Singapore #Fitspo of the Week: Tom Greene

·16-min read
Tom Greene is a business development manager at an international law firm.
Tom Greene is a business development manager at an international law firm. (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)

Life goes beyond the digits on the scale and your body is capable of so much more! Yahoo’s #Fitspo of the Week series is dedicated to inspirational men and women in Singapore leading healthy and active lifestyles. Have someone to recommend? Hit Cheryl up on Instagram or Facebook!

Name: Tom Greene (@tomgreenethumb)

Age: 37

Height: 1.78m

Weight: 61kg

Occupation: Business development manager at an international law firm

Status: Married with three kids

Food: I haven’t eaten breakfast in about 15 years (except on holidays) so I suppose you could say I follow a form of intermittent fasting, but it is never about weight. I train fasted/starved 80 per cent of the time. I try to eat a balanced diet especially with a race coming up but I also live life in moderation and life is short so I let myself enjoy food.

Exercise: I run between 80 to 90km a week and it is a mixture of base middle to long runs and track or road sessions. I played a lot of football up until early 2020 but COVID-19 and a big injury ended that. I’m always active, always on my bike with the family or playing some form of sport. It’s been my life since my first memory and so I have incorporated it in growing up and being a father. As my wife likes to tell me, I am an overgrown child. Outside of my family, sport is my life.

Tom feels that running has always been there for him when things were tough.
Tom feels that running has always been there for him when things were tough. (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)

Q: What are your backgrounds in sports?

A: I thrive on playing sport and that came from the earliest of ages. I grew up in a sporting family and my parents we both exceptional at sports. My dad was a high-level rugby player and cricketer and my mum was lacrosse and more endurance, so it was in our DNA. It was wall-to-wall sport and my parents never shielded away from coaching, motivating us, driving us for hours to an event, or waiting in the Scottish snow as we ran over hills. They harnessed our love for sports and I now pass that down to my kids. It started with my parents and I can never thank them enough for that and the time and effort they gave all of us growing up. As a parent now I realise what a massive sacrifice that is to your time and dreams.

I have a younger sister and older brother who are extremely sporty as well. An interesting fact was my sister was Kate Middleton’s (the future queen) hockey captain at university. Growing up with two older brothers was not easy for her but every game of cricket in the garden or family run on the beach she was there right alongside us pushing. She a very special person and has always felt like my twin.

However, it kicked into gear and has continued with my older brother. He’s three years older than me and is without a doubt the most dedicated and driven athlete I have ever known. So all I’ve tried to do during my life is try and hang on to his coattails. My brother has had some serious success in running and put in some serious dedication but he’s also had some really serious injuries along the way. There’s no doubt that without those setbacks he would have featured in the Olympics or something of a similar standard. So I suppose I had to be good just to keep up with him and my chosen route was to be good at every sport and not just good but highly competitive in every sport I competed in.

Running, football, cricket, rugby (until I stopped growing and everyone else continued) tennis, squash, golf, basketball, hockey, track and field even ultimate Frisbee took a serious role in my life for a couple of years. I was/am sports-obsessed and it all came from my family, our bonding over sports, and my desire to compete. I found the time from morning until hours after the sunset to just practise. I was lucky enough to have a fair amount of success at either international or regional and county level in most of these sports. Football was always my biggest passion but I was probably more successful with running.

When did you get serious competitive in running?

I was really young and following my brother. When you live with your hero and they are also the person that races with or against you then you just gravitate towards that sport. For us running was our commonality and it was a family bond we all shared. On a selfish level, I love the pain of running. It has and does always make me feel alive and that came from a very young age.

I grew up in St. Andrews (Scotland) and we had a ridiculous running club there that had produced Olympians and national record holders. Week in week out, from the age of six, I was surrounded with some of the best in the UK and of course my older brother so it naturally just rubbed off on me. I keep saying naturally because that’s a big part of my story. I find sport easy, it comes naturally, and so there have been times where I have just coasted along and not been dedicated but still produced impressive results but never taken it as far as it can go. That’s is the biggest regret of my life. I should and could have been a pro sportsman, but I just didn’t put the dedication in as a young adult as my brother did. It was too easy to be good and not great.

