Ahead of the new English fell running season, which starts in earnest this Saturday with the first championship race at Black Combe, 2014 winner Tom Addison talks aspirations, rivals, turbo trainers and rediscovering a love for the sport.
So Tom, the new season is almost here. Excited?
Really excited. To be honest, I can’t wait. I had planned to spend much of 2016 travelling and so would have missed a lot of the season but circumstances have changed and now I’ll be in the UK for most of the year. I was always going to run Black Combe no matter what but now, knowing that I can do the full season, I’m even more fired up than I was previously.
Looking back, how do you assess your 2015 season?
I look back with real disappointment at the 2015 English Championship. I went into it hoping to defend the title I’d won the year before but in truth never really got close. I was 6th in the first race at Flower Scar but bounced back to win the next one at Stretton Six Summits. Then came my nemesis – the long race, on this occasion Duddon. Predictably I struggled and came in 7th. After that the wheels came off… big style. Injuries really didn’t help and I missed both the fourth and fifth counters. Then came the last race at Guisborough Three Tops. Probably the less said about that, the better. Let’s just say I totally messed it up (Tom finished 43rd after going off-course while towards the front of the race). I ended up 10th in the championship. The lads ahead of me did great but I knew deep down it was a pretty feeble attempt at a title defence on my part. The saviour came in making the Great Britain team for the World Mountain Running Championships, held in Wales in September, and winning team bronze (Tom placed 42nd in the race).
And so was the disappointment of the 2015 English Championship season harder to take given how well 2014 had gone?
Definitely. 2014 was unbelievable… I never expected it to go as well as it did. But to come off the back of that season and then struggle in 2015 was really gutting. Perhaps, in hindsight, I put too much pressure on myself. Everyone else was really supportive but I think I let things get on top of me. I tried to follow what I’d done in 2014 but take it up another few notches. Rather than having a positive effect, it had the exact opposite. I over trained, picked up three different injuries and was massively inconsistent in my performances. I think I lost my focus. In 2014 I had my goals for the year written down and I stuck to them. Last year I was a bit all over the place. I had to change my plans and I lost sight of what I wanted to achieve. I got my act together for the World Championship trial race but that again just shows how inconsistent I was. I want to show that 2014 was not just a one-off. I want to prove to myself that I can consistently race with the top lads in the English championship events.
So the English Championship is a key focus for you in 2016. What else?
Next month’s Three Peaks Race (sponsored by inov-8 in 2016) is a race I’d really love to do well in. I’ve not proved myself over longer courses, far from it, and at 23 miles it’s very much unchartered territory for me. I’ve been for a run around the course and it’s a cracker. I’m really excited about racing in such an iconic event. For quite a few years now I’ve supported Rob Jebb when he’s done the Three Peaks Cyclo-Cross Race, so it will be nice to actually run a race over Pen-y-ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough rather than carrying Rob’s wheels up and down them!
And there’s a secret training camp planned, I believe?
Not quite secret but yes, after Black Combe I’m heading out to Germany and Austria for a month-and-a-half, which will include time spent training with Robbie Simpson. Robbie is one of the best mountain runners in the world and obviously got individual bronze at last year’s World Mountain Running Championships. He’s now training for the London Marathon, so provided I can keep him in sight, it will be brilliant to train alongside him and see how he operates. It will be a great experience for me and I want to learn as much as I can. I’ve taken a short sabbatical from work so I can go out there and see what it’s like to live the lifestyle of an international athlete. I will be back just in time for the Three Peaks.
And your winter training as a whole, how has that gone?
Consistent and dare I say, matured. I’ve not gone silly like I have in the past and over trained. This time around I’ve listened to my body a lot more and eased off when necessary. I’ve previously been guilty of ramping up the miles too quickly then getting injured. This winter I’ve upped the training steadily and remained as consistent as possible in my sessions. I’ve also discovered turbo training on the bike. Wow. Not only is it a good cardio session but it really gets the lactic going too. I’ve spent a lot of time on the turbo trainer this winter and saved my legs from quite as much pavement pounding!
Go on Tom admit it, you’ve been looking at other people’s results too, right?
Of course! A new season brings new excitement… and Black Combe will be the first time everyone comes together. There’s nothing quite like that feeling on the start line of the season’s first championship race. You can see everyone weighing each other up. You also know that everyone has been looking at each other’s results in winter races and trying to analyse whom will be the one to beat. It’s such an exciting time with lots of nervousness but at the same time plenty of typical fell running banter and, of course, the mind games!
So who is going to be in the mix at the sharp end on Saturday?
I feel like there are loads of lads who could win it. I don’t think there has ever been a season that looks so open. The obvious favourites in recent years have been the established guys Rob Jebb, Simon Bailey, Rob Hope and Morgan Donnelly but now you can also add into the mix younger lads like Sam Tosh and Ben Mounsey. Both Sam and Ben have had some brilliant results this winter and will be strong at Black Combe. The likes of Rob Jebb, Simon, Rob Hope and Morgan might be getting older but they are just as fit, if not fitter, and it’s up to us younger lads to try and get results against them. Not an easy task… trust me! Much may come down to the conditions too… it’s quite notorious on Black Combe because of the mist that rolls in off the Irish Sea. If the clag is down it really will be anyone’s race. And who’s to say Ricky Lightfoot won’t turn up on the start line…..
There are indeed some big contenders but what about yourself… you must be feeling pretty confident after such strong performances at the Carnethy 5 Hill Race and High Cup Nick?
Both of those races have definitely given me confidence, yes. I never usually have a good run at Carnethy up in Scotland but this year I felt sharper and focused. In the past I’ve gone up there and lads like Tom Owens and Joe Symonds have stuffed me and I’ve come home really disheartened. It was another really strong field this year so to be battling for the win and eventually coming 3rd was a big boost for me. Likewise, pushing Ricky for the win at High Cup Nick (Ricky edged it by a matter of seconds) was a real confidence booster and makes me think that things are moving in the right direction.
You also seem a lot happier in yourself compared to this time last year…
Last year was hard and I questioned things… a lot. I struggled for motivation and my racing was inconsistent. I was going out too much, drinking with mates. Injuries didn’t help, and I lost my drive. For the first time in my life I fell out of love with running. Now I’m back and buzzing. I’m loving my running again… even the speed sessions! A lot of that has to do with meeting my girlfriend, Rachael.
So a love of running goes hand in hand with love in life?
For me, yeah, it appears so. If I’m happy in life, I’m happy in my running. Bring on the new season!
* The 2016 English Championship (sponsored by inov-8 and Pete Bland Sports): Short races: Up The Nab (7/5/16), Sedbergh Sports (9/7/16). Medium races: Black Combe (12/3/16), Pendle Three Peaks (20/8/16). Long races: Borrowdale (6/8/16), Langdale Horseshoe (8/10/16).