Tom Evans Approaches Ultra Training With Surgical Precision

Evans pushes new training, fueling, and racing strategies by cycling, triathlon, and background in the military

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“I want to be a surgeon rather than a bulldozer.”

That’s how 2023 Western States champion and 2022 Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc runner-up  Tom Evans described his approach to ultramarathon training.

Evans draws knowledge from all corners of the elite endurance world to inform his pinpoint-focused, data-informed approach to mastering some of the world’s toughest races.

“For me, it’s not about ‘how do I get better? I’ll get a bigger hammer and hit harder.’ No, I want to think about exactly what I need to do for the event,” says Evans.

“My coach [Scott Johnston] works in mountain running, but by seeking experience from triathlons, cycling, strength and conditioning, psychology, and nutrition, I can gain so much more,” he continued. “There’s the saying ‘if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re probably in the wrong room’. I fully believe in that.”

After eight years serving in the British military, Evans brings a problem-solving sensibility to life in and out of his running shoes.

“The Army teaches you the need to be adaptive and flexible,” he said. “You’d be given a mission, and you’re the one who is responsible for figuring out how to get to that endpoint. And that’s why I look to these coaches and experts from all different disciplines to help.

“Of course, on race day, it’s just me, but I’m taking all this learning and preparation with me for whatever happens on the day,”

“What Are the Demands of the Event?”

Ultrarunning is a world dominated by 130-plus-mile training weeks and endless hours on your feet. But there’s likely not a single “junk mile” on Evans’ training log.

He won the Western States 100 this June by pinning six months of workouts specifically on the requirements of California’s historic trail. It was a training block that epitomizes the 31-year-old’s forward-thinking approach to ultra.

“We wanted to do the minimum needed to achieve the demands of the race. I reckon my coach said ‘what are the demands of the event’ about 1,000 times in the last six months,” Evans joked.“And why would you train for anything else? It makes you so prepared that there shouldn’t be any question marks or unknowns. You just go and execute.”

Evans is by no means the only leading runner to take this approach, but he’s sure made his forward thinking strategy bring success.

He only entered the running world in 2017 and charted an exponential upcurve from the start.

Evans famously entered Marathon des Sables on a bet and finished third in a breakout debut race. He then went on to win UTMB’s 100K CCC race the year after, and finished third in his first 100-miler at Western States the year after that.

“I think maybe I was approaching things differently to others at first,” Evans said. “But I think as I started to have some success, more and more people are now starting to approach it how I am. And the way things are going in the sport, now it’s so competitive, I think people need to do that to keep up.”

It was only the COVID lockdown and long layoff for IT-band surgery in 2021 that held Evans back.

“I think people also are realizing that doing things slightly more methodically, possibly slightly more intellectually, means you can get way more out of it, for longer, and still live a life outside of the sport,” he said. “I know for me, that’s really important.”

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Training for  Heat, Taking Down Carbs

Racing for Adidas-Terrex and being partnered with Maurten and Red Bull means Evans is able to immerse himself in all things physiology, psychology, nutrition, and recovery.

Swathes  of tests in the lab, on the track, and on the trail expanded far beyond the usual parameters of lactate and VO2. Heat, altitude, force, and motion testing all helped inform Evans’s rise to the top of his sport.

This season perhaps marked the point where Evans’s study of all things endurance came together.

“This year, my training has been super consistent, and I’d chalk that up to really improving my fueling strategies,” he said. “I think the benefit of being fat-adapted is less a thing now, to a certain extent. It’s got to the point where ultrarunning is so competitive, and with a lot of races at altitude, we’re using carbohydrates the whole time.”

Brands like Maurten and Science in Sport helped runners, cyclists, and triathletes push the boundaries of carbohydrate consumption. Previous benchmarks of 60 to90 grams of carbohydrates per hour expanded to way beyond 100 grams per hour, thanks to new formulations that allow the gut to process bucketloads of in-race fuel.

And Evans is lapping it up.

“This year I’ve been way more periodized with my nutrition,” he said. “So, I might do a four-hour training run without breakfast and only have amino acids for two and a half hours, then start fueling low carb.Or I might do runs that replicate UTMB. I’ll have sodium bicarb before, then go and fuel on 120 grams straight from the off. You get used to doing that very quickly, and you recover a lot better.”

Evans spoke to Trail Runner last week shortly after he’d completed a session on his indoor bike trainer wearing a hazmat-style heat adaption suit.

“Heat sessions have been huge for us, both before and after Western States. What you can gain from prepping for heat in a week has a similar effect to what you can get training at altitude for a month,” he said.

“If the race is hot—brilliant, you’re prepared for it. If the race isn’t hot—even better, because you’ve still got this performance booster.”

Pushing Beyond Pace and Miles

To some, Evans’s training ethic is at odds with the mindfulness and freedom inherent to trail running. However, like any professional sport, particularly one growing as fast as ultrarunning, athletes will always want to push beyond what was previously thought possible.

“People might say it takes a bit of the fun out of it, approaching it this way. I guess the grassroots of trail running is all about being at one with nature,” Evans said. “But it’s the same as every evolution in sport. People have always measured pace or miles, and this is now just a continuation. It’s like when power meters were introduced to pro cycling, there was uproar. Now I don’t even know an amateur rider that’s not measuring power.”

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