You might ask what someone who traverses 100km over mountains at a faster pace than some of us do our three-mile training runs can tell you about your first race. But, while his own goals are so far removed from the aims of most of us, Tom Evans’ military precision is the key to how his methods for planning for a race can work wonders for any of us. Follow his six golden rules and you’ll get the best out of yourself when it comes to your first competitive outing.
“Whatever your pace, it’s important to know what you’re aiming for when it comes to your first race,” Tom begins.
A 30-minute parkrun? A sub-three-hour trail marathon? It’s vital to visualise yourself achieving your ambition.
“Set yourself a goal, whether it’s a time or position, just so you’ve got something really relatable and easy to understand,” says the GB international. “You don’t have to share it, but it’ll give you something to focus on.
“I do lots of pre-race visualisation. If you can go into a race having planned it in your mind, mentally it will make life much easier for you.”
2 Eat smart
When it comes to the days and hours leading up to the race, you will need to have a nutrition strategy in mind. But don’t overdo it, advises Tom, who set a PB of 63:14 when running for Britain at the World Athletics Half-marathon Championships last year.
“People think you need to eat lots because you need lots of energy; but you’ve already got quite a lot [of glycogen] in your body,” he says.
He also adds: “I don’t try any new things the day before a race. The night before, I’ll have a big bowl of pasta with a tomato sauce; something that’s really easy to digest and which tastes good. Three hours before the race, I’ll have a bowl of porridge or a couple of pieces of toast with some peanut butter, and maybe an hour before I’ll have half a banana or perhaps a sports drink – certainly nothing too heavy that’s likely to upset my stomach.”
3 Plan militarily
The night before a race is when Tom’s army background reveals itself to be extremely useful.
“I like planning things,” says the Sussex-based runner. “I have everything laid out the night before the race. I will pack my bag starting from the bottom up, so firstly my trainers, my socks, my shorts, my vest, and a warm-up jacket.”
It may seem a little over the top to some, but with raceday-eve jitters often impacting on sleep, particularly when it comes to your debut, Tom adds: “Packing before I retire for the night helps me go to bed at ease, relax and end up getting a much better night’s sleep.”
4 Be lazy
OK, perhaps not all the time. But that’s the advice from Tom Evans when you’re thinking about the two days preceding your first race.
“We have all these new clever watches saying you should do your 15,000 steps a day, but the two days before my race I will make sure that my watch thinks I’m being really lazy, and get nowhere near my step count,” he says.
5 Learn from mistakes
Every runner is different when it comes to preparation and that’s why your first race is going to be so useful in identifying your strategy further down the line.
“You must find what works for you,” Tom says. “There’s no gold-plated ‘if you do this you’ll have the best race of your life’ solution. When something goes wrong, remember what it was and learn from the mistakes. And equally, when things go right, make sure you write them down so you can remember.”
Tom learned much from his first big ultra. Although he was third in that Marathon des Sables in 2017, he admits that he went off far too quickly.
6 Go steady
Tom’s debut MdS experience brings us nicely to the subject of pacing. Some seem to be naturally good at it, some race for decades without ever seeming to master it – but it’s usually something that is learned over time.
GPS devices are handy, but when you’re doing a trail race with varying terrain and incline, minutes per mile are often arbitrary figures.
“I run to heart rate and pace, but I also run to feel,” Tom says. “I’ll use all three of those bits of data to tell me if I’m able to speed up a little bit or whether I’ve gone out a little bit too hard.
“It’s really important to run your own race. Don’t get caught up in an excitable stampede at the start.”
Tom Evans is a member of the Adidas Terrex running team.