At the age of 25, Thomas EVANS (D0775-GBR) is taking part in his first MARATHON DES SABLES: “Like a lot of English people, I saw James Craknell do very well on this race. I remember watching the documentary thinking: ‘Wow, that looks like an amazing challenge!”
And until now, this British athlete unknown to the world of ultra-endurance has evenly matched with the best Moroccan runners on their own terrain and could even finish second tomorrow after the marathon-distance stage –the last timed one of the event: “It’s been a real privilege and pleasure to spend some time at the start line and run with the greatest desert runners in the world, for my first stay in Morocco and in the desert.”
He grew up in a “fit family, and as a child, did lots of sports –mainly rugby – to the detriment of academic studies.” At 21, he joined the Army in the Welsh Guards, where he started running and lost a bit a weight: “The packs we carry are much heavier than at the MDS, and the pace slower, so I never imagined I could be a good runner.” This race has been an eye-opener and made him discover that he might have “a bit of talent, which I now need to train on in order to compete at a higher level.” His race plan is not yet final, but it might include the HALF MARATHON DES SABLES FUERTEVENTURA in September, “close to Lanzarote where I trained a few weeks ago to run on uneven surfaces and rocks.” Once his decision made, he will focus his efforts and “start training properly.”
What about this event itself? “MDS is about self-sufficiency, about who can look after themselves the best for a week –precisely like during a military operation.” To stand the heat, Thomas was fortunate to be able to use Kingston University’s heat chambers: “it really helped to see how hard you can work, what your body’s doing.” The nutrition he brought –dehydrated products and recovery supplements– is going fine, and he seems to be recovering well, even after the Long Stage of yesterday: “Starting after the pack for the top runners’ start yesterday was surreal: everything and everyone except 70 people had disappeared; the start line was a mere line on the ground, speakers played music at full volume. It was just us and the desert!” Catching up with the competitors who had left the bivouac 3 hours before enabled Thomas to discover the number of participants who had always been ‘hiding’ behind him at the start line and in their respective tents: “Passing them one by one was amazing. I received so much support, and not only from the Brits and my tent mates, who are doing a superb job for keeping me motivated.”
Support also came from the communication opportunities offered by the organisers: “Before the Long Stage, I was able to send an e-mail to my family, and I’ve received many e-mails, including from people I’ve never met who said they’re really inspired.” In the hard times –yesterday in the dunes– it’s something that spurred him “to continue the hard work and cross the finish line as fast as possible.”
Beyond the sporting aspect, Thomas is open-minded and endearing, and even his rivals find him sympathetic. In his personal life, maybe because his “social life has been pretty boring over the past months, with military exercises and training sessions for the MDS”, this fit and good-looking young man is still single. A couple of his tent mates have been giving him the race numbers of a few attractive girls they found here on the bivouac –to no avail so far: “I’ve been too focused and taking the race very seriously.”
Generous in nature, he’s also running for 2 charities, ‘Walking With the Wounded’ and ‘Welsh Guards Charity’: “I must confess I’ve had very little time to dedicate to fundraising since signing up, and I’ve currently raised only £5,000.” But his hope is that when he get back home, his good performance will inspire people to be very generous and donate more money.
One last comment? “I will forever remember this most amazing scenery, especially that incredible moment when a family of 4 camels ran alongside the top Moroccan runners and me in the middle of the desert!”