Running has always been there for me when things were tough. Through breakups, academic or work stress, health issues, and life battles that we all face. It’s odd to say but running is a dear friend of mine and it's never let me down. I’ve let it down and not paid it as much attention as I should have at certain points in my life, but it has always been there three steps outside the front door.

How do you find time to fit your training into your hectic schedule?

I get asked this a lot and it’s an interesting one. A lot of people talk about there being so many hours in a day and “just get on with it”, but I think you have to have a real desire or reason to put in the extra hours because it's hard. I’m still not sure if my desire comes from making my kids and family proud, because I like to win or if I’m still trying to prove that I can be the best and compete no matter what my age says now or in 20 years. It’s an obsession, there is no doubt but it’s an obsession that I don’t allow to distract me from my family and being a dad to my three young girls. I’m a dad first and runner second no matter how many times I just want to get out there and run and improve.

So I fit all training in around the family and never ask them to bend to my wants. It’s a slightly unorthodox way to train but I only get one shot at being a dad. I also look at competition as external, so a race or a football game or a track session. However, I also look at it as internal and against my own psyche. So when the inner me says I’m tired or I’m not going to training, I go out harder. I think that’s a big part of why I run. It’s solo and I am fully responsible for my performance.

Tom's most memorable run was the Marathon Des Sables 2007, in which he completed a 251km ultramarathon in six days through the Sahara Desert with his brother and a friend.
Tom's most memorable run was the Marathon Des Sables 2007, in which he completed a 251km ultramarathon in six days through the Sahara Desert with his brother and a friend. (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)

What is your most memorable race to date and why?

Easy. The Marathon Des Sables 2007 that I ran with my brother and a friend. It’s a six-day, 251 km ultramarathon, which is approximately seven marathons in seven days through the Sahara desert with temperatures reaching above 50 degrees. You carry all your own equipment on your back including food, clothes, rationed water, a flare, venom pump, sleeping bag; basically anything you need to literally survive for the week.

The terrain is mainly rolling sand dunes and mountains and if you’ve seen the English Patient or Laurence of Arabia then you will understand what I mean. If you are running in dunes then every step forward is three back and when you look out and see just mountains in front it is soul-destroying. It just seems insurmountable and at the end of the day, you sleep in Bedouin tents on either sand or rocky floor. Sleep was not something we had a lot of.

It stands out for so many reasons and not because it is the hardest race in the world. I was going through a very difficult period in my life, I suffered from clinical depression and had been since my late teens, so you could say I was trying to escape by venturing into a dangerous race in the Sahara. I suffered a really bad injury on day 3 of the race halfway where I basically bust my knee but still had four marathons to go and I could so easily have said I’m done and shot my flare into the air, been helicoptered out and people would have understood.

However something changed in me there and then and it was almost an out-of-body experience and I made it to the end of day 3. With my team's support and my brother – who’s a doctor – they strapped me up and I kept going. I ran on one leg for the remaining four marathons and finished it. I couldn’t let anyone down but it was the first time in my life where I couldn’t let myself down and giving up no matter what happened was not an option.

I met so many amazing people and it just spurs you on. That experience changed my life and will continue to shape it until the end. You have so much in you that you don’t know and no matter how dark things are there is always hope and light but the first step needs to come for you, unaided.

Any interesting anecdotes about your running journey?

Too many to mentioned and some are probably unprintable. The running community is made up of an interesting bunch and I think we are all a little odd. You have to be to find passion in the simplest form of exercise there is. I think running and life are so similar. You have so many races and some you will be prepared for and some you won’t. Some you will perform well in and some you won’t. You will have setbacks, injuries and other priorities but there are other races ahead to get it right, and build confidence just like life and I love that.

Are there plans to take running to the next level?

Oddly the older I get the better I become. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not as fast as I was over 5km was but there are many different types of running and I am starting to find form in distance running, like ultramarathons. I am focusing on marathons or further over the next few years and really want to see how far I can go. I hold a few records in Singapore, like the quickest time solo from North to South, and West to East of the island but my brain never stops thinking about elite challenges.

I’m 37 and I have a lot of drive at the moment but that won’t last forever. There are a few records long and short that I have my eye on and when travel comes back then I’ll be heading further afield to test myself more. I have plans to make a career out of running but I think in the form of motivation and coaching. I coach as well at the moment and it's so fulfilling to see others succeed and better themselves. So if I can give back in any small way to what running has given me over the years and the dark places it has brought me out of then I will spread the word.

