Tom Evans recently completed the 2017 Marathon des Sables in Morocco placing third overall. Tom's overall third place finish was the best ever for a Briton. Tom has kindly agreed to respond to some questions about how he prepared, including training and nutrition.
1. Tell me about your background, have you always been a runner? How did you get started?
I have always been very sporty. I was very lucky when I was at school as I was able to play all kinds of sport. I played county level rugby and hockey as well as athletics. Running was just a way for me to keep fit before the rugby season.
Since joining the British Army, I have started to run much more. Sport in the Army is an amazing thing, there are plenty of opportunities to participate in high level sport.
I like to challenge myself so signed up for an Ironman Triathlon in 2013, which was my first ever triathlon. I wanted to push my body and see how I got on in a long race. I loved the experience and that then really gave me the bug to keep going.
2. When did you get into trail running?
I like to do the majority of training on soft ground so I ended up doing some trails. I fell in love instantly. The running was challenging but the views and the experience made all the pain go away. Being in the military, we spend quite a bit of time in the Brecon Beacons. This allowed me to spend time in the hills and hone my skills on the more technical terrain.
3. When did you decide to compete in the MdS?
I remember watching the James Cracknel 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.
4. When did you start training for the MdS? Can you tell us how you trained each week, month for the race? Realistically, how long do you think it takes to train for a multi-stage race?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. I was combining speed work with long runs, mainly cross country and on trails.I think it really depends on your base level fitness, also on what type of participant you are. There is a big difference in the training for walkers and those who are out there to win the race. It’s difficult to put a figure on the time as everyone is different. You must not rush into these events; three months of solid training should be enough to get you to the start line. Having said that, it’s very easy to over train and pick up small niggles.
5. How did you prepare your nutrition for the race? Do you have a list of what you ate on each day? What worked for you and what did not?
I spent a week testing the food that I was going to eat. The week was set up in a similar fashion to the MdS, 3-8 hours’ training a day. This taught me how many calories that I would need for the race. I got fairly scientific with all of my preparation which put me in a good place as I understood the energy systems, muscle fibres that I would be recruiting, and how the food was going to help me perform and recover. From this week, I knew that I needed to up my calories as I was losing weight quickly.
6. How did you manage to stay hydrated each day? Did you just drink water or did you add electrolytes to your drink? Did you re-hydrate with anything special when you came into camp each day?
I used a mixture of Nuun and Precision Hydration for my electrolytes. I found both products really good and will be using them in the future. I was also making sure that I used salt tablets every hour. Getting back into camp, I would have another serving of PH 1500 which really helped restore my sodium levels.
7. Tell us about the kit you brought – what were your best and worst pieces? What did your rucksack weigh at check in?
I spent lots of time researching and trying different kit in the build-up to the MdS. I made sure that everything I was carrying served its purpose and worked for me.
The best bit of kit I had was my inflatable pillow which, at only 42g, ensured I had a good night’s sleep! I didn’t have a bad bit of kit with me!
8. I know you finished third, the highest ever for a European at the MdS. What was your goal entering the race? Top 10 or just to finish?
My last phase of training in Lanzarote had gone very well for the race. I had also spent time in the heat chamber at Kingston University which played a crucial part in the acclimatisation process. I had hopes of finishing in the top 20, but never thought that I was be pushing right at the front. It was as much of a surprise to me as it was for the rest of the ultra-running community!
9. There are all types of people who compete in the MdS. Do you think that anyone can complete the race with the right mental attitude?
There is a real difference between ‘competing and completing’ the MdS. I have such huge admiration for those who walked the whole thing. They showed real strength of mind and perseverance. A true hero for the MdS was Duncan Slater, who was also part of the Walking with the Wounded Team. He is a double leg amputee who finished the MdS this year. His attitude all throughout the race was inspiring, a true legend in MdS history.
10. What races do you have planned for the rest of the year? If money or time was no object, what are the five races in the would you would like to do?
This year I am racing in three big races which I will be doing more smaller races as a build-up to:
- Eiger 101km
- Riano Ultra Trail Run
- Frankfurt Marathon
There are some amazing races/expeditions in the world which I would love to do:
1. Solo expedition to the South Pole (as quickly as possible)
2. Western States 100 Mile
3. UT Cape Town
5. Ultra-Trail Mt Fuji
11. Any tips for those aspiring to do a multi-day race?
Preparation is key. You need to get into the correct mind-set before you start training for the event. If you believe that you can do it, you are probably right. Hard work is going to have to happen. There are so many resources out there it can be a tad daunting. Having said that, there are specific ultra- and multi-stage coaches, including myself, who would love to help you on your journey.