16 May 2022

A Hughes achievement

Interview with record breakers Eoin and Tommy Hughes

A Hughes achievement

Tommy asks Eoin if they beat the record (Pic: Keith McClure)

Winners are never content. There is always something else to strum their inner desire. When the euphoria subsides, satisfaction seeps in and before you know it, the mind starts to wander to the next target.

In the case of World Record breaking father and son duo Tommy and Eoin Hughes, they are the perfect example.

When the next Guinness Book of Records peels off the press, their time of four hours, 59 minutes and 22 seconds from last October's Frankfurt marathon will have etched their names into the realms of greatness.

But they are not content with their lot, they are focussed on smashing it again, this time with a result that will warn off any would-be challengers.

By the time Tommy joined last Wednesday morning's zoom meeting he had his customary early morning 10-mile run done. Eoin has already been plotting how to put his learning from Frankfurt into another drive for the line. And, during a relaxed 33-minute chat, the words improve and achieve cropped up a combined total of 19 times.

Welcome to the mindset of a winner.

Michael McMullan: Tommy, I was talking to Eoin earlier about having your record officially announced and the long wait for it to be made official.

Tommy Hughes: I left it all with Eoin to sort out, so I was happy enough to take a back seat and I am over the moon that this has been made official and it will be in the Guinness Book of World Records next's really good.

M McM: After all you have achieved in your career, where does this one sit?

TH: It tops them all. Any other things I have achieved, I have achieved on my own. This is a father and son, it is above anything I have ever done. This is far better than going to the Olympics in 1992. It is some achievement, something I never thought would ever happen or take place.

M McM: Eoin, you started running later in your career, so when did you decide 'we're going to go for this'?

Eoin Hughes: It was a podcast that mentioned a father and son combined (marathon), so I looked into it. I knew my Da was a decent runner and I thought 'we could do that' … and this was before I had even ran a step.

M McM: I notice you said decent...

EH: (Laughs) I knew my Da could run 2:30 and at that time it was 5:30 or 5:40 for the combined time, so it gave me a three hour mark and felt I could've done that back then, we would've broken it. But, it wasn't until I started running that I thought 'this isn't that easy' so it (World Record) has always been in the back of mind, so when I started improving and my Da came back into running, it came back to the forefront and it was something we should aim for and should be able to beat.

M McM: Was it your motivation for starting running?

EH: Not to start off, but when I did, it was the factor improve and try for it.

M McM: What about you Tommy, did you think he was mad?

TH: I definitely thought it was within our grasp and I think I can't improve. I am going over the hill and down the hill a bit. Eoin has got a lot to improve, so we can improve on the record again. If London (marathon) takes place in October, we have a good chance of lowering it and getting a far better time, that not many people can reach for a while – to set it beyond anybody else coming along.

M McM: (Laughs) Competition is a magical thing, isn't it?

TH: Of course, I live on competition.

M McM: Going back Tommy, where did running start for you?

TH: I got married and moved from Lavey into Maghera and joined the local GAA club (Glen) and I had a bit of weight on and my brother in law (Christopher Merron) was doing a bit of running for Magherafelt AC. I went out for a run with him and it ended up, as usual, a bit of a competition and I kinda beat him and thought 'I'll do a bit more here' and I realised I was better at the running than the Gaelic football, so I dropped it and kept on improving at the running. Everything just drove from there, I got my breaks and I got obsessed with everyone does, they want to get better and it went from there.

M McM: What age were you when you started the running?

TH: I was 21 or 22 and I ran my first marathon when I was 24, in 1984, and everything flowed into each other. That was the Derry marathon, I went back to Derry and a year later and won it again with a course record, so everything fell into place.

M McM: Once you have that competitive edge, is it a constant numbers game where you are trying to beat targets?

TH: You are just trying to improve all the time. I am doing that at my age, I am still trying to figure it all out and eke out any wee small things I can get a bit quicker on, but I know the older I get, the slower I get so it is a bit tougher at my age. I need more rest and at a younger age, you don't really need as much. I enjoy it, that's the main thing. If you don't enjoy it, you will just give it up.

M McM: Eoin, what are your recollections of all of this? When did you realise what was happening?

EH: Whenever I was younger, I can remember going to races all around the place, the whole family would be going to local races. I can remember the Belfast marathon, I knew my Da was good and that he was winning a lot of the races that we went to. He went to the Olympics, but it was not until I started running that I realised how good he was. My times are quick enough, but his times are still miles away from where I am at now. I would be rated as a decent runner now, but he was still miles ahead, sure he still takes half the young boys at races now.

M McM: What age would you have been when your Da was at the Olympics?

EH: I would've been seven, we were all at home and one thing I do remember is in the local town, there were these fridge magnets and one of them said 'Rock on Tommy' that is one thing I will always remember. I remember watching on television, but we didn't see him because he wasn't up there going for the gold medal.

M McM: Tommy, from your point of view, was it surreal being at the Olympics?

TH: The problem was that I got a stress fracture on my foot at the end of January and the doctor told me I wouldn't be able to recover in time. I was on crutches for six weeks for rehabilitation, but I got there. I was glad to be there and soaking up the whole atmosphere of being there. I wanted to make sure I finished the marathon on the day and have something I will remember for the rest of my life. But, I wasn't at my peak performance and was below power. If that (injury) hadn't happened, I would've been up there, that is one of these things.

M McM: There is nothing you can do at that point, with all that preparation there has to be frustration.

TH: The doctor told me I wasn't going to be there, but I was glad to be there to run in the Olympics and be an Olympian.

M McM: Running had got serious a long time before that for you. When did you really start to get into it?

