England’s Tom Evans came to the U.S. to run the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile and will return home with a third-place finish. In the following interview, Tom talks about why he enjoyed the mostly out-and-back course, what his race looked like, and how he looks at the flaws in his races.
For more on how the race played out, read our Lake Sonoma 50 results article.
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Tom Evans after his third-place finish at the 2019 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile. How are you again, Tom?
Tom Evans: Pretty good. Legs are a little bit sore and I’m going down the stairs backward, but I still have a smile on my face, so I’m good.
iRunFar: It was quite the race yesterday. You and Jared [Hazen]and Seb [Spehler] were very close for a long portion of the race. How did that feel out there?
Evans: It was really cool. It was really nice running with them. I didn’t want to work too hard on the downhills, so on downhills they would go a little bit ahead, and then we’d get to the flat rolling stuff and the uphills and I’d catch up again. I just really wanted to save my legs for the second half. We got to the turnaround point and I hadn’t saved my legs as much as I’d planned, and I struggled a little bit and had a bit of a bonk from maybe 30 to 40 miles. It’s just such an awesome race. The course is so tough. The really nice thing is because it’s an out-and-back course you get to go past everyone. You see everyone on the race. You see everyone going on their own journey for the day.
iRunFar: How is that experience? Is there feedback going in both directions on that?
Evans: Yeah, absolutely. I make a point to say a word on to everyone even if I’m going uphill and they’re going downhill, it might just be a thumbs up…
iRunFar: But you’re acknowledging them.
iRunFar: I’m guessing it’s reflected back at you.
Evans: Yes, you can see some people are really struggling, which is normally me, but it’s just so friendly. That’s what’s shocked me about America is just how friendly everyone is. It’s my first race in the U.S., and I’m already looking forward to coming back.
iRunFar: The first half of the race was really close. You and Jared and Seb were all within a minute or two for the first half or maybe the first 30 miles. You and a rough stretch from mile 30 to 40. Walk me through that a little bit.
Evans: Yeah, I had what I thought was a pretty solid nutrition plan, but everything was just too sweet. The sports drink I was using just didn’t agree with me. So I ended up scrapping that plan and went on a new plan and just had a low patch for an hour or a just over an hour. The gap got pretty big and then Stephen Kersh caught up and I got to run with him from 32 miles to 47 miles-ish. It was great to get to run with him. The wonderful thing about social media is you feel like you know these people. We didn’t speak that much, but we spoke a little bit. It was really nice to be able to run that top end of the course with someone. With four or 5k to go I just picked it up a little bit and it was almost the best I’d felt the whole race at the end of the race.
iRunFar: The light switch turned back on. What did you do to make that happen?
Evans: It was just forcing myself to eat. At mile 38 (the last checkpoint), Warm Springs, with 12 miles to go, I had a Red Bull which managed to sit with me which was great. It’s not really that sweet. That got me out of the bonk and carried me on. Then I started eating again. That’s the great thing about these races, whether you want to finish 10 minutes before the cutoff time or you’re going out to win the race, there are points in the race where they don’t go to plan, and it’s how you adapt. It’s just a learning process. For me, it’s my sixth-ever ultra. I’m still learning.
iRunFar: Is that a big one going into—going off the cuff here—Western States 100 which will be your first 100-mile single-stage race? Is that a really important lesson going into that?
Evans: Yeah, 100%. This is my first time racing in the heat since Marathon des Sables where I carry my own stuff and Costa Rica [at the Coastal Challenge] where everything is provided. Here, I got to choose what I wanted to have, and the choices I made weren’t necessarily the right choices. Awesome to make those mistakes now. Yeah, I’m really looking forward to going into my Western States build-up with that knowledge. Western States is a new race with those lessons learned but still, I’m going to make mistakes.
iRunFar: One of the lessons learned is that you can make mistakes and still have a good race.
Evans: Precisely. I’m super happy with my race.
iRunFar: It wasn’t flawless, but it was good.
Evans: Precisely. When things go wrong and it continues to go wrong and you don’t get yourself out of it, that’s when we’ll start worrying. Actually, having that flexibility and being able to plan it slightly differently, for now, that’s great. Going into Western States, I can use that sports drink for this amount of time, but then I’ve got to find something else that works. So for the next couple of weeks and months I’ll just get to test some new stuff and see what works in the heat.
iRunFar: And things can go wrong in a six-hour race, but you’ll have to adapt even more in a 16- to 17-hour race.
Evans: Yeah, it’s really exciting. To be able to finish this race really strong gives me a good bit of confidence. Had there been another couple miles, who knows what would have happened. Seb finished 45 seconds ahead. There are points where, Could I have worked harder, but no, he had such a good race. He was so strong. He was really pushing the pace.
iRunFar: So between now and Western States, big training block? Any racing?
Evans: Yeah, big training block. I’m actually off to Ethiopia in six days. I’m out there for two months—a bit of altitude training, a bit of heat training. I’ll race once while I’m out there, in Europe, racing Wings for Life which will be really cool.
iRunFar: It will be a pretty short effort relatively?
Evans: Yeah, it’s going to be around 50k. Then I’ll come out to the U.S. a couple weeks before the race and acclimate and acclimatize out there and check out the last 100k of the course. Then race week is the last week in June.
iRunFar: What affords you the opportunity to go train in Ethiopia for a couple weeks or months?
Evans: I’ve got the time and I’m just looking at places to go and train at altitude that are hot at the moment.
iRunFar: It’s about 3,000 meters/10,000 feet?
Evans: Yeah, 10,000 feet. It’s really high, and there are mountain ranges within three miles of where I’m staying.
iRunFar: Lots of runnable dirt roads?
Evans: Lots of runnable dirt and some really quick people to run with. For me, it’s the whole culture. You can train anywhere and be really in your comfort zone, but for a 100-mile race, it’s not supposed to be easy. So actually, the majority is physical training when I’m out there, but it’s also mental training. It’s going to be tough being out there in a completely different environment, but running is running whether you’re in the U.S., the U.K., or East Africa.
iRunFar: Do you have a connection that affords you the in to be training with a group there rather than just you, Tom, running alone in Ethiopia?
Evans: Yeah, kind of… some friends of friends… and I’ll do a lot of running on my own. I imagine there are going to be times when going and doing some long mountain runs will be unpleasant for a lot of the locals, but they’re superb cross-country runners, but being able to tie in some hill sessions with them is going to be able to be really valuable. I’ll learn a lot from them. Whether they can learn anything from me, who knows? Yeah, it’s going to be an amazing experience.
iRunFar: Congratulations on your amazing run here in Sonoma and good luck in your build up to Western States.
Evans: Thanks very much.
The second article in a two-part series about the hip-hinge position for efficient running.