There’s life in the old dog yet! Norfolk triathlete, 43, earns GB place after proving doctors wrong

Bungay Black Dog Running Club athlete Tom Pullinger has been selected to represent GB in the half ir

Bungay Black Dog Running Club athlete Tom Pullinger has been selected to represent GB in the half ironman championships. - Credit: Nick Butcher

Triathlete Tom Pullinger has landed a dream Great Britain call-up – almost two years after being told to hang up his running shoes.

Bungay Black Dog Running Club athlete Tom Pullinger has been selected to represent GB in the half ir

Bungay Black Dog Running Club athlete Tom Pullinger has been selected to represent GB in the half ironman championships. Tom out training with his two sons Fran (10) and Ellis (14) - Credit: Nick Butcher

The 43-year-old will make his GB debut at the European middle distance (half ironman) championships in Italy on May 24. And the father-of-two's surprise international bow arrives as he continues to defy doctor's orders.

Pullinger was told the shattering news in 2013 that a niggling hip problem would force him to call time on his career. But the Bungay Black Dog Running Club (BBDRC) member has had the last laugh after 24 months of hard graft paid off in sensational fashion.

The Harleston athlete said: 'I went to see a physio as my left hip had been playing up and he told me I had arthritis through over-use. He basically told me I'd never run competitively again and that I'd be a fun-runner at best.

'I was totally devastated about it. I delayed my place at the 2013 London Marathon for a year. With a bit of slow running for a couple of months I guessed I might be able to do it. I knew I wouldn't be near my best time but I just wanted to do it as I knew it might be my last race.'

Bungay Black Dog Running Club athlete Tom Pullinger has been selected to represent GB in the half ir

Bungay Black Dog Running Club athlete Tom Pullinger has been selected to represent GB in the half ironman championships. - Credit: Nick Butcher


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The BBDRC captain and coach completed his fourth appearance on the capital's streets for the 26.2-miler and success soon appeared over the horizon. An age-group triumph at September's Eton Dorney middle distance triathlon earned Pullinger (40-44 age group) a slot to appear on his biggest stage yet.

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Hard graft pays off

Fitness fanatic Tom Pullinger is perfect proof that age is no barrier to sporting success.

Bungay Black Dog Running Club athlete Tom Pullinger has been selected to represent GB in the half ir

Bungay Black Dog Running Club athlete Tom Pullinger has been selected to represent GB in the half ironman championships. - Credit: Nick Butcher

The Harleston athlete was far from a teenage talent at school and didn't even take up running until he was 30. A rapid rise to prominence still didn't look like arriving after a miserable first London Marathon experience in 2007. But that struggle further fuelled the now 43-year-old's desire to make strides forward in his new hobby.

Pullinger said: 'It was horrendous, it really was. I just didn't know what I was doing. I thought I had trained for a 26.2-mile race but I just got it all wrong.

'It took me something like five hours and 45 minutes to complete and I walked the last 10 miles. It was a nightmare and I was absolutely blown to pieces. I thought, 'I want to be able to do better than this', so I joined Bungay Black Dog Running Club (BBDRC) and by about 2009, after some solid training for a few years, I started to get some decent times at races.'

That progress was knocked dramatically off course in 2013 when a niggling hip problem saw the auditor forced to defer a place in the capital's race. While that news came as a source of frustration, the BBDRC captain and coach soon discovered something far worse. Medical advice suggested Pullinger would not only fail to make the start line 12 months later. But, in a crushing blow, the endurance specialist was also told his days of pounding the tarmac were over.

Pullinger missed nine months of his high-intensity training programme before lacing up his running shoes again.

Those nervy first steps back on the road were tentative. Distances became shorter. The stopwatch was left at home. But that sensible approach paid off and a fourth appearance in London appeared over the horizon.

'I certainly surprised a few of my club runners by making it,' said Pullinger.

'I just wanted to enjoy it. I was taking videos and a few photos and it was all quite laid–back. I got to halfway and I felt all-right. I just kept going and going and when I finished I felt fine. After three to four months of very, very slow progress my hip pain had gone. What I hadn't realised was that I'd actually done a massive amount of base endurance training, and after that the personal bests at different distances quickly followed.'

That 'breakthrough year', as the late bloomer describes it, also saw the man who defied the doctors make massive improvements in triathlon competition – a multi-sport event which involves cycling, swimming and running.

Age-group success at September's middle-distance triathlon in Eton Dorney saw Pullinger (40-44 age-group) earn a prized Great Britain place at the discipline's European championships in Italy this May. And the Black Dog skipper admits he is loving the 20-hours' worth of hard graft each week that is helping speed up his preparations to appear on the biggest stage of his life.

The veteran, who will swim 1.2 miles, cycle 56 and run 13.1 to complete the half ironman race, said: 'I cycle to work three times a week which is about a 26 to 30-mile round trip.

'At lunch I'll often use our on-site gym or go for a run. And I'm not adverse to going for a run at midnight either. I love running but I really have grown to love triathlon even more. Being able to push yourself and enjoy the discomfort is why I do it.'

Inspirational father paved the way for Tom

The impending arrival of two sons Ellis and Fran helped Tom Pullinger realise he had to improve his health.

Seeing his father David still taking on marathons aged 60 also helped as Pullinger junior decided to follow his dad's footsteps in the early 2000s.

The Great Britain triathlete, who thanked Norwich's Sweatshop for sponsoring his new race shoes, said: 'I was so inspired by my dad – who once beat me in a sprint finish – for being so active well into his 60s. He was, and is, a great motivation for me.

'If he could run I thought then why shouldn't I? I was an asthmatic old smoker who had two boys on the way. I thought I needed to change the way I was living so I started to run and I've really enjoyed it.'

Ellis, now 14, and 10–year–old Fran are as active as their father and the three males in the house are giving all the backing and support they need by the woman of the household.

'The boys are keen swimmers, runners and they play football too,' said the man who is married to Vicki.

'I don't know how my wife copes with it all. When we're going out the right kit bags are placed by the door with a water bottle and an energy bar. It's like a military operation and she does so well to know when and where we are going.

'It's great to see the boys being active and they and Vicki are desperately excited about me competing for GB because they know how hard I've trained for it.'

Do you have a great sporting tale to tell? Get in touch with gavin.caney@archant.co.uk

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