends who are running, so it should be an awesome race.
iRunFar: This is iRunFar’s first time speaking with you, and I think this is my first time seeing you race. I saw you at CCC briefly, but it will be my first watching you start to finish. Who is Tom Evans?
Evans: That’s a good question I’ve been asking myself. Everyone wants to know. I’m 26 years old, and I’m from the U.K. I live in London. I started running properly in April 2017 just over a year ago at Marathon des Sables. Since then I’ve just been trying to figure out what type of running I like most. As it turns out, it’s in and around the 50 miles to 100k. I’ve been in the Army for seven years serving with the Welsh Guards which has been an incredible experience. I owe a lot of my physical and mainly mental strength to them.
iRunFar: Tough training days?
Evans: Exactly, very tough training days, but a lot of mates to get you around as well. My coffee of choice is a flat white with oat milk—very cool—and my guilty pleasure is an almond croissant. That’s all you need to know about me. That’s it.
iRunFar: And you’re not so good with poles yet?
Evans: No, I’m very bad with those wizard sticks.
iRunFar: Learning about them
Evans: Yeah, I think they’re really useful, but it’s something you’ve really got to practice with, but living in London and living in the U.K… if I were to use poles in Richmond Park or somewhere like… for those of you who don’t know, Richmond Park is a big park in the west of London. It has an eight-mile loop around the outside. You might get 200 feet of climbing in eight miles. If you used poles on the one climb in there, you’d get looked at. I get weird looks anyway. I’ve used them in the Eiger [Ultra Trail], and I’ve used them in the CCC. I’ll use them for a bit of the race this year. It’s nice that you can pick them up somewhere and turn them in somewhere else. Yeah, I’ll be using them but probably not very well. I end up doing some damage to myself and probably others around me, but yeah, they’re useful I think.
iRunFar: You’re an adult-onset runner basically?
Evans: Yeah, pretty much, I discovered it by accident. I signed up for the Marathon des Sables after a couple of beers.
iRunFar: That’s very typical for a young man in the U.K., especially in the army.
Evans: Yeah, the British Army, they’re certainly used to the culture of drinking. Nowadays, it’s quite a lot more professional. However, because you work incredibly hard, you need to relax, and going and having a couple of beers with mates is a perfect way to do it. I had some friends who did Marathon des Sables in 2016, and they did really well. They finished top 200. Yeah, after a couple of beers we were chatting about it, and I said pretty confidently that, “Yeah, top 200 is really good, but there are still 190 people who are better than you.” They’re like, “You haven’t done it. It’s really hard.” “Fine, I’ll do it then.” I signed up the next morning, and here we are today.
iRunFar: And you came in third.
Evans: Yeah, I came third which is crazy.
iRunFar: Yeah, it is. The Moroccans out there are pretty fast. Getting on the podium out there is pretty serious business.
Evans: You’re telling me! It’s pretty surreal for me. I had no idea. I went out hoping to finish in the top 50 and maybe the top 40, and the race just went really well. It’s been pretty crazy since. It’s an awesome race. It’s different. It’s still part of the Ultra-Trail World Tour, but it’s very different from all of the other races. I think it does still deserve a place because it is… it just does add another element of complexity to your race carrying all your food. Physically there’s not that much vert, there’s not that much climbing, and it’s not very technical. Physically it’s not that difficult, but it’s the mental side of it. It’s packing your own food and preparing that way. It’s…
iRunFar: Going for a week of it.
Evans: Yeah, going on for a week. Your body just drains and drains and drains. The long stage was 83k they said; I think it was a little bit longer. It certainly felt a lot longer, but that was the furthest I’d ever run in one day. There was so much unknown. I had no idea if the wheels were going to fall off at some point or if my body was just going to decide, “Right. Nope. That’s it. Stop where you are. You’re finished.” I somehow managed to pull it together. It’s been pretty crazy since.
iRunFar: Since then, you’ve done some more mountainous stuff—Eiger Ultra Trail, CCC last summer, and I guess The Coastal Challenge is pretty hilly, too.
