The house where Tom and Clara live was tucked into the corner of a winding cul-de-sac. It was almost silent on the street outside. Tom was a slender man with fierce blue eyes and the cropped hair of an air force pilot. As we talked, he gave the impression of laughing without moving his face. He gave me half an hour of his time, and spoke in an even tone without pause. He was quiet and to the point – his world record attempt, in equal parts impressive and bizarre.
I’m Tom, I turned fifty a few months ago, I live here now but I lived in London for most of my life. I work for Lloyds up in London. I’ve always run. I ran a few marathons as a twenty and thirty-year-old, although not that seriously. My training was very ad hoc. I’d do a couple of long runs in the few weeks before and then get round in just over three hours, but that was really just relying on my inherent natural fitness. It was all very unstructured and something I did off the side of my desk. I didn’t really give it much attention.
I took a decade off running once we had kids, and then came back to it four or five years ago. Now I’m running more than ever.
A couple of things prompted me to come back. First was to get a bit more balance back into my life. When I was younger, I was really just accountable to myself and could do what I wanted, which I did. Just like most people do in their twenties and thirties.
Then I got married and had kids, and my work got a lot more consuming of my time. I found in my late thirties and through to my mid forties that I had very little time for myself. It was family first, work second and then whatever was left was my time … but there wasn’t much left at all really. Work in particular got a bit out of hand.
I suppose I made a conscious decision to correct that imbalance. One way of doing that was to run. That was my time. My thinking time. My relaxation time. My fun time. And it worked. It worked incredibly well really if I look at where I am now, compared to where I was five years ago. The balance in my life has improved massively.
I’ve always been competitive, and when I returned to running I had at the back of my mind the three hour marathon goal that I never managed to achieve. I was curious as to whether I could do it. I trained for a half marathon and did quite a good time. That was interesting. A few months later, I entered the Brighton Marathon and ran a personal best. I wasn’t a million miles off three hours so I thought, let’s have a really good go at this to see if I can get under three hours … and I did. I ran 2:53, which far exceeded my expectations. I’ve just kept it going from there really.
I run all sorts of distances from 5km up to a marathon. At the moment, I’m mainly focused on road races. I haven’t done any Ultras yet. I would like to try an Ultra one day, and see what it’s like. But I don’t quite get it. I like walking, and I like running and Ultras seem to be an in between … a shuffle almost. I don’t particularly like running with packs on. I like to push my body in an aerobic way. Ultras are not appealing to me at the moment but I definitely will try one at some stage.
I’m a member of the local running club. I joined them a couple of years ago, and run for them in the local road race leagues. The distances there range from five miles up to half marathons. I run about one race a month. At the moment my focus is on the London Marathon in four weeks time, which I’m running.
I’m doing it for charity. I’ve done London a few times actually. Having broken the three hour barrier, I kind of thought, what next? There aren’t really any other barriers for me at the marathon. I got a “good for age” place this year and was training reasonably well and hard for it.
I’m actually running for Asthma UK, and I’m going to be dressed in cricket kit. I’m going to try to break the Guinness world record for running the marathon in cricket kit, which is just under three hours. For me that was a new challenge. I was pretty sure I could get under three hours again, but doing it this way, along with the opportunity to raise a bit of money while doing so, has reinvigorated me. It’s certainly reinvigorated my training anyway.
Cricket kit is a white cotton shirt, a jock strap, long white trousers and some sort of headgear. That can either be a baseball cap or the type of wide brimmed hat that players sometimes wear in the field. I didn’t want to wear a helmet. At the moment, I’m training with a baseball cap. I’m not sure what I’ll wear on the day.
I haven’t gone outside in my cricket kit yet. I do quite a lot of my running on treadmill for various reasons. I’ve done two or three twenty milers on the treadmill in my cricket gear, and it’s different. The kit is a bit heavier and it rubs in slightly different places as you can imagine. I will get outside at some point to do a full test run, but I haven’t got round to it yet. I often wonder how people train to run in Elvis outfits, and that sort of thing. Cricket kit is actually fairly benign compared to what some people wear when running the marathon. It might cause people to do a double take, but it’s not like running around in a rhino outfit … is it? You can wear running trainers and you don’t have to wear the pads, otherwise it would be really hard.