TH: Whenever I got good at running, that's when it got serious. I have always loved sports and to find out I was good at one sport, that was it...that was serious, I put everything into the one basket.

M McM: What did the training schedule look like then?

TH: It was seven days a week and twice a day. I'd maybe do five (mile) in the morning and 10 in the evening, do a bit of hill work, speed work and I was reading running magazines, taking what I could use out of it and try to improve.

M McM: Eoin, you started a bit later. When did you really start to get into it?

EH: It was probably in the last couple of years, I started to get my times down. I didn't start running until I was 30, I was doing local races and doing okay. I ran for Northern Ireland a couple of times last year, so it is probably within the last year, I said 'I am getting half decent here, I am getting better' and I am at that stage where knocking on the door of getting Northern Ireland bests.

M McM: Is time on your side?

EH: Not really, I am 35. A lot of the athletes would only be finishing by now, whereas I am only starting. We'll see. There are a few examples of older athletes starting late and doing very well into their early 40s, so there is a bit of hope there, but I am no spring chicken.

M McM: I suppose you are able to tap into your father for advice on training.

EH: I have him there when I need him. Even at the start, when my legs were sore - “Daddy how long are my legs going to be sore for” so from the very basic stuff like that, until now, to training and what I should do. Even before we went to Frankfurt, he said I needed to get the distance into the legs so the body would know how it feels. We went out and did 26 miles on a nice easy run...having that advice and knowing I have it, is great. I know a lot of people would love to have that. Anytime he is at races, I am sure people are asking (Tommy) what they should be doing...I have that any time I want it.

M McM: Tommy, in all your years running, what sticks out for you above the rest?

TH: Eoin crossing the line in Frankfurt and me asking him 'did we get it (beat the record)' and him not fit to speak and I am waiting for the answer and him saying 'yeah, we got it' – that was brilliant.

M McM: I remember that picture of Eoin gasping and you have your hand on his back...

TH: I was asking him. That's what we set out for and when I passed him I was thinking 'this is falling apart' and 'how much is Eoin going to slow down' and 'is he going to drop out of the race altogether', so I am going to have to go as hard as I can go now to try to stay within the realms of the record, so the pressure was on. I don't mind the pressure on myself, but I crossed the line and waited for Eoin to come. I will never forget it for the rest of my life, the sensation of waiting around and when he crossed the line, I was elated.

M McM: For you Eoin, were you constantly looking at your watch?

EH: Dad passed me with about three miles to go. I knew how long was gone and what pace he was doing. I knew what time he was going to run, so in my head I was doing maths of what I needed to do and what I was able to do...I was struggling to get to the line. I knew if I ran a seven-minute mile from there to the finish, we'd break it. The maths equation gave me the incentive to get to the finish line.

M McM: Surely it's hard to run, never mind having to count.

EH: It was helping me though and taking my mind of the pain I was in.

M McM: I remember when you told me about the achievement and about how you were going to beat it, it was the fact you said you would do it 'easily' that jumped out at me. Do you need that as a goal, or is it something you firmly believe?

EH: It is something we believe. I should be capable of running 10 minutes quicker and even if I run five minutes quicker, that's five minutes. I learned a lot from Frankfurt, it was my first go at a marathon and mistakes were made. Give me the next one and I will learn from them.

M McM: What sort of mistakes do you mean, was it going too fast too early?

EH: One of the biggest mistakes was being dependent on my own drinks. My Da said to me before the race it wasn't a good idea. We were sub elite, so I had all my personal drinks set out on the table. The elite, there was four bottles per table, but sub elite there was maybe a 100 bottles on a big long table and trying to get your drink, while running fast past it, that was a nightmare. It played on my mind that I missed bottles, so I will not do that again. I need to get more miles in the legs, so it is those things I need to improve on and will.

M McM: Do you just colour code your bottle?

EH: Some people had long sticks with flags on them to make them stand out, but my bottle was pretty basic.

M McM: Is it now a case of waiting for the pandemic to end and see if the London marathon, or any of others will take place? You said that you couldn't focus fully until you got the date.

EH: Once we have a certain marathon (date), we can put a good training block together. At the minute, for me, it is about building back as I had took a bit of time off. I do think now, we will get a marathon this year. Athletics Ireland are allowing groups of four athletes to train together. It gives hope that in two or three weeks time, we will be able to train up here in small groups. Down South, they are allowing bigger events from August, so the likelihood of Dublin going ahead could be a possibility. I think we will get something later on in the year, so it is time to build it up again.

M McM: And Tommy, you have your own individual records to beat.

TH: Definitely, I have a 10km, a half-marathon and a marathon, I have all those to set in the over 60s (category), so I will be jumping at anything that comes along. I have broke the 8km in January, I have ran the World Record for 3k indoors, which is a bonus because I am not a track runner. I was looking forward to sweeping the board this year and then all this (lockdown) happened. Whatever comes along at the end of the year, I am going to have to go for it.

The marathon is what I want, it is the big one and any year, from here on in, the marathon is the one I am concentrating on, the other distances are a bonus.

M McM: What is the marathon time you have in your sights?

TH: The world record for over 60s is 2:36, but I want to run under 2:30. So whatever marathon comes up first, I will be trying to get into it and run it. I want to run a World Record this year and move on to next year and start again.

M McM: For the father and son target, which one would you prefer?

TH: London.

EH: We had planned for London and the way they verify the record on the day, that is our plan. That is our first choice...if it goes ahead. So, we'll see what happens.


- Father and son clinch World Record.   More...

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Conor Doherty of Derry, celebrates his side's third goal, scored by Benny Heron, during the Ulster GAA Football Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Derry and Monaghan at the Athletic Grounds.

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