Meet the man who ran the Tour de France

Peter Thompson hit the headlines this week as he completed his epic run of the Tour de France route. In total, Thompson clocked up 2,082 miles, climbed 45,000 metres of elevation and ran around 30 miles a day, raising more than £19,000 for his chosen charities. Read what happened when our Section Editor Rick Pearson caught up with Thompson before he set out on his adventure –

Completing the Tour De France is one of the greatest accomplishments in sport. Now imagine swapping the carbon fibre bicycle for a pair of legs and running it. That’s what Peter Thompson is attempting. The 33-year-old from Bournemouth began his 2,069-mile journey on May 19, seven weeks ahead of the Tour de France riders, and hopes to arrive on the Champs-Élysées before the peloton catches him.

A sub-2:30 marathon runner, whose previous challenges have included running a marathon in all 44 European countries in 44 days, Peter is no stranger to amazing feats of endurance. But even by his standards this is ambitious. Consider the statistics: 27,000 metres of climbing (more than three Everests); 70 consecutive days on the road; 30 miles of running a day.

While the Tour riders have domestiques and team buses, Peter’s setup is somewhat more basic. ‘It’s just my girlfriend and an estate car,’ he laughs. ‘The Tour is a race I’ve really gotten into over the past few years. Last year, I remember watching it and thinking, “I wonder if I could run it?” And, as stupid as that idea sounds, it just kind of stuck in my head and never left.’

How does a runner go about training for such a challenge? ‘I ran every day and did three strength-training sessions a week in the gym, predominantly for the downhills, which scare me just as much as the uphills,’ says Peter. ‘I did 80-90 miles a week and just tried to be as prepared as anyone can be.’

It’s also a race against the cyclists, with Peter needing to complete the course before the Lycra brigade catches up with him. ‘It’s a key part of the challenge: it will keep me focused when I’m struggling. I gave myself a seven-week head start and am hoping to finish just two days before them. To do that, I need to average 30 miles a day for 70 days.’

Even a casual observer of the Tour de France will know it’s gruelling. There are endless inclines, daredevil descents and something called ‘Hors Catégorie’, a term for climbs so steep they’re deemed to be beyond categorisation. On a bike with 21 gears it is a brutal undertaking; on foot, it is beyond ludicrous. ‘I’m not someone who has done lots of hill work in the past,’ says Peter, ‘although I did once run up Mont Ventoux [one of the toughest climbs on the Tour]. It’s the biggest unknown for me: how my body will deal with so many ascents and descents. I’m really looking forward to Alpe d’Huez, which is one of the classic climbs on the Tour. Whether I’m still saying that when I see how big it is remains to be seen, but I’m hoping the views on the way up will help with the motivation.’

Peter will need all the motivation he can get because, unlike the riders, he’s unlikely to enjoy crowd support en route. ‘I have my girlfriend with me, and various friends will be joining me to run certain sections of the route, but there will be vast stretches of time where I’m on my own with my thoughts. It’s those moments that will be the most difficult.’

To get through them, Peter need only think of the reason he’s doing the challenge: to raise money for – and awareness about – mental health. ‘The challenge is called Marathons for the Mind, and I’ll be raising money for Mind and Liveability. Both charities do such incredible work and they make a difference to people’s lives. I think we can all be more open about our mental health: listening to others when they’re feeling down and opening up when we’re feeling down. Thinking about how this run is helping great causes is a huge motivator for me.’

Peter is not the first person to run the Tour de France; US ultrarunner Zoe Romano completed the course in 2013. ‘She did it in 79 days,’ says Peter. ‘She’s an incredible person, but it proves it can be done. To know that somebody has done it before does make it easier.’ But what if he doesn’t make it? ‘You can do all the preparation in the world, but you never know what’s going to happen. I know that mentally I’m very strong in terms of pushing myself, but there are some things you can’t physically overcome. If I get overtaken by the riders, I’ll be disappointed, but at least I’ll have tried. But whatever happens, happens. I’m scared but I’m also hugely excited.

Find out more about Thompson's challenge, and sponsor him at marathonsforthemind.com.