British race walker, Tom Bosworth, experienced his first Olympic Games at Rio in 2016 coming sixth in the 20km event, and went on to break the one mile World Record at the 2017 Anniversary Games in London. Having recently returned from the Gold Coast after competing at this year’s Commonwealth Games, Tom came away with silver in the 20km event along with a new British record. Speaking to Tom on his return from an event in China, he tells us about being co-captain at the Commonwealth Games, how he got into the sport and the toughest challenge as a race walker.
Can you describe the feeling of winning Silver at this year’s Commonwealth Games which saw you also get the British Record?
I’d always wanted to break 1:20:00 for the 20km. Andy Vernon described it as breaking that thirteen minute barrier in the 5km which was a good comparison. In race walking, if you are around 1:20:00, you are likely to win a medal or be close. After London 2017 DQ whilst leading the World Champs, I wanted to get my tactics right and control my technique. I settled into the race and pace quickly, I knew I was in great shape, so just relaxed and made sure I had no pressure on me like I did in London. Very rarely do you have the perfect race but I came close to it. Losing out on Gold by four seconds was tough, but Dane (Bird-Smith) had the home crowd and he is Olympic Bronze medallist, so to hold on till the last 300m was perfect for me. He’s a good friend so I was pleased to see him win in front of a home crowd.
You were the co-captain for these Games, what was it like being selected for this?
A true honour. Throughout my career and even school life I fought to be accepted. I was badly bullied at school and never felt like I fitted in, plus I’ve fought to bring race walking back into mainstream athletics. So, to be put up as the male captain signalled all the hard work was paying off. It was truly emotional and I was so nervous doing my speech, public speaking is not something I usually struggle with.
Had you visited Australia previously and what was it like competing there?
I’d been on a training camp and competed at the Australian 20km Champs back in 2011, but visiting Brisbane and the Gold Coast was incredible! I will be back to train along the river and drink coffee on the South Bank in Brisbane soon! It’s the kind of lifestyle I could get used to. Really friendly people too.
For competitions in hot countries like Australia, how do you prepare to race in the heat?
Being as slim as me it helps to keep cool, so I tend to enjoy the hot races more than others. But altitude/heat training has similar effects on the body. I spend a few months a year at altitude and sleep in an altitude tent also. Heat or tough conditions don’t faze me too much, I know it will make for a brutal race, and that just means anything can happen!
What was the experience like competing at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games for your Olympic debut?
Incredible! Rio was a real challenge. The environment, the games themselves struggled for non-sporting reasons. But it was my real breakthrough moment. I went in ranked 27th and finished 6th, breaking the 20km National Record again! I couldn’t quite believe it. I look back now and see the training I did and it makes sense. I haven’t really looked back since.
How did it feel competing for Team GB?
There really is nothing like an Olympic Games. You feel on top of the world for those few weeks, you feel part of something truly special, unique. I can’t really describe it. It is the true pinnacle of sport and Team GB know how to treat the athletes. I cannot wait for Tokyo!
You proposed to your partner whilst in Rio, had you always planned to do this?
Yes, it was quite a drawn out process as I was away at altitude for many weeks in Font Romeu. So, it meant buying the ring was tricky. I’d arranged to pick the ring up from a jewellers in London Heathrow when I flew back from France on my way out to Rio. I had a couple of teammates with me, so it was quite fun! I also wanted something to share for me and Harry at the Olympics. I had my race but now we have that something extra. It was very special to see the impact it had around the world, I still get messages today saying how it has helped and inspired people – that truly inspires me!
Which country has been your favourite to compete in?
Well, I loved Australia, but really it goes down to the races. Rio was incredible for many reasons, but the location wasn’t great. Competing in front of a home crowd is always special. I manage to up my game and love to perform for a home crowd, it’s just so special. The Gold Coast was magnificent too. I think I’ll have to say Australia.
Do you find there is a difference between competing indoors to outdoors?
For race walking there is a big difference. There is a lot of talk about walkers “having both feet off the ground” and so cheating. This isn’t the case as some “lifting” is allowed within the rules, as soon as that becomes too much and becomes an advantage to the walker you can pick up red cards. So when you have a tight bend and a bouncy indoor track, the task of keeping that amount of lifting down is difficult. Your technique has to be strong! Also, coming off the bends can be tricky, you can’t land with a bent leg in race walking, so on an indoor track the bends are tight and a bad heel strike can cause you to weaken at the knee! Plus, indoor tracks are faster I think so there’s so much more to tackle on an indoor track!
How many hours a week do you train and does it change when you have competitions?
I tend to train between 10km-25km every morning. I walk 10km in about 47 minutes for an “easy” walk. I have three gym sessions a week, working on core, calf and ankle stability. I also lift up to and just over body weight in squats and dead lifts as some examples. Most evenings I then do another easy walk or a couple of times a week I will run. I tend to take Sundays off, unless I’m on a training camp with other athletes, then I may go and run with them as something different and some other company too! I tend to cover about 120-140km in six days.
What would you say is the toughest challenge as a race walker?
The technique side. You can be as fit as you want but if your technique isn’t good enough or you just have a bad day or, like me in London, the pressure gets to you, it can cost you everything. In a marathon you can fall to pieces and still plough on, you can’t do that in race walking.
Walkers don’t get the respect they deserve either. You train many miles, the speeds are the same as many runners, the technique can cause serious pain and aches you just never experience as a runner. Anyone who says it’s easier doesn’t know what they are talking about. My fitness is the same as any runner out there, HR is often lower than many top runners. Many of my GB teammates understand now and take an interest, often those who don’t think “all walkers run” when pictured with both feet off the ground or “anyone can walk”. Those comments are tough to take but I try and explain and educate anyone who is willing to listen.
How long have you been competing as a British race walker?
I joined Tonbridge athletics club as an eleven year old and tried all events from running to jumping before trying race walking out at age twelve. Tonbridge has a good history of race walking and a dedicated coach in Peter Selby.
Was there anything in particular that got you into the sport?
I joined the club because my sister had also started doing some athletics. She tried out race walking too. I thought to myself, well, if Emily can do it then I can too!
Did it take you long to learn the technique of race walking?
When I started I was so young and you pick things up quickly. However, it took me a long time to get any speed in my step and stride, and quick turnover in your stride is key to being a fast race walker. Anyone can walk round slowly but to get down to 4min/km 6min/miles you need to have such a quick turn over and we do a lot of track reps to work on that. But you can only do that if you develop your technique at the same rate.
With the new rule regarding three cards = pit lane, what can you be issued a red card for?
This new rule has been around for junior races and I think it may only be used when there is a team aspect like there was in China at this year’s World RW Cup. If you get a red card for “lifting” or for having a “bent leg”, then that goes onto a big screen by the start/finish line. Each judge (usually there are eight judges on the 1km or 2km lap course) can only give you one red card, to stop bias judging. Once you have three, that is usually a DQ, but in this case the pit lane is used, like you have in triathlon. Two minutes in there for 20km races, then you carry on, one more red card and it is then a DQ as normal.
Do you have any competitions coming up in the next few months?
I am looking at my next 20km being at the IAAF challenge race in La Coruna, Spain, but we have our National 20km in Roundhay Park in my hometown, Leeds on June 24th. Also Birmingham trials, will have the usual 5000m race walk where I will hope to defend my UK title again. Then, back off to altitude to prepare for the European Championships in Berlin.
Follow Tom on: