Note: The format of this article is a transcript of a podcast episode from our popular trail running podcast “Running Long,” which is hosted by Vert.run coach Francesco Puppi.
In this interview, Francesco (who lives in Italy) interviews Tom Evans. Tom Evans is a professional trail and ultra runner sponsored by Redbull and Adidas Terrex from Loughborough, Great Britain. He is also a Vert.run Athlete Partner and has designed a Vert.run training program for racing 100k.
Tom’s race results include winning CCC and taking 3rd at the Marathon des Sables. He’s covered pretty much any distance and type of terrain, he’s crazy fast on the roads (63:15 half marathon PR, 13:41 5000m) and he’s got an incredible talent for the ultra distances.
We sat down and chatted with Tom while he’s recovering from a knee surgery, easing back into training and taking care of his rehab at the Redbull Athletes Performance Center, in Austria.
We went into the details of his training programs and nutrition; we discussed the importance of cross training, recovery and mental strength. What really inspired us during our conversation was how professional and scientific, but at the same time well balanced, his approach to the sport is.
After three years at the highest levels in the sport, in 2021 Tom chased his Olympic dream running the British marathon trials. We tell the story of how it went and what he learned from the experience, which ended up…in the hospital.
Tom Evans has a popular 100k training plan on Vert.run. It’s a challenging plan that embodies Tom’s training philosophy; he wrote each workout himself, and his grit and determination definitely shine through.
“The training program I’ve written is focused on 80k – 120k races on trails–not the most technical trails but more runnable, quicker races”, Says Tom.
“The plan is definitely going to require hard work and dedication, not only for your training but also in your nutrition and recovery. I would say the goal of the athletes who choose this plan should be not only to complete an 80k or 100k race, but also to do well and maybe surprise themselves with a performance they are really proud of.”
Francesco: Welcome to Running Long, the podcast brought to you by Vert.run. Today, we have Tom Evans, an ultrarunner for Red Bull and Adidas Terrex on the show. We are going to talk a bit about taking your training to the next level through important details like cross training, nutrition, and recovery.
So, let’s get into it. How are you, Tom? Where are you? How is training?
Tom: I’m in Austria at the moment, near Salzburg. I’m staying at the Red Bull Athlete Performance Center, which is a rehab and training facility for Red Bull athletes. I had a knee operation 12 weeks ago, but all in all my training and recovery is going well and I am starting to get back into running.
Francesco: Awesome. Well, I wanted to start off with a little bit of your history in the sport of trail running. You started trail running in 2017 where you took third place at your debut race–Marathon des Sables and fourth place at CCC. Then one short year later you finished third in the World Trail Running Championships. In 2019, you finished third at Lake Sonoma and third at Western States 100. You started 2020 with a win at Tarawera Ultramarathon and have continued on with some pretty incredible results since then. I’d love to know–how did you get into running and what has it been like for you to get into the trail running world?
Tom: Growing up I was always into sports and loved really any kind of exercise. At a young age, I really started to enjoy running but didn’t do it competitively.
“When I was 18, I joined the military and went to Saandhurst which is the British Army’s Officer Training Academy,” says Tom. “While I was there, I spent a bit of time running and time on my feet, so I sort of developed my aerobic capacity and ability to keep going, even if it’s slowly, for a long period of time. This experience planted the seed for me even though it was military oriented, not trail running. This eventually led to me trying a few different races, doing really well in them and moving up to third in the Ultra World Tour overall rankings. In 2027, I managed to get into CCC and finished fourth. After that race, I decided to start taking trail running a little more seriously and got a coach. It’s been kind of a crazy journey from there, but I’ve loved every second of it.”
Francesco: You make it sound easy! But we know you work incredibly hard and are very talented.
What has been your favorite race so far or your favorite running experience that you’ve had?
Tom: There is a race I did in the UK called The South Downs Way 50–it’s a 50 mile race on the trails that I grew up on.
When I was a child, this is where I’d go walking with my family, where we would take our dogs for walks, etc.
There’s a 50 mile and 100 mile race on these trails and back in 2018 I did the 50 mile race. This was the first time my mom and some of my local friends saw me trail run and race and it was a really special moment for them to see me do something I’m so passionate about and to have their support. For me, trail running isn’t necessarily about setting course records and winning races, it’s more about inspiring others and motivating them to experience their own successes.
Francesco: I agree with you on that–being able to give inspiration to other people, especially people who are close to you, is probably more important than the wins or records.
From a more technical point of view, what distance do you enjoy running/racing the most? Do you find some distances easier to train for than others?
Tom: This is so tough for me to answer because I’m truly one of those people that just loves running.
If I had to choose, I get the most enjoyment out of training for longer races. My favorite session, as always, is the long run. Even if I’m training for a shorter race, I still love the long run.
I love getting out for a longer effort. I love the isolation and feeling of no one else being around, no one watching me, and just being able to enjoy the moment, that hard work, knowing that it’s leading towards a goal.
I think there are so many lessons and elements that you can take from being able to run a fast 5k onto the trails. I think being able to run fast is great because it puts your ceiling higher.
If you can run a quick 50 miler, you can then run a quick 100 miler, but in order to run a quick 50 miler, you need to focus on improving your marathon. I think if you neglect your speed training then you will have a more difficult time getting faster and if you want to run faster you need to train faster.
I like mixing in different events throughout the year, like road races and cross country races to keep my training interesting and my motivation up.
I also think these shorter, faster races, translate well to longer ultras and help you build your speed in general.
Francesco: That’s interesting and I appreciate your focus on speed training quality. I also appreciate the mix of events and distances.
