William Thomas : Cross the lines

This week, we had the special opportunity to interview Dr. William Thomas - a Chief Teaching Officer at Designing Leaders, LLC! As one of the few finishers of the Marathon Grand Slam - which requires runners to complete a marathon on each of the Earth's 7 continents, he shares with us how he did it, and his motivations and reasons for doing what he loves despite a busy schedule!

LIV3LY: Firstly, happy belated birthday, and congrats on obtaining a slot to the London Marathon 2017! Before we go into things proper, can you tell us more about yourself?

Will: I have had a fun life, that’s for sure! Most of my professional career has been spent as a military officer; I retired from the US Air Force as a Lieutenant Colonel a few years ago. After that I taught as a professor at Georgetown University in Washington DC, but a bunch of my friends were encouraging me to move to Singapore. I had been here in 2008-2009, teaching as a Fulbright Scholar at NTU, and my friends were saying, “we thought you were moving back here after you left the military, so where are you???” I decided to make the jump and returned to Singapore at the end of 2011, working for a US consulting company. Two years ago I started my own leadership training company, and a friend suggested that since I was starting a new business maybe I shouldn’t live in the most expensive city in Asia! He was right, and so I relocated to Bangkok, where I am currently based.

LIV3LY: You started running approximately 8 years ago, when you completed your first marathon at the Marine Corps Marathon. Why did you do it, and what motivated you to keep going despite all odds?

Will: I was never athletic when I was younger. You know that kid who is always last to get picked for a sports team? That was me! Even in the military, with a physical fitness test every year, my only goal was to pass, and that meant the minimum score was all I needed. In 2007, though, I did a short deployment to Afghanistan, and the only things to do there were work and then work out, so I got into slightly better shape. I lost some weight, was feeling good, and I wanted to keep that up when I got home. I knew I should be running, but I also knew I would probably get bored and quit, as I had in the past. My friend Ethan had just run his first marathon, and he suggested I sign up for one the following year as a goal, and then tell everyone I was going to do it so I would not back out. It worked, and months later I ran the Marine Corps Marathon. After that, I was hooked! I really enjoyed the fact that I was doing something so different, something neither I nor anyone else would have ever imagined me doing. I was 42 years old, I had ignored the people who told me I was too old to be starting this, and I had set myself on a path that turned out to be very exciting.

LIV3LY: We saw that you wrote a book about your journey towards completing the Marathon Grand Slam - where runners would have to complete a marathon/ultra-marathon on all 7 continents of the planet and at the North Pole. What made you decide to start and complete such an amazing feat?

Will: My original goal had been to run a marathon, and after running that first one and then a few more, I felt like I needed a new goal, something to keep me pushing hard. As my 44th birthday approached I was looking around online for unusual experiences and came across the North Pole Marathon, which led me to the idea of the Marathon Grand Slam. Only a few people had done it — even now, only 87 people in the world have completed it — and I thought it would be exciting to go for it. When my best friend Linh came over for my birthday I sat him down and said, “I have a new goal to share with you…,” which once again gave me a sense of accountability to ensure I would not quit. I wanted to complete it by the time I turned 50, so this was something I would be doing over a few years. I ended up finishing it just 3 months after my 50th birthday with the 2016 North Pole Marathon. The Grand Slam was an incredible journey. Not only did I overcome my earlier non-athletic nature, I also got to visit some great places. My Grand Slam races were in Washington DC, Singapore, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, Cape Town, Sydney, and of course Antarctica and the North Pole. Running the Grand Slam got me to see things I probably would have never seen otherwise, and also gave me a much stronger sense of self confidence, which was very important when I started my own business.

LIV3LY: We understand that you have completed 23 marathons so far, including 4 of 6 World Marathon Majors - WOW! What was the most memorable experience you had in these 23 marathons?

