An exclusive interview with army officer turned ultra-runner who has also been picked for the World Mountain and Trail Running Championships
Ahead of the first ever joint World Mountain and Trail Running Championships in Thailand (November 3-5), there won’t be many better athletes in form than British ultra-runner Tom Evans.
Coming off the back of a horrific knee injury sustained at last year’s British Olympic trials, Evans returned to ultra-running at the fabled UTMB [Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc] and didn’t just complete the 170km rigorous mountainous course, but finished in third place.
Evans, who has a history with UTMB after triumphing over the 101km distance between Courmayeur and Chamonix back in 2018, clocked 20:34:36 and finished behind Spaniard Kílian Jornet and Frenchman Mathieu Blanchard, the pair running the 170km circuit in 19:49:30 and 19:54:50 respectively.
Such was the calibre of completion and his journey back from injury, it was impressive Evans finished on the podium.
Jornet is considered one of the all-time greats of ultra-running and is now a quadruple winner of the main event in France while American Jim Walmsley, three-time Western States champion – a 100-mile race in the US – was fourth.
For Evans, making the start line was one of the goals.
“Going in, my thought was always going to be what could I do to get to the start line [of UTMB],” he says. “You didn’t know if it was possible and I never thought I may be able to run 100 miles ever again. You can’t practice that every day.
“The longer I do the sport you can’t take things for granted. Just because you’ve had a really good training block and performed well in the build-up, that doesn’t guarantee success in a race like UTMB and especially against such an incredibly stacked field.
“Yes you’ve got goals and dreams you’d like to achieve, but just because you’ve been good in training it doesn’t matter. It’s not like an 800m runner when you know what you’re capable of and that you’ve done it 15 times in a season.”
Evans hadn’t run 100 miles since Western States in June 2019 and then in March 2021 his entire season was derailed at the British Olympic marathon trials.
At 22 miles he collapsed and spent the next 36 hours in hospital. A year ago, Evans decided to have IT-band lengthening surgery on a stress fracture to his femoral head and had cartilage removed, meaning he ended up on crutches for six weeks.
For someone who came third in the 251km desert ultra Marathon des Sables (MDS) – the best result any European had ever achieved in the history of the race – it wasn’t surprising to see Evans recover from injury in time for UTMB.
“It was about slowly getting movement back into my legs and then getting on the bike and treadmill, running with 100% body weight,” Evans adds. “I slowly got myself in a position where I did 20km and then 40km a week, before getting to the last six weeks and running 200km a week with 15,000m of climbing.
“I got the most incredible reception in Chamonix. So many people said that they could feel the emotions of having followed my journey over the last 12 months and I had so many people who said to me they were inspired. I wanted to prove that I could crawl myself back and speak to people to achieve a goal, whether that’s a 5km or finishing on the podium at UTMB.”
Evans only trained for the first 10 hours of the race. His plan was to get to the mid-way point and then move into medal contention towards the latter stages.
He stayed with Jornet in the first six hours and was full of admiration for the Spaniard, who claimed victory on the mountainous course for the first time since 2011.
An emotional Tom Evans gives a military salute as he finishes a fine 3rd in the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc in Chamonix.
— AW (@AthleticsWeekly) August 27, 2022
“There is a huge unknown [running past 10 hours],” reflects Evans. “I mentally broke the race down into four different parts so a marathon each, just so I focused on the next kilometre and not the final quarter of the race. We were being given timing splits but you never know how accurate they are.
“I think you just have to trust your training. The race doesn’t start until the 10-hour point anyway and then you push. I came through strongly with 10 miles to go and that was a dream for me. Everything that occurred was kind of how it went through in my head and how I trained for it.
“I was racing against somebody [Jornet] who you’ve read their books, watched documentaries and idolised for years. You realise he’s incredible but he is only human and he has good and bad days.
“You have to give your best and if that’s good enough on the day then great but if it’s not then fair play to the other people. It wasn’t bad [to get beaten by Jornet and Blanchard].
If you have never watched UTMB before then imagine running in a Tour de France style atmosphere where people are up close alongside you on the route before you are welcomed by thousands of tightly packed spectators rising to a crescendo at the finish, hanging out of any spare balcony if they can’t find space on the ground.
As Evans entered the home stretch he was emotional. When he crossed the finish line he saluted to the crowd, a throwback to his days in the army, and congratulated both Jornet and Blanchard.
Looking ahead, he has now been selected to represent Great Britain at the first ever joint World Mountain and Trail Running Championships in Thailand.
The championships take place 700 miles north of Bangkok and more than 900 athletes from 46 countries will come together for an event which includes both a 40km and 80km trail race.
Evans was a bronze medallist at the standalone 2018 World Trail Championship.
He wants trail running to garner more attention in the future.
👑 Kilian Jornet becomes first runner to break 20hrs at the UTMB.
🇬🇧 An emotional Tom Evans finishes 3rd.
🏔️ Katie Schide wins the women’s title.
— AW (@AthleticsWeekly) August 27, 2022
“I think it’s so much more relatable [than track and field]. Running is so accessible and even though you might not be particularly fast at it you can set yourself a goal or challenge and find a way to achieve it. Trail running is so approachable compared to running on a track.
“There aren’t many 30-year-olds who are going to wake up and say I want to run 1500m compared to road or trail running.”
Evans’ main goal for 2023 is the Western States and may take part in cross country races this winter to focus on speed work.
Tom Evans is a Red Bull athlete. Learn more about his training, races and results at www.redbull.com
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