Tom Meldrum Interview

The Tom Meldrum Interview with is more than pleased to welcome UltraMarathon runner Tom Meldrum. Beyond The Marathon the website is written by Tom Meldrum, and contains a lot of insight into the world of ultra running.

One of Tom’s biggest accomplishments was winning the Crawley A. I. M. Charity 12 hour race. He ran just over 75 miles for the victory in April of 2009. The next ultra race he plans on participating in is the Faversham 6hr race in July 2009 where he hopes to set a new course record. His goal race this year is the Sri Chinmoy Transcendence 24 Hour Race which takes place in October of 2009

David Tiefenthaler – Thanks for the interview Tom. I have to admit, ultra running is a bit of a foreign concept to me. The longest run I have ever completed or attempted for that matter was a distance run of 12 miles. What motivated you to take up this challenging sport?

Tom Meldrum – Ever since I was a teenager I have held a deep seated desire to run a very long way. I was never blessed with any speed, but endurance seemed to come naturally to me. After having run a bit as a teenager, I had a 20 year (!) break from running and have now come back to the sport aged 37 in order to see what I’m capable of.

DT – What is your goal for the The Sri Chinmoy 24 race?

TM – My goal is to run over 140 miles in order to achieve the UK Athletics “A” Standard. This is the level required to be considered for selection to run for England in the Commonwealth or World Championships.

DT – You are also running for a great cause. Can you explain what charity you are running for and how others can help your cause?

TM – Thanks, this is actually the most important goal for me. My nephew, George, has Down’s Syndrome and I wanted to do something extraordinary in the hope of raising as much money as possible for the Down’s Syndrome Association. I have set my sights on raising £10,000. I really want to be able to make a difference and to help improve the quality of life for people with Down’s, and their families. ***Update – Tom ran 92 miles and raised over £4,000 for the Down Syndrome Association***

DT – One of my favorite parts of interviewing runners is to learn about how they first started up running. When did you first start running?

TM – The school I went to was very strong in cross country, so it was fairly natural for a competitive 13 year old to get involved. I started to run the 800 and 1500 and cross country in the winter. I represented my county, but only achieved moderate success. I think that my 800 time aged 16 was about 2:08 and my 10k might just have squeaked under 36:30. As a teenager I was probably only training about 20 mpw, maybe even less. I know that I could have done a lot better had I been coached properly and taught how to progressively increase the duration and intensity of my training in a safe way. I’m sure that Coach Tief could have done a great job on me!

DT – Thank you kindly. I’d like to think I could. Did you ever compete in any other athletics?

TM – I also used to run for a local athletics club, and part of running for a club means helping out wherever you possibly can in order to help your club get points in team competitions. I ended up running everything from the 100m up to the 10,000m. I can even remember being convinced to compete in the pole vault on one occasion. I came last – but I still got the points that my team needed. I think that a broad base of different sporting interests is very important for younger athletes, it allows them to develop their bodies evenly and properly and maintains interest. Specialization can come later.

DT – How did you go from a regular distance runner and transition into ultra running?

TM – When I left running aged 17 I had run most distances up to half marathon. I wasn’t allowed to run any further until after my 18th birthday. However, it took 20 years for me to come back to the sport… and now I can run as far as I like! In fact, it was my burning desire to run long ultras which drew me back to the sport. Six months after re-starting my training I was placing 17th in my first 50 miler: an average performance only, but one which I absolutely loved doing, and that was the aim.

DT – I have a wonderful wife and three young children. It’s tough managing my running, my job, and my website. How do you balance your running with your family and career, because I imagine you do quite a bit of training?

TM – Good question. It is tough, you are right. I have a great wife, luckily, and two children (2 1/2 and 1 year old). Allowing sufficient time for family and work is actually the most important element in preparing. It is also easy to get wrong. In order to make time for my family, my alarm goes off at 0430 so that I can fit in at least 60 – 90 mins training before work. I then manage another 6 – 8 miles during my lunch hour. I always manage to get home to have dinner with the kids, bathe them and put them to bed. That is very precious to me.

DT – Speaking of training, assuming you are injury free, what is a typical week of training like when you are building your base for an ultra race?

