Tom Merson - Exmouth's number one runner
PUBLISHED: 20:15 21 April 2019 | UPDATED: 20:15 21 April 2019
Exmouth's Tom Merson has dominated the local running scene for many years and, with a Half Marathon personal best (PB) of 66:23 in Bath, in March, could see his successes repeated more frequently at national level, writes Catherine Newman.
There are few local races that he hasn't won, his successes include Exeter, Torbay, Plymouth, Bideford and Bristol Half Marathons, repeated victories at the Exmouth Five and many instances when he had almost unbelievable winning margins like the 2017 Bampton to Tiverton race which he won in 36:10 by over three minutes.
Many know Tom as a road runner, but he has also performed well on the track where has a best of 14:39.71 in the 5,000m and a best of 8:27.22 in the 3,000m set winning a BMC race in Somerset.
His cross-country victories are numerous too; in 2014 he was unbeaten in the prestigious Westward League and in 2017 he placed eighth in the Newquay Westward League race only hours after winning the Castle Drogo 10 miler! He has represented Devon and England both on and off-road.
Indeed, as recently as this past Good Friday, Tom won the Kilmington Kanter in a new course record – smashing the previous best time by fully three minutes!
Tom took time from his busy work and training schedule to answer the following questions for the Exmouth Journal
Where do you come from?
“I'm Exmouth born and bred”
What is your position at the hospital and how long have you been working there?
“I'm a senior operating department practitioner with a special interest in education and emergency blood transfusion.”
Did you compete at school?
“I did when at school, but only on the football pitch!”
How did you get into running?
“I started to run a couple of miles to football training then after running around for the duration I'd run home.”
Who was your early inspiration?
“Kenenisa Bekele probably excited me the most early on as he was unbeatable on every surface across all endurance distances, it definitely encouraged me to race all disciplines.
“Currently though, Japanese Marathoner Yuki Kawauchi is very inspirational. He works full-time as a government clerk, runs each morning before he works, refuses sponsorship, doesn't take himself too seriously as occasionally runs races in fancy dress yet can beat the elite Africans at times in marathon majors. He also has some incredible PBs.”
How long have you been running?
“Just over 10 years now.”
Who helps you now with your training?
“Gordon Seward is one of the local heroes of the running scene dedicating his time to all kind of athletes of all abilities, he looks after my training and is always at the end of the phone to advise.”
Do you think that you are at a disadvantage being based in the south west?
“Yes and no. I think I live in one of the finest training environments going, within two miles of my door I can be running on the beach, the Jurassic coast path, through the heath's and woods of Woodbury common, along the Exe Estuary trail, Budleigh cycle track, these are all special places to put in the miles and are all very easy to link together with a bit of local knowledge.”
He continued: “The downsides of my location are I find myself one of the best athletes in the country so in order to find competitive races on good courses that produce international standard times, I have to travel along way to find the elite fields.”
Have you had to overcome any difficult challenges to keep running?
“No more than most athletes, I've got a few knackered bits that need careful management to ensure they don't flare up and result in a long layoff.”
What do you most enjoy about running?
“I love the time spent outside, I love the masochistic part of pushing my limit and exploring what I can force my body to achieve. Most importantly if you've had a rubbish day it's a great time to think about and sort through any problems mentally.”
Which part of training don't you enjoy?
On average, how much time do you spend training each week?
“I tend to run around ten times a week. Average weekly mileage isn't extortionately high, but still solid. Minimum I'll aim for 70-80 miles a week.”
How often do you have a non-running day?
“I listen to my body and if I need one ill have one, but if the body is looking after me it won't be until the day before a race.”
Do you do cross-training?
“I do but not specifically to enhance my running however I definitely believe my hobbies help me physically. Around my runs, I cycle to work, I surf and volunteer as a beach lifeguard with the Exmouth beach rescue club.”
How do you manage to fit in training with your job?
“The alarm sounds at 5am, the dog and I wake up with a 30 minute stroll before my 10-mile morning run, then, after the work day is finished. If it's one of the days I'm due to double up, I'll try to do either a few tempo paced miles or a speed/interval session.”
What is your favourite event?
“I adore it all, I race track, cross country, road and the trail/fell races they are all great in there own way, plus you never get bored or stale because of all the variety running and racing can offer.”
What have been your greatest successes?
“I have won team and individual national medals, but I guess the feeling of putting on an international vest and the feeling of running for your country, the really good guys haven't been available so I've managed to pick up five of these over the years both on road and off road.”
What are your racing plans for this year?
“Naturally run as quickly as possible, but I'd like to find myself marginally quicker over the half marathon and 10k before going up in distance and tackling the marathon.”
Are you planning to do the London Marathon in the future?
“I will, London is the biggest in the country and one of the world's fastest with an extremely strong elite British field, it would be a shame to finish my time as an elite without being part of it.”
What are your longer term running plans?
“A quick marathon, it would be great to keep running for life if the body allows. You don't have to move far around Exmouth to see how impressive the local veterans are, some of whom are well into their 60s, 70s and beyond if I can follow in their footsteps ill be very happy.”
What advice would you give to a successful young runner trying to combine work and training?
“Work out your bodies happiest routine if the morning works best capitalise on it, if nothing sounds worse make sure you are feeling fresh and strong to work hard in the evening. lite level training and full-time work is easily maintained with discipline.”
How important is diet for an athlete?
“It's essential... but what's essential is finding exactly what works for you as an individual, get it wrong and you'll be low on energy, potentially injured or the stomach cramps from social medias latest must have food will be steering you towards the public loos. “The perfect food for running isn't necessarily the food the glossy magazines or influencers are paid to portray. It's what you function the best on, for me Porridge and peanut butter is are both staples, but ill happily smash an entire packet of digestives too!”