Evans: Yeah, I raced the Eiger… The Coastal Challenge, I got offered a place in The Coastal Challenge pretty much as soon as I’d finished the Marathon des Sables. “There’s this amazing stage race, the TCC in Costa Rica. Same concept as MdS, but you don’t carry your own kit.” At that point I was like, “Right. Sign me up.” Anything where you don’t have to carry your own kit. Amazing opportunity.
iRunFar: And abundant food all week.
Evans: Which is key. No almond croissants, sadly, but good coffee though.
iRunFar: Lots of beans and rice.
Evans: Lots of beans and rice which is great. Yeah, I didn’t know much about the race, but the more I looked into it, the more I realized how much fun it was going to be. I’d never been to Costa Rica before and had really wanted to go. It was a great way to see the culture and meet the people and get to know Costa Rica for what it really is rather than the touristy places you might get on holiday. It’s a super-tough race. This year the field was incredibly stacked. I’d spoken to Tom Owens—he’s another British athlete out here this week and who won it in 2017. He said, “Yeah, it’s an amazing race, but you’ll run it all on your own.” But then they did an amazing job getting some seriously, seriously good runners in like guys from the U.S. like Timothy Olson, Hayden Hawks, and Michael Wardian, just to name a few, as well as the guys from Costa Rica who are seriously quick. I was like, “Ahh, I thought it was going to be an easy run. Crap, I’m actually going to have to work pretty hard now.” But it was awesome. Getting to run with and know my fellow Hoka teammates, Hayden and Mike, was amazing. Getting to spend a whole week with them—these guys, Mike and Tim have been doing it for a long time. Getting to pick their brains, like for me, about to turn full time, it’s great to see how they do everything, how they manage to balance family life and running and sponsorships and all these things you don’t think about when you say, “I want to be a professional trail runner.” Yeah, it was an awesome, awesome experience. Like you say, technically and physically it’s a seriously tough race—way, way harder than Marathon des Sables on your legs. But because the organization is so good—you get all this amazing food, and your tent is already set up for you—you can recover so you can perform. Yeah, your body is tired, but you’re recovering reasonably well so you can perform at a high standard every day.
iRunFar: Let’s talk a little bit about this race. I think Team Great Britain comes in in potential medal country. What do you guys think, or what have you been talking about as a team?
Evans: To be honest, the way I approach things with my training and my racing which has come from my coach, Allison Benton in the U.K. with the AB Training group…
iRunFar: Got the sponsor drop in there. Well done.
Evans: Check it. We focus on the process not the outcome. We just make sure that everyone in Team GB is in as good of shape as possible, and then the results will look after themselves. Things will go right, and things will go wrong, but we worry about the process whether it’s just the build-up training or the race itself, and then you can split it up further into checkpoint to checkpoint or hour one, hour two, hour three. The results will look after themselves. Every year in the world championships there are amazing teams. I think at the moment, personally, I think the battle for first and second with the countries will be Spain and France. They’ve both got really strong teams. I’ve been lucky enough to run against some of the guys before and am really good friends with some of them which is really nice. I think the battle for third at the moment is probably U.S. and U.K. which will just be really fun to play out tomorrow all day. If you know there’s someone from the U.S. a minute ahead of me and I’ve got 5k to go…
iRunFar: “I’m coming for you.”
Evans: Exactly. Hear me stabbing myself with my poles. Not my finest hour. It makes it more exciting in that it’s a team competition. If you finish 15th overall as an individual, that will probably still be good enough to get in the scoring. If it’s the choice between 15th and 16th for your third scorer between the U.K. and the U.S., if you can get that one extra place, it makes a huge difference. For me, coming from a background of team sports, having that team atmosphere and that ethos in trail running, it makes it more complete which is really nice.
iRunFar: I think most of the members of Team GB have seen the course including you?