Will: Without a doubt, running the North Pole Marathon and the Antarctic Ice Marathon were the highlights of my running, and indeed, among the top highlights of my life! Being in those places was like being in a Discovery Channel special: knowing you are in a place where very few people have ever been, hearing no sound but the wind and the crunch of the snow as your shoes sink in, and overcoming the challenges of climate and terrain, is all pretty amazing. When it comes to more “normal” races, though, my best memory is from the 2010 New York City Marathon. This was my first race among the Abbott World Marathon Majors, and it was unbelievably fun! The moment that sticks with me is coming off the Queensboro Bridge about 26km into the race. As we approached the turn onto First Avenue I could hear a roar that sounded like big air con units on top of a building, which was weird because it was November and pretty cold. When I made the turn I found the source of the noise: tens of thousands of people lining both sides of the street, cheering and screaming as we ran past. I had written my name on my shirt and I could hear all these people yelling my name and pushing me forward. It was so crazy and so motivational, and I loved it. I strongly urge marathoners to get out and run a big race like one of the Majors, it’s so different from any other running experience.

LIV3LY: What is your personal reason for attempting the London Marathon this coming April, and how are your preparations so far?

Will: After finishing the Grand Slam I needed a new goal, so now I am aiming to complete all six of the Majors. I previously ran New York, Tokyo, Berlin, and Chicago; London will be my fifth, and that just leaves Boston, which I hope to run in 2018 on behalf of a charity. Not only are these races exciting, they also offer a great way to see the host city from a new perspective. I have so much fun in these marathons that last year I became an Ambassador for the Majors, hoping to inspire others to give them a try. The Virgin Money London Marathon will be special for me because I am running to raise funds for the UK’s National Autistic Society. Last year, one of my relatives was diagnosed with autism, and by the time this diagnosis came he was in his 20s and his condition had already affected his education and his employment opportunities. I am hoping that with greater public awareness we can help people get diagnosed earlier and get the support that will help them lead a great life despite dealing with this challenge. What I love about the National Autistic Society is that they provide direct support to individuals and their families, everything from a telephone support line to talk people through a challenging incident, to groups that help autistic individuals develop the social skills they need to make it through school, hold a job, and lead an independent life. It’s a great organization and I am proud to be running on their behalf. Anyone who would like to help me support them can learn more here. My preparation is going well, though I’ll be honest, running in Bangkok is not always as enjoyable as running in Singapore. There aren’t as many accessible places to get out and run a long distance away from traffic…no Gardens by the Bay, no East Coast Park. I’m actually trying to schedule business trips to Singapore when my training plan calls for my longest runs! I am also spending more time in the gym before this race, hoping to strengthen my quads and my lower back in particular. Those have been problem areas for me in the last couple races.

LIV3LY: Before we end this interview, what advice would you give to people who wants to pick up the sport?

Will: Two things: first, pick a race, register for it, and mark the date on your calendar. Having a goal like that makes this more fun, and if you tell others about it, you are more likely to keep it up. It does not have to be a marathon; any race, even a short one like a 5K can be a great motivator if you have never done one before. Set a goal, achieve it, and feel proud that you did! Second, even if you enjoy running alone, consider joining a group every now and then. There are so many running groups in Singapore that accommodate all skills levels, and running with others can help you push your limits. I joined the New Balance Runners at Kallang Wave a few years ago, and I still try to schedule my work trips to Singapore so I can run with them on Thursday nights because they are just awesome. I share ideas for new runners on my Facebook Athlete page, and I invite everyone to come follow it! My book, CROSS THE LINES: A Journey to Complete The Marathon Grand Slam, is on Amazon, iBooks, and Book Depository, and I hope the stories there might help inspire someone who is thinking about taking up running.


LIV3LY: Thank you Will for this inspiring interview! We wish you all the best for the London Marathon, and hope that your exploits serve as an inspiration to all runners alike!

P.S. Follow William on his preparations for the London Marathon on his Facebook page and contribute to his cause by donating to the charity that he is running for! Links are attached below :).

William's Cause

William's Facebook page


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