Looking at former Olympian Tommy Hughes’ regular diet of 120 miles a week in the build-up to breaking the over-60 half-marathon world record, you wouldn’t think he used to go on drinking binges that lasted for weeks.
The Irishman’s appetite for running is an inspiration in itself but when you throw in the fact he spent years seriously harming himself through addiction, his is a truly remarkable story. “Without running, I could’ve been six feet under,” he told Runner’s World
. “It kept me on this planet.”
Tommy made the headlines for running 1:11:09 for a half-marathon last month and it’s no surprise he’s having so much success. Not only does he possess Olympic pedigree from having competed in the marathon at the 1992 Games in Barcelona, but he still pushes himself like an animal on the road every day. If you need proof of that, just look at the 21 miles he put in the morning after his phenomenal time at the Antrim Coast Half a few weeks ago.
That result was arguably his most high profile since coming 72nd in Barcelona, a race that left him feeling he’d gone as far as he could go in the sport. Having lost motivation, Tommy started to focus on his career as an electrician and his training was put to one side.
When he got to his early 50s, he noticed something was wrong. “I was getting into bouts of really bad depression, and I started drinking heavily,” he said. “I’d go drinking for a couple of weeks then get my head together and start training, but the mood swings would come back. It was getting worse as years went on and then I went for three months - drinking.”
“I’d go on absolute binges for weeks until I hit rock bottom, then I’d shake myself down and start building up again. I kept saying to my partner, ‘If I could bottle the withdrawal symptoms and remember it, then I wouldn’t drink again’ because I’d go through too much pain.”
On one particularly bad occasion, Tommy was taken to his local medical centre where a blood test revealed he had a condition called hyperparathyroidism which was causing his calcium levels to go through the roof.
“My parathyroid gland was taking calcium from my bones and pumping it straight into my bloodstream,” he explained. “If it hadn’t been detected, in years to come my bones would have become brittle, and I wouldn’t have been able to walk. Drinking was the blessing in disguise to find that out.”
Tommy had surgery to remove his parathyroid gland which ultimately set him back onto a healthy lifestyle and resulted in him falling back in love with running again.
Now, it’s his passion that takes priority and he’s content to turn down work if it will interfere with his training. “You have to think: What is it I really want?” he says. “I have enough money to pay the bills and I’m totally committed to running so I want to stick it out for the time being. I enjoy it, and that’s the main thing.”