Tom Evans took third at the 2019 Western States 100, which was his debut 100 miler. In the following interview, Tom talks about how his patient racing approach paid off, how he raced against himself and the clock later when he’d lost contact with the runners in front of and behind him, how he got his first-ever blisters at this race, and if he thinks he might run the WS 100 again in the future.
Tom Evans Post-2019 Western States 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, I’m with Tom Evans. He’s was third place at the 2019 Western States 100. How does that sound?
Tom Evans: I’m still kind of on cloud nine with it, it hasn’t sunk in at all. It was just an awesome day, things just went right. My word for the day was patience and just wanted to run to my strengths and try to get stronger throughout the race. It paid off and I just really, really enjoyed the day.
iRunFar: When we interviewed you before the race–your crew is stepping in with some water here.
Evans: Yeah, exactly. You’ve got to stay hydrated. I’m okay for now, thank you. [speaking to crew off camera]
iRunFar: When we interviewed you before the race, that’s exactly what you said. You said, “I’m really going to practice patience.” But when you are running 100 miles for the first time, it’s like you’re not even sure what patience is, right? How did you feel that out yesterday?
Evans: It’s going on the people around me. I knew that certainly for the first half I wanted to be around people like Ryan Sandes. He is an incredibly experienced ultrarunner, I’ve got so much respect for him. So I actually thought, Right, if I’m in and around Ryan for the first 20, 30 miles, great, I’m doing in and around the right thing. I know he’s not going to shoot off with some of the guys who may go off faster. And that was really useful, having him around. So from the start of the canyons, just started pushing it a little more and so I went from sixth to fifth and just slowly brought it up. Took my time, didn’t force it if it felt easy. Then I pushed the pace a little bit and if it felt a little bit harder I backed down.
iRunFar: Now according to the splits you were actually in third for quite a while early on and then you moved back to fifth in the canyons area before moving back to third again. Was that intentional or was that just you easing through the canyons?
Evans: I wanted to get through the canyons in as good a state as possible. For me it was a bit of damage limitation. I knew that my strength is the real running side of it, so I knew from Foresthill I was going to run every step of the way, which I did do.
iRunFar: You wanted to put yourself in the position to still be running everything after that?
Evans: Exactly, I wanted to create the conditions where I was able to run. Pick up my pacer at Foresthill and then run the whole way through until we get to the track.
iRunFar: So from my perspective, third place yesterday was a really hard spot to be because first and second were kind of distant in front of you and then the last third of the race people were pretty distant behind you. So it was a little bit of no man’s land at the end there in terms of staying applied to the task at hand.
Evans: Yeah. So I think at Rucky Chucky I had six minutes-ish up on fourth place. And I just thought from there, Right, on those trails if you are seen, you are going to get caught. So it was just get over the river as quick as I can and out of sight, out of mind. Let Matt [Daniels], who had an incredible race, think that it was impossible and almost try to play a mental game that way.
iRunFar: Think you were untouchable at this point.
Evans: Yeah, just not to be seen and had I seen someone, it just gives you so much confidence. It was a difficult place to run and I think it required a lot of mental strength just to keep pushing. When I got to Pointed Rocks, Jared [Hazen] was 25 minutes ahead and Matt was…
iRunFar: Twenty minutes behind at that point.
Evans: Twenty minutes behind. So you are like, “Right I could just chill out and who knows. Or actually sub-15 hours is on the cards maybe if I run every step.”
iRunFar: For us at Pointed Rocks, when we saw your split through there, we were like, “Wow, he is on the cusp of sub-15 hours.” When did that number started arriving in your head?
Evans: About two hours before that. My watch is incredibly clever and it told me what time it thought I was going to finish, and it was saying 8:03 [p.m./15:03 elapsed]. I was like, “Right, three minutes, come on.”
iRunFar: ”I don’t really like the sound of that right now.”
Evans: This is a 15-hour run, we can get that. So slowly just kept breaking it down, breaking it down, and rushed slightly through Pointed Rocks, took a little bit of time at No Hands, just filled up a bottle and got going and ran the whole way up. But it wasn’t until I got to the top of Robie Point it was like, “I don’t think it’s going to be possible, I think it’s going to be 45 seconds over.” And then got to the white bridge and we were like, “We’ve got two minutes from here, this is going to be tight but it’s doable.” And got onto the track and it had just clocked over to 14:59:00 and I was like, “Right, come on, here we go.” So I ran as hard as I could for that 100 meters….
iRunFar: And then saw that you were going to make it.
Evans: Saw that I was going to make it and just could chill out and really enjoy the atmosphere and the party that was going on here on the track.
iRunFar: For me it was really fun to watch you arrive to the track because you are, “Head down, stride open, I’m doing this.” And then you looked at the number [on the clock] and were able to slow down, take it in, do a couple high fives.
Evans: For me it just made it ever so special. If I had finished third in 15 hours and 30 seconds, that would have still been amazing, but I think it’s such a landmark. Had it been 15:10, you wouldn’t have even thought about running sub-15. But because it was just going to be on the cusp, it’s like, “Right, this is it.” And that made me test myself. I could’ve walked up the last hill at Robie Point but actually I was really proud of myself not to do that and to just keep digging, knowing that third place was pretty secure by that point. But actually battling against myself in my debut 100 miler.
iRunFar: Which sort of answers the question from before, that once you were sort of in no man’s land, it was a competition with yourself and the time, the clock?
Evans: Yeah precisely. I had 30 miles, in and around 30 miles where I was the prey. Unless something really went wrong at the front, then third place was there for the taking. One and two had been confirmed.
iRunFar: Sort of as close to settling as you’re going to get in a 100-mile race.
Evans: Exactly, so it was all to gain or to lose. Yeah, it was just battling against myself and there were hard moments. But I was really happy with how it all turned out and just really enjoyed my first 100-mile experience.
iRunFar: A finishing time at Western States that has a 14 on it, you’re living in pretty revered company there. There are only a few gentlemen who have times that start in the 14s. This was your debut 100 miler. Have you given any thought to what the limit is of this sort of thing for you?
Evans: This race has got to be respected and there are certain years where it’s a battle against the competitors and there are certain years where it’s a battle against the clock. I think for this year it was more against the clock. I think this year the runners who maybe have a bit more road and track pedigree probably did a little bit better than they would have done in a very hot year. Because it wasn’t necessarily a grind it was–actually you can run pretty hard.
iRunFar: It was a run.
Evans: From Foresthill you can run. And as long as you were there in good shape, those who could run were able to run. And some points it would be like six-minute miles. And it felt okay.
iRunFar: Whereas that would feel like incredibly oppressive if it was 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Evans: Yeah, you just wouldn’t be able to do it. And if you did do it, you would probably end up blowing up.
iRunFar: Tank yourself.
Evans: Exactly. So I was really super happy with how it all panned out and it was just amazing getting to run with a different group of people. To come up the Escarpment was incredible and I took my time at the top and turned around and saw the sunrise, it was just incredible. I still can’t quite believe it. Just super happy.
iRunFar: One of the best things about Western States is if you finish in the top 10 you get one of those M bibs to come back next year. So by your finish last night you get a bib that says M3. Are you going to claim it for next year?
Evans: Very early to tell.
iRunFar: Said like a true first-time 100-mile finisher right there.
Evans: Yeah, I’m pretty sore today. I got my first-ever blisters and they are not fun.
iRunFar: Okay, I just need to say that that is unfair that you didn’t have a blister at the Marathon des Sables.
Evans: Not a single one. Yes I probably will be back next year.
Evans: I think so.
iRunFar: Ponder it over a couple of cocktails or couple beers the next couple days?
iRunFar: But said properly like a first 100-mile finish. “I want to wait until this settles in the legs.”
Evans: Yeah, see what my body throws back at me and then going to take time to recover. It’s very unlikely that I will race anything at UTMB. I want to be sensible, I would like to run some faster stuff over the rest of this year and potentially going into next year. And then see what happens from there.
iRunFar: Now for me as a journalist looking at how this race panned out, I think you put it really well when you said that this was sort of the race against the clock this year because conditions were not so harsh. Times were chucked back so far and so many people really I think nailed their races. For me it would be really exciting to see this top five, six come back with all of you having a year of experience under your belts to see. I mean with the times going down so much, I want to see what you guys can do. Don’t you want to see too?
Evans: Yeah I do and I was–I started very cautiously, my word of the day was patience. Could I have gone out a little bit harder? Maybe. Would it have meant that I’d blown up? Who knows. But I think now I’ve got that confidence under my belt and kind of know how it feels and how to finish feeling strong. Could I have used a bit of that energy in the first 50 miles? The only way you’re going to find out is by testing yourself. Next year it may be a slightly different race plan or my next 100 miler might be a slightly different race plan but just really looking forward to getting a bit more experience. Jim [Walmsley’s] time this year was incredible and I think someone’s going to have to do something incredibly special on a very special day to do that. I would certainly love to drop my time as much as I can.
iRunFar: Well, congratulations to you on your third-place finish.
Evans: Thank you very much.
iRunFar: And I think a well-earned couple beers now.
Evans: Can’t wait. Thanks very much, thanks Meghan.