“It goes back to challenging myself mentally, because I never felt that I was that strong, mentally. It’s why I think I keep putting myself through these uncomfortable conditions.”
The location of Thomas Torres’s first 5k race was in the middle of the ocean. To be more specific, it took place on the deck of an aircraft carrier, during his time serving in the US Navy. “I did the longest scheduled navy deployment, since the Vietnam era, we went out to sea for ten months.” During this period, his home was a one-quarter mile long ship that housed 5000 people. As part of their daily schedule, they were given one hour to exercise. He used this time to engage in his newest hobby, running. “I ran on the treadmill, every day, for ten months.” He ran in the Persian Gulf, Australia, Singapore and Dubai, from the treadmill on the ship. The views were spectacular, and the running kept him in balance.
Thomas was a well-traveled kid. His dad worked for the forest service, as a civil engineer, and his family was constantly on the move to Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Washington and Oregon. His passion was basketball and baseball, and he had an innate love of nature. “I was just a naturalist and I collected insects and rocks.” His last two years of high school were spent in Eugene, Oregon, a running mecca and home of legends Steve Prefontaine and Alberto Salazar. However, Thomas was far from the running scene. “I dreaded after baseball practice, because I knew we had to run a half mile, I hated it.”
After graduation, Thomas attended Oregon State University, and began to put down roots for the first time in his life. He had never stayed in the same place for more than four years, so college brought him a new sense of stability. Two years into college, he changed his major from biology to psychology, and part of his reasoning came from a deeply personal place. His mother had struggled with addiction for most of his childhood, and he had seen, first-hand, her struggles. After earning his degree, he contemplated grad school to study Behavior Counseling. However, he soon had the realization that psychology was just not the right fit for him. He was unsure about what to do next. “I was kind of at a loss.” His younger brother was serving in the Army and had spent one year in Afghanistan. “Watching him come back from the war, it was an extremely emotional and inspirational time for me, to watch him come back and see the pride he felt.” This was the driving force behind Thomas’s decision to also join the military, and he chose the navy.
Over the next four years, serving in the navy, he spent 16 months at sea, and discovered his passion for running. “Being deployed was a huge mental stress, and I proved a lot to myself.” When he returned to land, he joined the San Diego Run Club, and was an eager participant. “I was raring to go. We had evening runs, at 5:30 p.m. and I was out there at 4:00 p.m.” He signed up for a marathon, and was enjoying spending time with his new running friends. About a month before the marathon, he watched the documentary, ‘In The High Country’ about a mountain runner named Anton Krupika. The seed was planted. “I can legitimately say that Anton was the one who got me into ultrarunning.” “I just loved the idea of being self-sustained, being out there, depending on myself.”
The Carlsbad Marathon, in early 2016, was the site of Thomas’s first big race. It didn’t go exactly as he had planned. “I totally bonked at mile 17, I had cramps galore.” He finished with a respectable time, and was ready to take on more challenges.
It was also a period of transition for Thomas, as his time in the military was coming to an end. The day he got out of the navy, he traveled to Joshua Tree, and spent the next four days backcountry camping and running. He needed to clear his mind and be by himself. Four days turned into three and a half months, as he embarked on a solo road trip, that took him from San Diego to Washington, over to Montana, Wyoming and down through Utah. “I ran in pretty much every national park I could find. It was probably the best time in my life.” This included Yosemite, Kings Canyon, Tahoe and Yellowstone to name a few. He also ran in his first 50k race, the Stumptown, in Portland, OR. His trip ended in Flagstaff, Arizona where he completed his postgraduate degree in Biology.
Since his marathon debut in 2016, he has stayed busy in the sport. He completed his first 100 mile race, at the Javelina Jundred in 2017. One of his top moments happened at the Phoenix Marathon, where he ran 3:00:40 and qualified for the 2018 Boston Marathon. This led to one of his toughest days of running, as he traveled to New England for the first time, to compete at Boston. The conditions were brutal that day, with frigid temps, driving rain and 35 mph winds. “By mile 15, I couldn’t feel my fingers and I couldn’t eat my gu gels because they were frozen.” He remembers taking that famous left turn on Boylston. “I was so dehydrated and malnourished that I started seeing double.”
One of his top ultra memories was completing the rim-to-rim-to-rim at the Grand Canyon in about 13 hours. “It was 30 degrees when we started on the South rim, and we ran down past Phantom Ranch and when we got to the bottom it was 92 degrees.” The highlight for him was hiking back up to the South Rim when it was getting dark. “You would just look up and it was pitch black, and you would see these tiny headlamps zig-zagging up this wall.”
He has a busy year ahead, including a move to Mammoth, CA. “That’s my goal, to discover new terrain and set my foundation for the next five to seven years.” He feels fortunate that his job as a field biologist will allow him to “not only work in the field, but discover new trails to run too.” His upcoming race schedule includes the Mountain Lakes 100 in Oregon. He’s also hoping to run a sub-three hour marathon, and get some redemption in Boston. His dream race is the Leadville 100, and he hopes to run Western States and the Vermont 100 in the future.
We wrapped up our conversation, circling back to his motivation to compete in a sport that, from the outside, seems to involve so much pain and suffering. “It goes back to challenging myself mentally, because I never felt that I was that strong, mentally. It’s why I think I keep putting myself through these uncomfortable conditions.”