Evans: Yeah, I was really lucky. The British Army was superb in allowing me time off to prepare and train and prepare as well as I possibly can. I spent a lot of time out here on my own and then spent time with a couple Romanians who will do really well here tomorrow I’m sure. That’s the nice thing about trail running. It’s so family oriented. You can just stay with people and stay on their sofas. It’s really nice. Team GB also came out for a long weekend and we did the whole course jumping from checkpoint to checkpoint. It was really nice. We’ve all seen it. I think this course the profile doesn’t replicate the ground as well as some others do. I’m sure it’s 100% accurate, but it just doesn’t look like it is. It’s a tiny hill, and you get halfway up, and you look at the route on your watch and, “Why am I so tired?” But we were really lucky. It was great for the team bonding to come out here. We’re all now really good friends. It’s nice when you get to places like this that you’ve got people to hang out with and people to chat with and not getting each other nervous. You can trust the team and trust the process, and the outcome will look after itself.
iRunFar: You stayed in Vistabella which is what about 60k on the course?
Evans: Yeah, it’s a little bit over 60k. It’s the last crew checkpoint. From there there’s one more checkpoint with about 6-7k to go to the finish. In and around Vistabella is the hardest part of the course. You’re either going down or up, and they’re steep. For me, as a runner, I like the flatter sections where I can really open out. Coming form the U.K., it’s not that hilly, so a lot of my training is the flatter and faster running. Those are the bits that are easier for me, so I want to train on my weaknesses which are the ups and downs. I made a conscious decision to stay there so I get a lot of vert and descent in my training. It’s a beautiful place. It’s 1,400 meters. It got really cold at night though, and I wasn’t prepared for that. I was in my little shorts and singlets…
iRunFar: You thought you were coming to the Mediterranean coast for a vacation.
Evans: Yeah, we lit the fire every night. It was cold, but we’re so lucky to be able to get out here. It’s such a beautiful course and such an amazing place in the world. The nice thing about living in the U.K. is for races in Europe, everywhere is close. It’s like a two hour flight to get here. You can come out here for a weekend, whereas for you guys in the U.S., it’s a…
iRunFar: A major effort.
Evans: It’s a serious effort. You couldn’t come here for a long weekend to do a training camp. Yes, there are incredible trails in the U.S. and the training is amazing, but it’s so nice knowing and being able to train really specifically for each race and being able to practice on each climbs. I like to make small memories of places around the course. We did a tempo run up this hill, and when you get to it in the race, you have 15 seconds of positive thinking. Yeah, we stopped for a picnic here. I can’t do this tomorrow.
iRunFar: “I had some Pringles under that tree.”
Evans: Yeah, exactly. It’s something a little positive in your head that keeps you distracted. I like that positive reinforcement. With ultrarunning, yeah, physically it’s really tough, but mentally, that’s where the races are really won or lost. It’s when it gets a bit hard, like your legs are saying, “Right. Stop.” Your legs are tired. Yeah, but if there was a lion chasing you, you’d still be able to run. How do you get that mentality into it? I don’t particularly want to run any harder or faster. I’d love to stop and chill out and eat all the food in my pack, but my legs, I physically can do it if you believe you can do it. I think that is sort of something for me with my military background, given what may seem at the beginning like an impossible task to complete, but you find a way of doing it. You break it down into manageable chunks whether it’s like checkpoint to checkpoint or hour by hour, and then within…
iRunFar: Gel to gel. “I got another one down!”
Evans: Shot block to shot block… sip of water to sip of water… it just all helps. If you looked at these races as one thing—85k and 5,000 meters of up—if you looked at that it would be pretty scary, but if you just break it down… running is just putting on trainers and a bib and just go and go have fun. Go play on the trails. I train incredibly hard so I can enjoy races. Yeah, at the time there are times you’re thinking that it’s not that enjoyable, but it’s why we do it. I don’t train because I like training, I train because I love to race—that excitement of the start line and how everyone shoots off crazy fast. I’m sure tomorrow will be crazy fast at the start. Then settling into your rhythm and looking around at your new friends and new faces out on these incredible trails in Castellón… then there is history to this trail—it’s an old pilgrimage route. It’s so cool that 700 years ago, pilgrims were walking this route up to the monastery of Sant Joan de Penyagolosa. It’s so nice to have that historical element to it. You feel like you’re becoming part of the trail and part of that history and culture. There we go.
iRunFar: Best of luck to you in keeping it easy and fun tomorrow. We’ll see you out there.
Evans: Thank you very much. It will be cool. Thanks very much, Meghan.