Runners At The Sharp-end #6: Tom Payn

I was introduced to Tom by my coach, Nick Anderson from RunningWithUs. I knew of Tom from some of his amazing race results, but I didn’t realise how hard he has worked to become the inspiring runner he is and the struggle he had to overcome illness to turn himself into a marathon runner. Now, after a pretty stella marathon career, Tom has turned his hand to ultra distance racing and bested a very strong field at arguably the toughest ultra in the UK. Oh and he does all this whilst jetting around the world as part of the athlete management team at Run Fast. Well, I think Tom can tell his own story best…

Tom on his way to winning the Ring O'Fire ultra marathon


To begin with could you give us some background about yourself and your running? What distances do you run? What are your personal bests (and what were your first times for those distances)?

I joined my local running club when I was about ten years old and have been running ever since. I started as an 800m runner but never trained more than three times a week until I was an under 20. I had some decent results coming 4th in the English Schools and AAA’s 800m as under 15, and medaling in the AAA’s at both under 17 and under 20 level. I can’t remember my first ever 800m race but know my personal best times were 2.02.6 as an under 15, 1.56.2 as an under 17 and 1.52.8 as an under 20. This remains my best time as once I went to university I had a little break from athletics to enjoy the “university life”! Once I had enough of enjoying myself I started running again with Birmingham University Athletics Club under the guidance of Bud Baldaro and instead of returning to the 800m I gave the 3000m Steeplechase a go. Again I had decent success at this being ranked in the top ten in the country for three or four years and getting my best time down to 8.47. Once I had finished University at Birmingham I moved down to Portsmouth to start a job as a technical sales engineer for a filtration company. As I was now on the south coast I hooked up with Nick Anderson in Winchester and he started to coach me. During a volunteering trip to Sumatra I contracted Leptospirosis also known as Wiels disease, this put me into intensive care and to cut a long story short, at the end of my time in hospital I had lost so much muscle I could only stand for a few seconds before I had to sit down again as my legs couldn’t support me. This made me reassess my running and I decided to make the switch to marathon. Six months to the day after I had first stood up for a few seconds in hospital I was on the start line of my first marathon. I ended up running 2.24 and although I was disappointed with this time, looking back it was quite impressive. Since then I have run about 5 marathons getting my time down to 2.17.29 at the Fukuoka Marathon in Japan. Since then I gave up my long term job to become a full time athlete, this didn’t quite go as planned but I did have an amazing 6 months living in Kenya and ended up getting my dream job as an athlete agent/manager. I have now just embarked on a new vocation as an ultra-distance runner.

How long have you been running and why did you start in the first place?

I have been running for as long as I can remember. I joined my local athletics club at the age of ten probably because one of my school teachers thought I would be quite good at it.

Are you coached? And if so, by whom?

I’m not currently being coached by anyone but have had a number of coaches through the years. My first real coach was a guy called Dave Needham who coached at my first club, Colchester & Tendering AC, he was a great guy who kept me injury free and enthused about running up until I joined university. At University I was coached by the one and only Bud Baldaro, one of the most inspirational coaches I know. If you ever had any doubts about your running ability, 5 minutes with Bud and you believed you could beat anybody! After Bud came Nick Anderson who helped me achieve most of my current personal best times and helped me get the opportunity to train out in Kenya. Since then I have briefly been coached by Gavin Smith whilst I was in Kenya. I think Gav will be a great coach and if I came to him at a slightly younger age I’m sure we could have done great things together.

(Aside from your coach, if you have one) who or what has been the biggest influence on your running and why?

I would have to say the biggest influence on my running would have to be my parents, they have always given me great support and guidance with everything I have ever wanted to do in my life and I know I would never be where I am today if it wasn’t for them.

What is the best piece of running advice you have ever been given? Who gave you that advice?

I can’t think of the best piece of advice I have ever been given but the best piece of advice I could give is just enjoy it. People put too much pressure on themselves to perform but if you just get out and enjoy it I guarantee you will run much better.

What is your favourite bit of kit and why?

I am not much into gadgets and gizmos when I run, I like to keep it simple with just some nice comfy, technical running kit. So I would have to say my favourite bit of kit are my Adidas Tempo running shoes. I use these shoes to do most of my mileage. I find they give a nice bit of cushioning and support but they are light enough that you always feel like you can run fast.

What has been, or where is, your favourite race?

Tough question, as I have had so many races that stick in my mind. These are probably my top three in chronological order.

  1. Barcelona 10km (2007) – This was my first race running for my country and I won. It doesn’t get much better than that!
  2. Bristol Half Marathon (2008) – My first big race win and one of the few times I felt like I was absolutely flying. Winning such a high profile race with big crowds was one of the best feelings of my life.
  3. Fukuoka Marathon (2009) – Marathon running in Japan is a national sport, so the support for this race was crazy. I ended up running on my own for 25miles but the support of the crowds pushed me onto a pb of 2.17.29
What do you think has had the biggest effect on you improving your times?

Consistency. I think this is the most important part of training. Some people can do some amazing sessions but if you can’t train consistently you won’t see that improvement.

With the benefit of hindsight, if you could give your younger self any advice, what would it be and why?

Don’t stress, just enjoy running.

Do you stretch enough?

Does anyone??

What do you think about the general state of running in the UK and, assuming you don’t think it is perfect, what could be done to improve it?

I think the state of running in the UK is in a pretty poor state. I’m sure there are many, many things that could be done to improve it but I don’t have the time to write it all down now!

What is your overall ambition for your own running? What do you think you need to do to achieve that?

I’m currently reviewing my running ambitions having only just completed my first Ultra Marathon. As with any target or ambition, it takes hard work and dedication to achieve so that is what I will be doing.

Please complete the following:

I run because I just love to run.



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