We caught up with Tommy to talk about his running career - from the 1992 Olympics to his return to the sport, his training philosophy and racing alongside his son Eoin.
2:27:52 and a world record at age 59 is remarkable, but that’s not where your story begins, and it is just one of many running achievements. Tell us a bit about your background as a runner – how did you first get into the sport, get to an Olympics, step away and then return again?
I have always loved playing and watching sport and I found out I was good at running by accident. I played Gaelic football when I was younger but after I got married at 21 I started putting on weight. I went back to football, and to improve, I started running. I found out I was better at running! In 1991 I won the Irish Marathon Trials for the Olympics in 2:14:46 but the selectors told me that I had to run under 2:14 so I went back to the Marrakech Marathon which I had already won in 1988, and ran 2:13:59, 1 second under the qualifying time.
After the Olympics I got a job and the running took a back seat until in 2008, at the age of 48, I decided to run the Belfast Marathon which I had won in 1988 and 1998, and I wanted to have a go in 2008. With 2 months training I ended up in 6th place in 2:28 so I thought at 48 years of age there was still something there so I began to train regularly.
It seems as if you’re a thoroughbred marathon runner, it looks to be clearly your best distance – would you say that’s fair? How much did you do over the shorter distances and when did you realise 26.2 miles was the event for you?
I realised early on in my career that I hadn’t got a lot of speed in my legs, but, I had natural stamina, so the marathon suited me. I still ran every distance though, as I really enjoy racing.
As you’ve got older have you changed much in terms of how you train, race and recover?
I haven’t changed a lot over the years as it took a while to find out which training suited me. I still run around 100 miles a week, race a lot and allow recovery time.
Looking back at your younger running self, would you do much differently knowing what you know now?
No, not a lot has changed except more core strength training as I believe it helps greatly.
You often race alongside your son Eoin who is a good marathoner too, how has that relationship – and its uniqueness – played a role in recent years
Eoin is very similar to me in that we both love sport. It’s really enjoyable to have a great camaraderie with my son at races and just generally talking sport.
What advice can you give veteran runners as they chase either PBs or age group bests – are there any common pitfalls you see, or words of wisdom you can share?
I think the secret is consistency and enjoy whatever training you are doing. Trying to stay injury free is a big plus.
And what advice would you give runners of all ages as they look to move up the distances, seeking to race and PB at the marathon distance? How differently should it be approached to say a 10k or half marathon?
The marathon is a distance set apart from other distances so you have to incorporate a lot of longer runs into your training. You have to get used to the distance before you start to race it.
What does a typical training week look like for you in a marathon build up?
Nearly all of my training is long, steady runs. I usually race at weekends and then do a long run on Sunday and Monday. I see how the body feels for the rest of the week to decide whether to do fast runs or slow runs.
And how would this have differed from when you were gearing up to run at the Olympics?
Basically, my training hasn’t changed much from when I was younger.
Anything supplementary to your running – stretching, core S&C, special diet for example?
I have started Core Strength and Conditioning and I drink a glass of beetroot juice every day. I also enjoy cycling for down time.
Do you have strong views on the role of technology in the sport – for example the new wave of carbon plated shoes and innovations in fabric and textiles?
I think the new technology in running shoes is great. I can run faster and recover more quickly from anything up to marathon distance. The SOAR running vests are excellent, you really don’t feel like you’re wearing a vest which is a huge plus, especially on hot, sweaty days.
In a post Covid-19 world what are your next running goals? Can you go faster still and do you have any ambitions at other distances, or even an Ultra?
I am going to try to keep breaking world records for my age. I’m hoping to take part in the World Masters Athletic Championships next year.
Lastly – what’s your proudest running achievement?
My proudest running achievement is breaking the Guinness World Record for Father and Son in the marathon with Eoin. It shines above all my achievements, even running in the Barcelona Olympics in 1992.
Photo credit: John Glover