Ireland from Kenya

NOVEMBER 2017: Clearly a natural talent – could it be the Kenyan genes? – Tom Ireland completed the April 2016 Brighton Marathon in 2hrs44. And that was without (at his own admission) a structured training plan.

He’s a regular at Hove Promenade parkrun on a Saturday morning, and often helps out there as a pacer.

I’m delighted that Tom is joining the RunBrighton ambassador team this Winter.

Tom, firstly perhaps you can tell us a bit about yourself? What do you do when you’re not running?

I was born in Eldoret, Kenya, and lived there until I was 15. But I have to say that, although Kenya has produced many great distance runners, they are mostly from a different tribe to me. They have a much lighter physique so, unfortunately, I can’t put myself in the same category as them when it comes to my running.

I have a seven-year-old daughter, so she keeps me busy and entertained. I enjoy a lot of family time, reading and listening to music when I’m not running.

How did you get into running?

I used to play a lot of rugby, particularly when I was at university, but picked up a few injuries.

I was playing for South West England U21, as a Flanker, and dislocated my shoulder. So, I then moved out to the wing, to lessen the chances of a recurrence, but ended up with two more dislocations so I ended up having an operation.

After hanging up my Rugby boots I decided to take up five-a-side football. As fate would have it though; football wasn’t any kinder to my brittle shoulder as I ended up needing a second operation after yet another dislocation but deep down I was grateful that those awful winter 9:20pm kick-offs had come to an end.

Four years of daily commute to London heralded a period of sporting inactivity but in 2013 I eventually took up touch rugby. I did a couple of parkruns that summer in the hope of taking up running when the touch rugby season drew to a close. I enjoyed the parkrun experience, but the euphoria was short lived and I didn’t lace up my running shoes again till the end of 2014 when I decided to try parkrun again. This time round I persisted with it and then I joined the now defunct Nick Rivett Sports ‘The Run Squad’.

It sounds as though you might have progressed to a higher level with your rugby if it wasn’t for the shoulder injuries. What about your family? Were your parents also sporty?

No, not really, but my younger brother played rugby at quite a good level. Having represented England at School level he went on to play for Harlequins, Wasps, London Irish and in France.

I understand you did your first marathon in 2015. How was that, and how has the progression been since then?

I ran Brighton Marathon in 2015. I was hoping for about 3hrs30 and did 3:35.

The following year, I initially targeted 1:30 for Brighton Half Marathon, hopefully to go on to run Brighton Marathon in 3:15. Every Tuesday lunchtime, I would effectively run a half-marathon, in training, gradually getting the time down. I did 1:28, then 1:25 and eventually 1:23. When it came to the Brighton Half, I actually did 1:17.

It meant I should have been capable of much faster than my 3:15 marathon target, so I set myself a revised target, to break 2:45, although I didn’t tell anyone.

I ran 2:44.

That’s an awesome result, Tom, and of course, by breaking 2:45, it earned you a Championship entry to London Marathon.

The 2:44 was in 2016, so the plan was to run the 2017 London Marathon. But unfortunately, I picked up back and knee injuries. I discovered, a long time after my shoulder operations, that they had put a pin in; that gives me restricted movement in my left shoulder, which seems to be a possible cause of injury issues in the opposite leg.

I’m back running, though, now and will run either London or Brighton Marathon in 2018, when I hope to break 2:40.

And do you have other goals beyond then?

I’m not thinking beyond my spring marathon at the moment, just enjoying being back running. I might go on to target an ultra; there again, I might focus on much shorter distances.

Tom, I’m chuffed that you’re joining us as an ambassador this winter? What is it about the role that you’re looking forward to?

I’ve heard some great stories from people who run with RunBrighton, about the inclusivity and community aspect of it. And I always find it interesting to learn about people’s marathon journeys. I’m looking forward to helping runners achieve their marathon goals.

For most people preparing for a spring half or full marathon, there are often some dark, cold, Sunday mornings over the winter, when they look out of the window, see how awful the weather is and would much prefer to stay in bed. What drives you to get up early on those Sunday mornings, to go running?

The long Sunday run is an integral part of marathon training. It can be tough on your own, much easier in a group. Actually, it will be a good discipline for me, being a part of RunBrighton, to make sure I get out and train every Sunday.

As you know, most of our Sunday runs are done at a relaxed pace, as they’re about training the aerobic system, gradually increasing time on feet and building strength & endurance. How would you normally execute your long training runs?

Yes, I agree with that. Runners often train too hard. The Sunday runs should mostly be at a conversational pace. And it’s important to make sure you can recover properly afterwards, so you can do your speedwork during the week.

What would be your key tips for anyone about to start training for their first half or full marathon?

I think the main thing is to avoid over-training. You can train hard just don’t overdo the intensive session or not listen to your body when you are tired and need a rest.

Consistency is really important too; it’s pointless having a really good, high-mileage week, followed by minimal training the following week because of over-training injuries.

Also, I find it helps if you don’t rely on lots of energy gels for training. Get your body used to running without fuel, so it has more of a positive impact when you take gels on race day.

And take advantage of group training; enjoy the long runs and don’t treat them competitively.

Tom, it’s been great chatting with you. I very much look forward to having you in the RunBrighton team this winter, and I’ll be keen to watch your own progression in your quest to break 2:40 in the spring!

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By Mike Bannister