TM – I’ve just got over consecutive bouts of plantar fasciitis and achilles tendonitis. I’m now, just about, back to regular training. A sample week might look something like this:

Mon am – 10 miles easy
Mon pm – 6 miles easy
Tue am – 10m hill reps (incl warm up/cool down)
Tue pm – 5m easy
Wed am – 6m easy
Wed pm – 14m easy
Thu am – 10m incl 4 – 6 at tempo pace
Thu pm – 6m recovery
Fri am – 4m rec
Fri pm – REST
Sat am – 20m long
Sat pm – REST
Sun – 5m easy or REST

Total = 91 – 96. In the months before the 24hr race my weekly mileage will hopefully top 120. I will then taper down to only 20 – 30 the week before and then just a couple of 2 – 3 milers in the week of the race.

I don’t run mega long solo training runs, and very rarely go over 20. I find running a 30m long run counterproductive as my legs get too tired to put the effort into the following week’s training. I find 20 about right.

Speed work shouldn’t be forgotten – even for us plodding ultra runners! The faster your base pace, the faster your ultra pace will be. It stands to reason. For that reason, I try do a tempo or some mile repeats each week. But if my legs are too tired, I won’t stress about it, I’ll just go for a nice steady run to recover. There is little point doing hard speed work when your legs are shattered – at best you won’t get much out of the session, at worst you will end up injured.

DT – Leading up to a 5k, or a track race, I would eat the traditional spaghetti dinner the night before, then eat a light breakfast the day of the race. What do you do to prepare the day before and the day of an ultra race?

TM – I tend to eat normally. During a marathon you rely pretty much on stored glycogen for energy, hence the need to eat plenty of carbs in the preceding days. In a long ultra (50m +) you are using mainly energy from stored fat or from calories ingested during the run, so there is no need to go overboard on the pasta loading!

DT – What about eating and drinking fluids during the race? What do most ultra runners do, and what has worked or not worked for you?

TM – The key is to refuel little and often from the very outset of the race. Success in very long races depends, to a large extent, on your digestive and endocrine systems’ ability to absorb food and make energy available. One of the things I love about ultra races is that you can eat loads of whatever you want! To be honest, eat whatever you find palatable and has lots of energy. After 10 hours in my last race I absolutely craved a meat feast pepperoni pizza – I’ll make sure I have one delivered for the next race!

DT – I read your race report for the Crawley 12hr run. What was your goal going into the race? Did you feel you went out too fast?

TM – Hey coach, well picked up! Yes. I went out way too fast. I got sucked into trying to keep up with the early “hares”. It was a combination of naivety, enthusiasm and lack of experience. That I managed to hold on and slow down less than anyone else was more a function of my mental strength than anything else. My goal however was 70, so I was thrilled to get 76. In hindsight I think I could have achieved over 80 had I gone out more conservatively. It is very hard to run as slow as 8:00 pace on a track! I now include “pace” sessions in my training, where I run on a track and aim to hit each lap exactly on time – I am forcing myself to learn proper pacing. I should really have learned these lessons in 5k races back when I was 15!

Someone once said to me (about a 100 mile race); “hold back for the first 99.5 miles and then give it everything.”

DT – What is your race plan for the Sri Chimnoy 24 race?

TM – In order to achieve 140 miles my plan is to run 28 mins, walk 2 mins. These walking breaks will let me take on solid food and give the leg muscles a break. Mentally I will split the race into three 8 hour sections. I really intend to have fun during the race (strange as that may seem), I want to learn from the more experienced ultra runners, chat to everyone, eat loads and loads of lovely food and just hope I can hang onto the pace and get over 140!

DT – What advice do you have for a regular distance runner who wants to start training and running ultra races? How should they build their distance, what kind of diet do you recommend, and any other tips for them?

TM – Go for it and don’t be intimidated. In many ways it is easier to run a decent ultra than to run a decent marathon. You just have to like running slowly! It really is a case of applying the usual marathoning rules: build your distance slowly (I would recommend less than the 10% rule), long runs are key, mega long solo runs are very hard and probably counter-productive, consistency is important, consistency only comes when you are injury free, work on whole body development to remain injury free. Diet is important, eat lots of good food: carbs, protein, good fats. The aim in your first ultra should be to complete it smiling. If you don’t enjoy it (ie you trash yourself aiming for a course record) you will be unlikely to want to run another.

You don’t need 100mpw to run a good ultra. The current UK No. 1 at 24hrs (but not for long – ha!) rarely goes over 40 mpw. He is probably the exception, but mega mileage may not be the best route for everyone. Listen to your body. It will tell you all you need to know.

DT – Thanks for your time Tom. I wish you continued success racing, and I hope you reach your goal for donations towards treating Down Syndrome.

TM – Thanks Coach! Love the site – keep it up! Tom

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