Watch out ultra runners- Interview with Mountain Runner Tom Owens

Ultra runners come from a number of wide and diverse backgrounds, and how they enter the sport is just as interesting. Take the members of Ultra168, check out our profiles and you will see some of us naturally crossed over from road running, marathons and Adventure Racing or similar endurance disciplines, some of us responded to challenges made by friends and families and others come from team sports backgrounds. One common thread is that we all love to get out and run on the trails and enjoy the freedom the mountains bring to our running.

One similar direction to this sport is being taken by former racquets sports specialist and now elite Mountain Runner Tom Owens. Tom comes from a fine stable of British Mountain and Fell runners who has firmly cemented his world class reputation over the last few years both in the UK, Europe and the US. As Tom’s performances have continued to grab the headlines, the inevitable question has been asked, “When will you try your hand at Ultras?”

Well, to answer this and many other mountain running questions we have pleasure in sharing with you a video interview I did with Tom when in The French Pyrenees as a guest of Team Salomon just prior to Tom heading to the US to compete in The Gore Tex Trans Rockies Challenge, when he repeated his performance from last year with a spot on the podium.

In addition, we are lucky to have a recent interview conducted by our colleagues in the UK, Matt Ward from Salomon who caught up with Tom after the event. I am convinced from the focus and dedication to his running, coupled with his shear talent that when we see Tom step up to the big iconic ultras that similar performances will follow.

Words by Matt Ward (MW):-

Tom Owens‘ rise to the top of UK fell and mountain running has been a controlled ascent. After many years of ‘knocking at the door’ the unassuming Shettleston runner has this year found his mountain wings and carried all before him…

A strong winter, after another very good 2010 which saw him win the Trans Alps race with Andy Symonds for a second time, left Tom with some great form and ready for his best ever season in 2011. After wins at the Carnethy 5, the British Champs race at the Mourne Peaks, and his outstanding win at the legendary 3 Peaks race, Tom was ready to head off to Europe and the US for a summer of mountain trail and multi-day stage racing as part of the Salomon International Team.

He continued his great UK form with a superb second place at Zegama, just seconds behind Kilian Jornet and earlier this month took a convincing win at the big German 4 stage race across the Alps – the 4 Trails.

I caught up with Tom as he heads into the second part of his season.


MW: 2011 has been quite a year for you up to now, Tom. You have been improving year on year of course, but what changed over the winter of 2010 and into early 2011 to enable you to be now challenging the world’s best mountain and ultra trail runners?

TO: I kept training throughout winter 2010/ early 2011 and this allowed a good base of training ( running and cycling), despite all the ice & snow. This allowed me to start the racing season with a really good training base. In winter 2008 & 2009 I had Achilles issues so couldn’t get the same amount of training in. I’ve also been hill running regularly for 5 years now – I think the cumulative strength and experience gained over this period is starting to pay off.

MW: One of the many highlights of your year was your run in Zegama, where you seriously challenged the throne of Kilian Jornet at this great race. Describe how that unfolded and how it felt to be so close to him.

TO: I was initially very surprised to be at the sharp end of the race with Kilian – it was a brilliant feeling as the race is so well supported. I felt great for most of the race but began to struggle in the final quarter due to the heat and muscle cramps. the Zegama course is pretty suited to my running strengths – there are large runnable sections and enough descending to keep me in contention.

TO: From 20km I was at the front but was unable to pull away much. I was overtaken on the last climb, only to catch Kilian again on the descent. He got a 35 second advantage over the last 4km or so. Disappointing to get so close but I was proud of my effort. The result has been a real confidence boost for subsequent races.

MW: You are a member of the Salomon UK Trail Team, but also of the Salomon International Team. Tell us a little about how that works and how you are supported by Salomon in your international race programme.

TO: It’s amazing to be part of the International set up where I have the opportunity to compete in races on the Salomon International Calender e.g. 3 Peaks race, Zegama and 4 Trails.

TO: There are about 20 athletes in the International setup and I’ve been lucky enough to train, travel and race with several of them this year. The international Team helps with travel expenses for the key races. I’ve also had the opportunity to meet the Salomon product designers, test new products and feedback ideas for product development.

TO: The International Team is a wonderful opportunity. I realise I am very lucky and I intend to try and make the most of it!!!

MW: Salomon are at the leading edge of trail and mountain running products, it is part of the brand DNA to innovate and break new ground when it comes to technology. Fell running has a more conservative approach to technology, it can be said, so tell us how you marry these two spheres in your racing and training?

TO: For me hill/ trail running is a pretty simple sport and the same principles apply whether I am running in the UK or overseas. I love the purity of fell running and I also think the best Salomon products tend to be simple and light weight – they can be used in most race situations.

TO: One of the main advantages of racing outside the UK is that the courses tend to be marked – for me this is ace as it’s pretty hard to go wrong (unlike in UK races which can require some orienteering).

MW: Which products (shoes and apparel / bags) do you most favour from the Salomon armoury?

TO: I’ve been using the Speedcross II shoes since 2008 – I do pretty much all my running in them – super comfy and good grip for trail running. Salomon have just released a Fell Cross shoe which is very aggressive and low profile – perfect for the UK fells.

TO: The Fast Wing Hoody is also a super bit of kit – lightweight and windproof. I take it on almost all my runs when the weather is marginal

MW: As far as the rest of 2011 goes you still have some big targets, tell us a little about your race programme and global travel.

TO: This weekend is the Giir di Mont Skyrace in Premana Italy. In August I may race Sierre Zinal in Switzerland if I am feeling good.However my main target now is the Transrockies race (with Salomon team mate Ricky Lightfoot) – it’s a six day stage race in Colorado which you run in pairs. Being at high altitude and on fast trails it will be really tough to do well against the local US runners but it will be an amazing experience.

MW: Finally Tom, a year is a long time in sport, but where do you see your goals sitting in 2012?

TO: I tend not to plan too much in advance. I’ll see what opportunities are out there next year and hopefully get involved. I loved recently running for Scotland in the World Long Distance Mountain Running Challenge – it was a huge honour and I’d also like to try and do a similar thing next year.

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