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Tom's top five tips for running faster

We've teamed up Great West Run winner, Tom Merson, to find out his tips and advice for runners preparing for this year’s Great West Run.

Tom, who is 32 and from Exmouth, works in the NHS as an ODP / Vascular Access Practitioner at the RD&E Hospital. But in his spare time Tom is also a successful local runner, who last year won Exeter’s well-known half marathon, the Great West Run.  Running seems to be a natural talent that Tom was unaware of until fairly recently when a random stranger saw him out running and commented that he was rapid!

Tom explains: “Everyone’s got something, some sort of talent, you just don’t always know what it’s going to be. I played football as a kid and was always active, but that started to dry up in the adult years. I used to run to football training and a member of the public commented that they thought I was really quick.


Tom training in the Devon countrysideTom training in the Devon countryside

“I started running more often as it’s such an enjoyable thing to do in the Devon countryside. Where I live in Exmouth, I’m only a couple of miles from the coastal path, so a lovely environment to run in. I enjoyed it so I began running to work. I had another comment from a colleague who also thought I was quick, so I thought I might as well enter a local race and that’s how it started with the Great West Run. 

“First time I entered I wore my football kit as I didn’t have anything else, so it was football socks and football strip.”

I came in seventh which was pretty good for a first attempt. So I thought, what could I do if I trained a bit more?

“I entered again and came third, then second again the third time I did it, and then on the fourth time in 2010 I won it in a time of under 70 minutes.  Although the 2010 GWR didn’t exactly go to plan as I tripped over and broke a couple of ribs, which goes to show you never know what might happen in a race! But I was so pumped on adrenaline that I got up and still made it to the finish line first.

“Recently I did the Bristol 10k and the Torbay half marathon and won both of those. I am doing up my kitchen at the moment and there is a bit of prize money when you win.  I got £450 for the Torbay half, so it covered the steel and the hob for the kitchen which is an added bonus.  

Tom winning the Great Bristol 10KTom winning the Great Bristol 10K

“Obviously my training has changed a bit now that I am taking it more seriously.  It’s dictated by work and family but I always make time to train. I get up at 5am to run around Exmouth and will train in the evenings as well. I normally do 12 runs a week totalling 70-100 miles. It varies from a run round Woodbury Common to sessions on the track. I have a dog, a lurcher, who occasionally comes training with me and I am a member of the Exmouth Harriers.

“Once I started to have a few successes I did plateau a bit, so took up the offer of coaching from Gordon Seward of the Exeter Harriers. He is a lovely chap, gives his time for free and is happy to help anyone who wants to improve their running.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling to be a local person winning a local race.”

I see so many of my colleagues along the route shouting at me, it feels like a community success. It also gives me the opportunity to help promote a local charity like Hospiscare, which is such a good cause to talk about and make people more aware of.

“Now I have had some success it can be quite stressful because there is an expectation from friends that you’ll win and you don’t want to let anyone down. So it’s always a relief to finish first. You get to know all the front runners so well, you become friends.

“The running community is really friendly, everyone is too knackered to be anything other than nice!”

There is always a lot of banter at the start and finish line but not as much chat once we get into the race. You learn about each other’s strengths and weaknesses but you never know what form the competition is in on race day. They might have squeezed in some altitude training or be nursing an injury. So I always approach it as humbly as I can and hope for the best.”


Tom with Hospiscare Healthcare AssistantsTom with Hospiscare Healthcare Assistants, Paula and Kate

Are you running this year's Great West Run? 

We have a fantastic team of budding runners who are taking on this year’s Great West Run to help support local people who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness.

To get an insight into how they can make the most of their training, we sat down with Tom and asked him what his top tips for improving running speed would be.


Tom’s top five tips to run faster

  1. Do interval training. Don’t neglect the short stuff just because you’re training for an endurance race. The 200 metre sprints are just as important as the longer runs if you want to get quicker.
  2. Core strength is key. I don’t mean muscling up at the gym, but sit ups, the plank, back raises and Pilates-style exercises are all great. When you get tired in a race and your form drops, you draw on that core strength to keep you upright. If you are upright you can have a more relaxed form than if you are hunched over, and being relaxed helps you run faster.
  3. Book yourself into some shorter distance races. Doing a fraction of the distance as quick as you can will help with your speed and endurance. Parkrun events are ideal for this. You can do these all over the country and they’re free. Parkrun events have done an incredible thing for running as they make the sport easily accessible for everyone.
  4. Keep hydrated and learn what your body likes in the way of food. The perfect fuel you see in all those adverts doesn’t exist. It’s about finding what works for you and you’ll discover that as you go along. I had a piece of sponge cake before my run last night!
  5. Rest. This is just as important as the training. If you’re not fresh you can’t get the best out of yourself.


There's still time to join Team Hospiscare at this year's Great West Run, which takes place on 14th October. 

If you’re interested in running in aid of Hospiscare, please contact Becky on 01392 688093 or email

Click here to find out more

Hospiscare is a local adult hospice charity, providing high quality care and support to people with any type of terminal illness, and those close to them, in Exeter, Mid and East Devon.  A gift to Hospiscare in your Will helps to ensure the future of the charity in Devon for generations to come.