When I started up again a few years ago, I did start to get a few injuries. So I went to a running school and learnt how to run again. They videoed me and wrote down my technique, which was really helpful and it did cause the injuries to go down a little.
I find that running on a treadmill is just easier on the body a little bit, particularly living round here. When you’re training for the London Marathon, you typically have to do the hard work when it’s cold and dark after work. The street lighting is pretty poor and if you don’t run on the streets you’re running on forest paths, which is all a little bit dangerous and a little bit icy. It’s fraught with peril so I tend to find it easier to get on the treadmill.
I’m lucky, we’ve got a little man cave out the back with a telly. People always say to me, I don’t understand how you can run on a treadmill, it’s really boring, but if I’ve got a telly in front of me and I’m watching the football or something that I would perhaps do anyway sat on the sofa, I’d just as well run while I’m doing that. It’s a way of relaxing. I know that other people don’t agree with me, but other than the fact it’s healthy to go outside and get some fresh air, that’s the only advantage for me of running outside relative to running inside.
I’ve always run on my own. I do go out for club runs occasionally, but I’ve always preferred running by myself. I can set my own agenda. I like to do interval sessions when I feel like doing interval sessions, and a tempo run when I feel like it. You never know one day to the next what you’re going to fancy doing, and when I do run I like to push myself quite hard. So my training sessions tend to be quite demanding of me.
Time is very precious to me. I’ve got a very busy job. I’ve got a family to manage, and running is something I fit around that. When I do a run, I want it to be as value adding as possible … know what I mean? Because of the pace I like to run at, and the level of other runners that I know round here, it wouldn’t fit my criteria so much to run with the club unless I fancied an easier run.
In spite what I’ve just said, I do enjoy the camaraderie of running with the club. Although I run on my own largely, and a lot of the sport I do has been on my own, I also have played a lot of team sport in the past like football and cricket. I really do recognise and value being part of a team. In my experience, winning as part of a team and competing as part of a team is rewarding. It’s rewarding winning on your own, but I always find it’s better if you can win as part of a team.
There are a dozen road races that form part of the county league each year. That’s roughly one a month. The way it works is that the first four runners past the finish line for each club constitutes the club’s A team, the next four runners make up the B team. It’s the same for women. You simply add up the total places for each of those teams and compare them against the other clubs in the league. Whoever has the lowest cumulative score wins that particular race. It adds up. You get points for each race and whoever does the best over the course of the year wins the league. Does that answer your question?
The competitive element? Very important. Yes. Very. Probably more so competing with myself, or it’s as much about competing with myself as others. I’m in the nice position now that I’m fitter than I ever have been. Even though I’m getting older, this past 12 months I’ve been beating my personal bests on a consistent basis. So I did a personal best for the half marathon a couple of weeks ago. That certainly motivates me. The desire I have is to see how far I can push myself now that I’m in my fifties.
To a degree, competing with the other runners in the club is important to me. Ultimately we want the club to do well but it’s nice to have that banter and competitive side within the club team.
My main challenge is a challenge to myself really. I keep doing personal bests, but I do accept that at some point that will have to stop. Generally people get slower as they get older, not faster. Ultimately, my body will start failing me, I’ve no doubt about that. But I’m curious to see how long I can keep going, and keep the standard similar to the standard I’m running at the moment. It’s not fantastic, but it’s a better standard than I thought I would get to. It seems to me – from what I’ve read and what I’ve seen – that it’s through your 50s that your body starts to really age. I’m curious to see how long I can keep it going, and that’s part of my general ethos. Clara probably mentioned that we’re vegan. We don’t drink as much as we used to, as it’s all about trying to be as healthy as possible. We want to live as long as we can.
© Copyright Arthur Knaggs 2019