An ‘unknown’ soldier sprang a big surprise at the Perkins Great Eastern Run today (October 8).
Army man Tom Evans, a 25 year-old captain serving with the Welsh Guards based at Pirbright, took the honours in the city half-marathon in a time of 68mins 40secs.
Yet he arrived at the event with no notable half-marathon form whatsoever. In fact, he’d only run the distance once before, clocking a modest 73:45 in the Barns Green Half-Marathon in Sussex last year.
The out-of-the-blue win certainly surprised veteran race commentator and half-marathon expert Dick Hughes.
As the runners were about to enter the home straight on the Embankment, Hughes announced: “We’re told that number 48 Tom Evans is the leader but I very much doubt it because his personal best is nowhere near 68 minutes.”
But, true enough, it was Evans who emerged first out of the shadow of the lead vehicle and he sprinted home well clear of runner-up William Strangeway from Lincoln Wellington AC. He timed in at 68:57 with RAF man Ben Livesey from Notts AC claiming third spot in 70:29.
Evans himself wasn’t at all taken aback by his triumph.
“I just don’t know what I’m capable of yet. I only started running properly in April,” he revealed afterwards, “and to be perfectly honest I don’t know what my best distance is. It’s too early to say what I’ll be best at. I see myself as an ultra distance racer really and I think the shortest distance I’ll do will be the marathon. I was only using today’s race to get in some speedwork ahead of the Frankfurt Marathon which I’ll be doing in three weeks time.
“Conditions were great, the course was nice and flat and the support was good. I saw a couple of Army mates out there and I really enjoyed myself.”
Evans’ ultra-distance form, however, is mightily impressive.
In April he took part in the Marathon des Sables multi-stage ultra marathon and finished third in an event that bills itself as the ‘toughest foot race on earth’. It involves traversing 250k (156 miles) across the Sahara Desert in Morocco over six days, carrying everything you need for the journey in temperatures of up to 50C. It was the highest placing for a Briton since the race was first run in 1986.
He is also tackling another 250k event in Costa Rica in five days in February and then in May it’s the 2018 Trail World Championships in Spain.
Evans sporting prowess isn’t confined to ultra-distance racing though.
As a schoolboy he was an outstanding rugby player and represented England at Under 17 level.
“I was an openside flanker and went on tour with England Under 17s to Singapore and Malaysia,” he said. “I used to weigh 102kgs in those days (16st 8lbs) and lost 30kgs in five years.”
Evans, who picked up a winner’s cheque for £750 today, added that he plans to leave the Army in January to become a full-time professional athlete.
Runner-up Strangeway stayed with Evans for about 12 miles but when the soldier kicked, the Lincoln Wellington runner couldn’t respond.
Strangeway was another with no previous half-marathon credentials of note.
“I’d only done one before - that was on the coast at Cleethorpes and it was very wet and windy,” he said. “I smashed my PB by about four minutes today, yet I’m a track and field man really. I normally only do 800m and 1500m races.”
Third-placed Livesey, a navigator serving with the RAF at Coningsby, came into the race with the fastest PB of 64:40.
“But that was back in 2013,” he stressed. “I’m 39 years-old now.
“I was pleased to be involved at the head of the race for a while. The three of us were together for seven miles but then I dropped off the pace. Fair play to Tom though, he did all the hard work.”
First local runner home was Steve Robinson from Peterborough Athletic Club and that was another surprise, certainly to him.
The 34 year-old phsyiotherapist from RAF Wittering claimed seventh place in 72:31 in a rare 2017 outing.
“I’ve been ill so much this year. I’ve hardly raced at all,” he said. “I think’s it’s having kids - they wear you out.”
And there was yet another surprise in the ladies race. Kenyan ace Caroline Nyaguthi was red-hot favourite but pulled up injured after 12 miles.
That left the way clear for Cambridge & Coleridge runner Georgina Schwiening to finish first. She was 32nd overall in 75:26.
The 22 year-old, who has just started work at Cambridge Medical Robotics after gaining a Sports Science degree at Bath University, said: “Anything can happen in a race. It’s disappointing for Caroline. She went off very quickly and had a rough time out there. But I was pleased with my race anyway. I loved the course and was running with a great group of people.
“I’m now off to do the Valencia Marathon in November but I’m more of a duathlete really.”
Second lady was Hayley Kuter of Salford Harriers (76th in 79:01) and third Hayley Munn from Northampton Road Runners (79th in 79:08).
Today’s entry of 5,383 runners was a race record.
GREAT EASTERN RUN
1 Tom Evans (Army) 68:40
2 William Strangeway (Lincoln Wellington AC) 68:57
3 Ben Livesey (Notts AC/RAF) 70:29
4 Peter Lighting (Kent AC) 72:07
5 Che Compton (Kent AC) 72:15
6 Ben Savill (Croydon) 72:28
7 Steve Robinson (Peterborough AC) 72:31
8 Thomas Beedell (Woodford Green) 72:33
9 Simon Beedell (Woodford Green) 72:46
10 Oliver Saville (Bedford & Co) 73:20
11 Neil Hume (Garden City Runners) 73:30
12 Daniel Middleton (Norwich Road Runners) 73:44
13 Simon Saxby (Wold Vets AC) 73:51
14 Michele Bucci (unattached) 73:53
15 Matthew Slater (Cambridge & Coleridge) 73:55
16 Alan Darby (Ely Runners) 74:05
17 Ben Heron (Peterborough AC) 74:06
18 Jamie Hall (Biggleswade AC) 74:06
19 Michael Channing (Nene Valley Harriers) 74:22
20 Jamie Rutherford (Darlington Harriers) 74:29