The 42-year-old on how shoe technology has allowed him to try and break barriers for older athletes

Chris Thompson may be in the twilight years of his career but is not planning to stop anytime soon, ahead of his fifth London Marathon on Sunday (April 23).

The recently turned 42-year-old first raced at the London Marathon in 2014 when he clocked 2:11:19, yet his personal best over 26.2 miles was set in 2021 when “Thommo”, at the fledgling age of 39, ran 2:10:52 at Kew Gardens. That time was an M35 British record and saw him qualify for his second Olympics after representing Britain over 10,000m at London 2012.

With athletics having evolved hugely in the last decade, from greater understanding around recovery to the introduction of carbon plated shoes, athletes can now push the boundaries much more at an older age.

Thompson, a European 10,000m silver medallist from 2010, believes that he can be a trailblazer for athletes who are in their early 40s, proving that what wasn’t possible when he started out in the sport is now largely because of the shoe technology.

Chris Thompson at Kew Gardens (Mark Shearman)

“I think the marathon now is a completely different event,” he says. “When I ran in 2014 and clocked 2:11, I brought the 5km/10km intensity into marathon training, which was tough because the shoe technology then didn’t give you as much time to recover then as it does now.

“I was feeling a lot in sessions and back then you had to put that down to how adaptive you were in training. You were never running your fastest time on the first marathon and you needed at least two or three races behind you before your body let you go in a way.

“Now you’re getting much closer to race speeds within a session and can get personal bests in sessions – even at my age. For me, I’ve got to be careful how I deal with that to get the best out of myself out on race day.”

Thompson is coached by Alan Storey, who has also trained both Sir Mo Farah and Emile Cairess. The trio were together at the press conference ahead of this year’s London Marathon.

Like Thompson, Farah is also in his 40s and the pair will be going after Andy Davies’ British M40 marathon record of 2:14:20, which was set in Seville in December.

Chris Thompson, Mo Farah and Emile Cairess (London Marathon Events)

This will be the third marathon that Thompson has raced in super shoes and he will be wearing On’s Cloudboom Echo.

“Adjusting to that [how quickly you can recover between training sessions now] is a shock to the system and it’s really confused me,” he adds. “To put it into context, you can feel when you’re hitting a red line in training. So when me and Alan [Storey] talk after a session, we don’t talk about the actual session as much compared to figuring out how much recovery you’ll need.

“Is that one, two, three or four days? I’m finishing sessions and I can’t read that and I’m coming back after two days and doing stuff that I think shouldn’t be possible.

“But that doesn’t necessarily mean that adds up to a great race. You have to do more in training and it has to be at a much higher intensity. It’s about finding that balance and I didn’t know for example, until I got three or four miles into a session on one particular day, that I bonked. I didn’t see it coming because I didn’t understand the feedback.

“How can I approach this year’s London Marathon? I’m having to be open minded because I don’t quite know how to ‘massage’ the race. In some ways it’s been great as I feel a bit reborn as I’m discovering new things and it’s exciting.”

Chris Thompson in 2018 (Great South Run)

Sports stars breaking the boundaries of what’s possible in your twilight years has occurred in a number of sports over the past few years, including Tom Brady (45), Roger Federer (41) and Serena Williams (41).

Thompson wants to see how long he can stay at the top level and provide both data for On Running and inspire the younger generation, in an age where athletes will train and run in super shoes.

“For me to learn [how to push the boundaries] is to actually race,” he explains. “It’s almost like an experiment to see what I can discover and then I want to use that to help teach others. Last year was frustrating but I hope this year can be a springboard.

“In my mind I’m trying to create a bit of a mindset that athletes in their 40s can do things in the sport. There have been examples but the shoes now have helped keep athletes at that age in the game. Off the back of what I’ve discovered with On is trying to help our athletes with the shoe tech and how can we push the limits of what’s possible?

Chris Thompson (photo: Mark Shearman)

Chris Thompson in 2015 (Mark Shearman)

“He’s not quite the level of athlete that I am [Tom Brady at 45]! That’s [American Football] an impact sport and it’s pretty brutal on the body. It’s hard to compare sports but On have given me the opportunity to see how far I can go with this and I’m not here as an old athlete making up the numbers, I’m here to compete.

“I think I can genuinely run well [at the London Marathon] and I want to use this as a way for the next generation to see what they’ll go through and what to expect.”

Inspiration will not come from afar. Thompson’s enthusiasm for the sport is unwavering and the fact that his mum is doing the London Marathon for the first time this year will provide extra motivation.

READ MORE: TCS London Marathon preview

Capturing memories is as important for him as performing to the best of his ability.

“It’s one of the biggest road races in the world and the badge of honour to run London is amazing,” Thompson adds. “In my first race back in 2014 I was really emotional because I had just completed the course. It knocks you in a way you don’t quite realise.

“I want to stay in the sport and stay relevant. I’ve dipped my toe in coaching and there will always be an affinity to keep that side of my brain operational. I don’t think I’ll ever be a full-time professional coach but I just want to continue to keep my mind sharp and relevant long into the future.”

» Download our April “marathon special” issue  here

» Subscribe to AW magazine here