Happy as a Sandboy
Having come third in the 2017 Marathon des Sables, serving infantry officer Tom Evans is contemplating fresh challenges
Article by Rupert Watkins Photography by Andy Barnham
Tom Evans is a ridiculously fit chap. After chatting with two friends who ran in a previous Marathon des Sables (MdS) who bet him he couldn’t do it faster, Tom came in third at his first attempt at the renowned, perhaps infamous, five-day, 250 km race in Spring 2017. He was pipped at the post by two Moroccan bothers, one of whom was the defending champion.
Running has always been a huge preoccupation for this Welsh Guards Captain. From county cross-country at school through to trail running or more adventurous ideas such as an Ironman triathlon, Tom has always enjoyed pushing himself in the great outdoors. In Army banter he is most definitely a “walking lung.” Anyone who, with a smile, recalls his training regime before his Ironman as, “a long run, a couple of swims and a couple of bike rides” is either a master of British understatement – or has a high pain threshold. This is also a man who, whilst on his infantry officer training in the Brecon Beacons, signs up for 50km trail runs the following morning whilst coming out of the pub, and wins them.
Despite noticeably benefitting from a physical disposition for distance running, Tom agrees that 90 per cent of any race, for anyone, is in the head. “The easy bit is the race itself – it’s the training beforehand that needs mental resilience to get you to the start line absolutely ready and focused.” His training regime in the run up to the MdS was of his own creation. Tom did a number of long runs without fully hydrating to deliberately get his body used to running without large amounts of water. His Army career also meant he spent substantial time on exercise on Salisbury Plain in the months leading up to the race.
Realising once he was back off exercise that he needed to take his training to the next level, Tom went out to Lanzarote and Club Le Santa for a training camp during the weeks leading up to the race. Staying in an Air B’n’B nearby, “I was able to re-focus and think about my race plan, my nutrition and hydration and how I would approach various stages of the race.”
The MdS is expensive but Tom was able to call on assistance from his Regimental Association, the Berlin Infantry Brigade Memorial Trust Fund, the Trustees of the Welsh Guards and Walking with the Wounded. He is now a Walking with the Wounded Ambassador having raised £20,000 in this year’s race and is backing the charity’s annual “Walking Home for Christmas” Campaign. He aspires to improve on this year’s performance in the 2018 MdS and is also helping coach an eight man team from London Air Ambulance who are taking part in the next race.
Away from running, Tom had always wanted to join the Army, his father having served in the now amalgamated 4/7th Dragoon Guards. Joining as a non-graduate, “I just felt I did not want to go to university simply because it was expected” he was one of only five non-university educated officer cadets on his course at Sandhurst. Despite being that much younger, Tom, the youngest in his family, always felt maturity is a very individual issue and has never felt daunted at being surrounded by older subalterns, “everyone matures in a different way and over a differing period of time.” Joining after Britain’s commitment to Afghanistan came to an end, Tom has not been on any operational tours though has, enjoyably, deployed on exercise around the world, as well as relishing the ceremonial role that is part and parcel of being a Household Division officer.
Tom desires to further advance his running – he is ranked third in the ultra-trail world tour rankings – and hopes to gain his first UK vest at the 2018 World Trail Championships in Spain. This means he has taken the decision to leave the Army. “You have to go hard at what you want and be prepared to sacrifice a lot to be the best” he remarks as he now begins to map out a second career as a professional athlete. An injury this autumn meant he was not able to qualify for the Commonwealth Games. Meeting him the day he had been due to fly out for that final qualifying race, Tom is philosophical about the setback, “it’s only one race, you can rebuild and come back. Life is what you make of it.”
Since his MdS success and his rise up the rankings, and subsequent rise in profile, Tom has been working with St Mary’s University Twickenham physio department. Tom met the husband of the head of department when running in the desert at the start of the year. He will now work with the faculty, who conduct blood tests and other checks on him, in the run up to the 2018 world championships. With an Army background not to mention doing races such as the MdS, Tom is naturally drawn to the more adventurous arena though he feels, “I want to gain traction in the running world first before branching out too much, too early.” That said, he is keen to do one event each year with a more charitable and adventure focus. Tom is pondering a 250 km cross terrain race in Costa Rica in February next year. Ambitiously beyond that in 2019, Tom is toying with making an attempt on the world record for seven marathons in seven continents in seven days. Did I mention he’s rather fit and possibly mad?
Having run a huge variety of distances and feeling he is still only finding his feet in the athletic world, Tom feels he is, “very much a blank running canvas – I’m interested in finding my ultimate sweet spot.” Moving into this ultra-endurance world from the Army, the ability to administer himself and live in the field, rigorously plan for multiple outcomes as well as that very military ability to “grizz through” will stand him in good stead in the future. Above and beyond everything, having met this urbane but focused Guards officer you do sense the determination behind his world view, “if you’re going to do something, do it well.”
Location: Gillray’s Bar