What are your goals next?

At some point, I will attempt the “The Real Round The Island” record which is 166km around Singapore in a single attempt. I have some great people helping me out with the attempt and I’m looking to complete it in 14-16 hours including breaks. I’m also looking to try and break the quickest 100 miles run in one attempt in South East Asia.

It’s exciting but also big ultra runs are very much unknown, you never know what your body will do and it's not as if you can stop and try again tomorrow. It’s also so much easier to run these races in a non-tropical environment, as the heat and humidity become such negative factors. However, I have been in Singapore for nearly eight years now and it just becomes part of my running adventure.

Tom plans to do the “The Real Round The Island” run, which is 166km around Singapore in a single attempt.
Tom plans to do the “The Real Round The Island” run, which is 166km around Singapore in a single attempt. (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)

When did you feel the least confident about yourself?

I suffered from depression since I was 16. Actually, I’m not sure you are ever fully free of the disease but I was at my lowest point in my early to mid-20s. I drank way too much, I had negative and harmful thoughts, I was extremely selfish and to be honest, I pushed a lot of people away.

t was at its worst during and just after university. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life after university and I came from a very successful family. I almost used that as an excuse to just not try and simply say, “I’m no good and I’m just a failure so the world would be better off without me.”

I was lucky, my family stuck with me and never wavered but the only person that could start to overcome my condition was me. My adventure in the desert kickstarted the process but I had to do a lot of looking in the mirror and have very brutally honest conversations with myself. It was a long road and it was extremely painful but I made it and I made it honestly. I haven’t looked back since but will always be there and I use running as my therapy.

To me running 20km on my own will solve anything. My wife and three daughters have just cemented that it was all worth fighting for. I want them to be proud of the man I am and what I do and achieve in life. I want to leave a mark on people. I want to help improve people in a way that can add value to their lives and families.

Was there any adversity in life you had to overcome?

I’ve had a fantastic life, a fantastic upbringing but like everyone I’ve faced tough times. However, I was once told I was built to be resilient and I suppose a strength of mine is getting up when I get knocked down. I always keep going and in a positive direction, like running.

My depression and countless bad injuries have been a constant but I was a commercial airline pilot and was unable to get a job in 2010 because of the losses suffered by airlines due to the eruptions of Icelandic volcanoes (Eyjafjallajökull). It was a tough time, so I had to either wait it out for a few years or crack on. I moved to London and got a job in recruitment and fast forward 11 years and I’m now in Singapore, married to the most impressive person I know, have three beautiful young daughters and a successful job. I don’t look back and I don’t miss it. That’s not to brag but to say if I can do it then anyone can. I believe in the impossible and honestly, 12 years ago I thought my being here was impossible, so I just want to give back.

Are you satisfied with your body now?

Until I started the Fitspo process I had only ever looked at my body as a tool for sport. What it looked like superficially never crossed my mind. If it achieved the goals I had and was at its peak for that stage of my sporting life then that’s all I needed. So right now at my age, my body is where I want it. Am I satisfied? I’m performing well in races and record attempts so it’s working. There are always improvements but that will be running focused and not how I look.

Have you ever received any comments about your body?

I have somehow surrounded myself with much bigger friends whose main source of exercise is the gym and lifting weights. So I am normally the smallest in the group but I suppose, I have built my personality to account for that so that I don’t get lost. So apart from getting told I look healthy and in shape then no not really and I am ok with that. I am just not wired that way and if my wife is happy, then I am happy.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be and why?

To be kinder to myself. I am my biggest critic and I can be very harsh on myself. If I had one wish then it would be to go back to 16-year-old Tom and say that it’s all going to be ok. It may seemingly take longer than others to figure you and life out but you will get there and you can do it with your head held high. The road will be rocky but that will make you who you are now and help you to be the best person/husband and parent you can be.

My grandmother used to tell me, “Everything always happens for a reason.” and I didn’t buy it when I was younger. Now I preach it to my kids and whoever will listen. I would also tell him to stick with running at university because actually, you’re not too bad at it.

Singapore #Fitspo of the Week: Tom Greene.
Singapore #Fitspo of the Week: Tom Greene.(PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)