Running pioneer and barefoot advocate, Bruce Tulloh, dies aged 82

Bruce Tulloh was a stalwart of the British running scene – variously a world-class athlete, coach, race organiser and author. He won his first national title in 1959, competed at the Rome Olympics in 1960 and became European 5000m champion in 1962, running barefoot.

Retiring from the track was far from the end of his running career. In 1969, Tulloh set a new record for running solo across America, covering 2,876 miles in 64.9 days. At 58, he clocked a 2:47 London Marathon, winning his age group. He also turned to coaching, has written books about running and set up the Safaricom Marathon in Kenya, where he’d worked as a teacher and coach. Tulloh continued to run in his 80s. 

Back in 2015 we spoke to Bruce about what running meant to him, below is that conversation. Our thoughts and sympathies are with Bruce's family and friends. 


What has running brought to your life over the last seven decades?

Running has shaped the course of my life. It got me my first job at Shell (I had the scientific qualifications, but being an Olympic athlete and a Cambridge Blue certainly helped). It gave me a head start, too, with the girl I met at the golf club dance in 1959 – my wife Sue – we've been together ever since. It led me to Kenya, where I started coaching, which has since been a huge part of my life. The other major influence has been the lifelong friends I have made. Most of all, though, running has given me self-respect. In running, you know that what you have achieved relates directly to your own efforts.

What motivates you to continue running year after year?

I love running – the feeling of being fit and in control of your body is something that has always stayed with me. I must admit that since passing 75, my enthusiasm for long runs has declined, but I still love sprinting on the beach, along the edge of the tide.

How did you become ‘Barefoot Bruce’?

Barefoot running just felt easier and more enjoyable on the beach and grass tracks where I trained. When I tried it at White City in 1959 at the Inter-Counties 3 miles, I ran a PB. Since then I have always run barefoot where the conditions allow it – ie, not on the road. I feel that it gives me a five-seconds-a-mile advantage – more, on some surfaces. The only disadvantage is when the surface is very hard or slippery.

What innovations have made running 'better' over the years? 

Most of the innovations are just cosmetic. It is nice that we have better material for our T-shirts, and heart-rate monitors, energy drinks and GPS have their specialist uses, but they don't really add to the enjoyment of running. Running is a pure sport, and the simpler we keep it, the purer the enjoyment. 

You ran from LA to New York in 1969. What’s your feeling on the boom in ultra running?

The increase in ultra running, like triathlon, is a function of the increasing levels of wealth and leisure we enjoy. The expansion of running into different areas gives more people a chance of achievement and self-realisation, which is the real value of sport.

Do you have any advice for ageing runners seeing their performances decline?

It has been said that success is measured by the difference between your goal and your performance. If you don't adjust your goals as you get older, you are going to be disappointed. I still time myself over short courses – 600-1,000m on grass or on the beach. If I am running more slowly, at least I am accumulating data for my long-term study on the rise and fall of a distance runner – now in its 61st year.

Have you been much affected by injuries during your running years?

I once had a bit of loose cartilage in my knee, which was treated with a cortisone injection. And I got a swollen Achilles tendon while doing 45 miles a day across the Arizona desert. Apart from that, I have never been injured. I attribute this to staying between 115 and 125 pounds, not doing high mileage – I've always believed in staying around 30-40 miles a week, with high-intensity training – and doing a lot of training on grass or sand.

What is your proudest running achievement?

Winning the European Games 5000m in 1962. The stress of competing at international level is enormous. It offers the greatest mental and physical challenge, and it gives me great satisfaction to have overcome that.

What's the single most important life lesson running has taught you?

Running has been my teacher for over 60 years. A single lesson? You can't win them all, so enjoy your achievement at any level.