For example, last year, I ran a road marathon and finished in about 2 hours 16 minutes which I think is pretty decent for a trail runner. But, I also found that the marathon training was helpful for the trails and seemed to help make me a more well rounded athlete.
Tom: Exactly. I want to be the best runner that I can be, whether that’s from the trails, on the roads in the mountains, or cross country.
In order to be the best possible runner, you need to have skills for all sorts of different running. I like to think of it like having a big toolbox–I want to put as many different tools and as many different skills as I can in my legs so that when elements in a race happen, and when there’s a long flat section, or there’s a downhill section, you can pick up the pace and finish strong.
Francesco: How do you manage to stay so focused all the time? Is your training and preparation very dialed in–as it appears from the outside?
Tom: I think yes. When I’m focused, I’m really focused and it takes mistakes for me to realize that sometimes I need to turn the switch off. When I’m training, I’m training. If there’s anything to do with performance, then I’m fully focused on it. On the flip side, if I’m not training, or have the afternoon off, for example, then I am fully engaged in whatever I am doing that is unrelated to running/training.
I have my finances, Sophie, our two dogs, chickens, and our house–so there are things to do and keep me occupied when I’m not in training mode. As far as training, I will train as well as I can, the smartest and hardest that I can, focus on recovery and nutrition. I try to think about checking all the small boxes and goals in order to achieve my big goal down the line.
Francesco: I wanted to note that your finance, Sophie, is also an athlete. What is it like living with a professional triathlete? Do you ever train together?
Tom: Living with another professional athlete certainly has its positives and negatives. One thing that is really nice is that we get to spend a lot of time together during the day.
We structure our schedules similarly, and often get to run or bike together a few times a week. It’s really nice to have a partner that is also an athlete because we both understand what the other person is going through generally. It can also be really difficult. For example, the past three months, Sophie has raced probably the best she has ever raced, but I’ve been injured. So, I’ve had to sort of shift my mindset and see where I can best support her journey right now.
I’ve certainly learned a lot from her and triathlon training about the benefits of different types of cross training and how some of that can apply to running.
Francesco: You mentioned that you were in the army, for eight years I think. How did that affect the way you train and your approach to life in general? Do you feel this experience helped you become a better athlete?
Tom: I think the Army helped lay a really good foundation of all sorts of different types of training.
We did some strength work, we did some running, we did some cycling. It was all very generalist and nonspecific–which was great.
It was building that foundation, that strong base to then be able to do the specific training for the specific races that was super useful for me.
I also think mentally, it was just that desire in that world to be able to push on when things are tough that has helped me in my training consistently. In the army, you weren’t able to make excuses. I think it’s when it’s cold or wet, or it’s darker, or you’re a bit tired– it’s easy to make excuses, but you have to remember to push on. Most of the time, this is the case.
Sometimes, it is also important to listen to your body and rest when you truly need it and respect your body so that come race day, it is ready to perform.
Francesco: I wanted to ask you a little bit more about nutrition, which is a topic that people are usually very interested in. Do you stick to a particular diet, or do you have a nutritionist that helps you, or do you do what you feel is right for you?
Tom: I do have a nutritionist, and I eat very well. I very rarely eat any processed food.
I eat lots of fruits, lots of vegetables. I think the big thing with nutrition is the periodization of nutrition. So for me, people ask, “Tom, what do you normally eat in a day?” I always respond that it completely depends on what my training is.
So the day after a hard day, I might reduce my carbohydrate intake, but increase my protein, for example. At the end of the day, if something doesn’t go to plan, I try not to dwell on it. I really enjoy cooking and for me, it’s a chance during the day that I can really switch off the training mode and Sophie and I will eat dinner together every night when we’re at home and it’s a really nice time that we can spend with each other.
Working with a nutritionist has been great to help me reach my goals as far as consuming the right amounts of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, what supplements to use, etc. I’m certainly no expert and there is so much science you can go into on the subject.
Francesco: Thank you, I think you shared some very important tips. In 2021, you started chasing the Olympic dream in the marathon and were training for the British Olympic Marathon Trials in London. Can you tell us a little bit about this experience? And what happened during that race?
Tom: The experience was great. As I mentioned a little bit before,
I am a goal based athlete– in order for me to be able to focus and give 100% I need to have goals that excite me.
During the pandemic and into 2021, it was tough to get to races, so I decided to change my agenda, run roads, and see what happens. I focused on the Olympic marathon qualifying time and ended up struggling a little bit physically, missing some sessions because of my knees, and not recovering enough.
I tried to put the outcome ahead of the process and wasn’t listening to my body. I ended up picking up a bit of a viral infection before the race, felt fine up until mile 23, then my body completely shut down. I ended up spending 36 hours in hospital afterwards, sort of running tests and making sure that everything was fine–thankfully, everything was fine. I definitely learned a lot from that experience and those mistakes, which will ultimately make me a better athlete in the long run, I hope.
Francesco: I wanted to ask you a little bit about the collaboration that you’ve just started with us–a training plan for Vert.run users.
Can you share a little bit about that training plan?
Tom: The training program I’ve written is focused on 80k – 120k races on trails–not the most technical trails but more runnable, quicker races. The plan is definitely going to require hard work and dedication, not only for your training but also in your nutrition and recovery. I would say the goal of the athletes who choose this plan should be not only to complete an 80k or 100k race, but also to do well and maybe surprise themselves with a performance they are really proud of.
The program is split into a few different blocks with a mix of faster running, long runs, hills, etc.
I really hope the athletes will get the most out of it as they can and that the program helps you to become a more well rounded athlete.
Francesco: Thank you so much for this and for being a part of Vert.