Record breaker Tommy Hughes reflects on a running career that has spanned five decades

All Tommy Hughes needed was an opportunity. He knew that his talent and determination could take him the rest of the way.

Tommy Hughes

Hughes, who turned 60 in January, is still enjoying a running career that has spanned across five decades and brought him to the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona while winning marathons in the likes of Marrakech, Nottingham and Melbourne.

Breaking records is something that has become second nature for Hughes, who ran the fastest ever over-60’s half-marathon time in an Antrim Coast event that was won by Sir Mo Farah in September before on October 25 he etched himself into the record books once again, this time at the Lisburn Festival of Running marathon.

With the wind howling, Hughes went on to finish in a time of 2:30:02 to not just break the record but shave almost six minutes off the time set by Japan’s Yoshinisa Hosaka in 2009.

The Maghera man had been searching for a chance to test himself against the record, but as one by one marathon’s fell by the wayside due to the coronavirus pandemic, it looked like he would have to wait for an opportunity.

Even the Lisburn event was briefly in doubt and although he successfully broke the record time, there was still a feeling of disappointment for Hughes after falling just two seconds short of another milestone.

“I’ve been entering loads of marathons all year trying to get one that was happening,” he explained.

“London, Valencia, Malaga – I’ve entered them all but they’ve all been cancelled. One in Galway didn’t happen, then I looked at one in Wrexham and that didn’t happen.

“I was speaking to Glenn Grant and he said that he had one that would definitely take place, then the Tuesday before hand he text saying ‘sorry Tommy, it’s cancelled!’.

“I had done all this training thinking this one was going to happen, so I rang and spoke to him and he said let’s just go with it and have a limited number of runners.

“I was really happy to get a chance to do it and I was really happy with the world record, but I was slightly disappointed with not getting under the two hours 30 minutes.

“The goal was to run under 2:30. I have it in my head that I’ve ran under 2:30 in four decades and I want to make it five decades.

“I don’t think anybody in the world has ever done that so I was trying to do that as well as get the world record.

“I tried to get it all done in the one day but that didn’t happen! I was happy with the world record and now I’m going to have to break my own record to achieve the time target.”

Running was also there for Hughes in the darker days which would see him go on drinking binges and after a period of three months of excessive alcohol consumption, his wife brought him to the clinic in 2016.

A blood test found that Hughes had a problem with a parathyroid gland which was causing his blood calcium levels to rise and led to low bone density.

Hughes doesn’t know how long the issue was there for but says getting it sorted has gave him a new lease of life.

“I was depressed and couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me,” he said.

“I was drinking alcohol more and more. I was going on binges rather than continuous drinking. I would go for a week or two drinking and then stop.

“That was becoming more regular and then I got sorted out with the parathyroid gland and then I stopped drinking altogether.

“Two years ago, I went on the drink for three months and nearly killed myself. That’s when my partner took me to the clinic and they took a blood test.

“That’s when the parathyroid showed up because there was too much calcium in my bloodstream. Only for that, I wouldn’t have known and the cycle would have kept on going.

“It’s funny how out of a bad thing of drinking too much I found out there was something else wrong with me which was nothing to do with drinking at all.

“I was getting blood tests every week after they found out. I got it removed from my neck two years ago and it has give me a new lease of life.”

Hughes has been running as many as 140 miles per week in training, which is generally broken into 10 miles in the morning and 10 in the evening before longer runs at the weekend.

Not content with the world records already secured, Hughes now plans to go after the 5K best, which he is only one second off, and the 10K record before the World Masters Championships in Finland next summer.

The genuine love for running and a competitive spirit helps push Hughes to find where his limits are and what more he can achieve, and he is going full steam ahead in pursuit of his goals.

“I train for marathons so I would need to be doing a lot more speed work for those events (5K and 10K), which I haven’t been able to do because I was training for the marathon specifically,” he said.

“Over the winter I will hopefully get good track sessions in and have a go at it. It’s not the end of the world if I don’t get it, but it’ll be something I attempt.

“When I started running and didn’t know I was capable of holding a world record, I said to myself that if I could hold a record for 10 minutes it would make me happy for the rest of my life and now I have 12!

“It’s a thing I really enjoy doing and I’m not sitting back to think about it. I’m just going for it and seeing how much faster I can get at my age.

“I’m just trying to achieve as much as I can while still enjoying it.”