I went to school with Tom. He was the kid who won every event at sports day and was always first to get picked for any sports team, even cricket. He was a natural athlete, and I suppose he still is, although he now supplements nature with 120 miles per week – miles he fits around his full-time job as an athlete manager for Run-Fast.

I visited him at home in the Barbican, and followed him (by bike, obviously) on a training run along the Thames, his usual training ground.

Name: Tom Payn
Age: 34
Which area of London do you call home: Barbican
Sport: Athletics, in particular Marathon running

What came first - living in London or being an athlete? 
Being an athlete certainly came first. Running has been a huge part of my life for as long as I can remember. I joined my local athletics club aged nine or ten, taking part in all events but it soon became apparent I had more ability at the middle and long distance events. Between the ages of 14 and 20 I was ranked in the top ten in the country at the 800m. After school in Colchester I moved to Birmingham to study Chemical Engineering at the University of Birmingham. I swapped events to the 3000m Steeplechase and had continued success including winning the UK Inter County Championships. After University I moved down to Portsmouth to work as a technical sales engineer for a filtration company and combined that with training. One autumn on a trip to Sumatra, working as a volunteer on an Orang-utan conservation project I contracted Weils disease and was admitted to intensive care for seven days. I managed to fight off the disease but that stay in hospital had left me very weak and I was unable to stand, let alone run. It took me a long time to build my strength back up, but it gave me time to re-evaluate my running, and I decided to make the step up to the marathon. It was a good move: once I was fully recovered from the illness and able to knock out weeks of 100+miles I achieved personal best times for all distances above 10km. In my first marathon in Hamburg, six months to the day after was I was first able to stand in hospital I ran a respectable time of 2.24. I slowly improved that time over the next few years until I recorded my best time to date of 2.17.29 in the Fukuoka International Marathon in Japan. That time ranked me 4th in the UK in 2009. In 2010 my running flatlined a little and with the Olympics on the horizon I wanted to give myself the best opportunity of qualifying. So I quit my job in Portsmouth, sold my house and moved to Kenya to train with the best marathon runners in the world. That was the best experience of my life, but due to a little bit of bad luck I picked up an injury at the critical time and was unable to run the qualifying race for the Olympics. On the up side, due to some of the contacts I made in Kenya I was offered the job as a sports manager at the sports management agency Run-Fast in London. Run-Fast represent elite athletes from around the world, with the majority of their athletes coming from East Africa. After accepting the job I moved into the Barbican and now work and train in London.

Where’s your favourite place to train in London?
I have a few favourite places to train in London. I never get bored of the views running next to the Thames in the morning; Tower Bridge never fails to amaze me. Richmond Park is perfect for long runs – the surface of the track around the outside of the park reminds me of Kenya and is quite forgiving on the legs. One lap is around 7.5miles so when in marathon training I regularly do two laps with the odd occasion doing three. Hampstead Heath has the best hills in London and at times you can really feel like you are in the country whilst training on the Heath. It also has a great coffee shop which is essential for post session recovery! Another great venue for faster running is Victoria Park, I use this when I want to do my 10km pace efforts as it’s pancake flat and traffic free, it also only takes me 20 minutes to run there from the Barbican along Regents canal.

Where do you do the majority of your training?
Most of my mileage would be along the Thames. As I live right in the centre of the City I am limited on my routes. It’s either down to the Thames or up to Regents canal. To get to Hampstead Heath or Richmond I have to drive so I save these areas for the weekend when I have more time.

What’s your favourite memory of competing in London?
When I was 14 or 15 I competed in an exhibition race at Crystal Palace before the annual Grand Prix. It was such a great experience running in front of such a large crowd and really motivated me to keep doing well and progress in the sport.

London is dirty, noisy, congested and full of distractions. Do you find it difficult to avoid those distractions and concentrate on training and competing?
I think most elite athletes are pretty dedicated and motivated so although there are plenty of distractions in London it isn’t hard to stay focused on training. As I live in central London it can become very crowded especially around the rush hours so I have to plan my training at times where there are less people. Early morning running along the Thames is a great time to train, generally the only other people you see out are fellow runners. I quite like the urban feel of running in the city it’s such a contrast to the time I was living in Kenya.

What do you do for a living? And does your employer understand what you do as an athlete and allow you time to train?
I am lucky in the fact the company I work for is all about running. I don’t have a specific job title but I guess you could call me a sports agent. My job is quite involved and varied, but basically I have to recruit these athletes, find them races and accompany them to races all over the world. I have a very understanding boss who lets me take as much time as I need to train. Saying that, I get up pretty early in the morning to train and am normally in the office by around 8a.m. 

Is it hard to balance work, family and your athletic career?
For me this isn’t a problem. Like I mentioned before I can take as much time as I want to train with my job. My family have always been the biggest supporters of my athletics career and I’m sure I wouldn’t be persevering today if it wasn’t for them. They are happy to see me flying off around the world pursuing my dream.

If you were mayor for the day, what would you do to make life easier for athletes in London?
I don’t think there is much I would do differently. We are lucky to have so many world class facilities here in London and you can try pretty much any sport you can think of. It would be nice to get rid of some of the commuters but I don’t think that is going to happen any time soon!

What’s the best athletic performance you’ve ever witnessed in London?
This is a hard question to answer. The Olympics in London produced so many amazing performances across many different sports. Being a former 800m runner, watching David Rudisha front run a world record in the Olympic final was the best athletic feat I have ever witnessed. I have met David out in Kenya and he is such a humble guy that just works very hard to get the most out of his natural talent. That for me was a very special race and in my eyes as good as anything the great Usain Bolt has every achieved.

Which London based athletes do you most respect?
I actually don’t think I know any other London based athletes!

If a fellow Londoner wanted to try your sport, how would you advise them to get started?
Running is the most accessible sport in the world. All you need is a pair of trainers and off you go. I would advise people to join one of the many running groups or clubs in the City. Running can be a really social sport and it’s a great way of meeting new people. Also when you run in a group, especially when you are first starting, it helps take your mind off the actual running.

Any sponsors/supporters/coaches/clubs you’d like to thank?
I would like to thank Run-Fast ( for giving me time to train, stay on their camp in Kenya and finding me plenty of world class races. Mizuno for giving me great kit to run in and High5 for supplying sports nutrition products to help fuel those long runs.


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