London Marathon: Evans in the running for birthday bonus

Mike Rowbottom talks to Lowestoft's favourite son who is planning to take the streets of London by storm tomorrow
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The Independent Online
Paul Evans' face, gaunt testimony to his current fitness, twisted uncomfortably this week as he recalled the bad moment he had experienced four years earlier while sitting in the same room at the Tower Thistle Hotel.

On that occasion, the head of marketing for the Flora London Marathon, Dave Bedford, had confided to a press conference that, in his opinion, Evans was favourite to win the 1993 race.

Bedford's confidence was understandable given Evans' performance the previous year when he had finished fifth in his first London event and then 11th in the Olympic 10,000 metres final.

But his words caused Lowestoft's favourite son, sitting beside him, to look rather sick. Evans was already beginning to feel the effects of a sore throat which eventually contributed to him withdrawing after 14 miles.

"When Dave said that I thought, 'I don't need this'," Evans recalled. "If it had been any other race in the world I would have pulled out, but because it was the London Marathon I just hoped that when the gun went, something might happen. I got a mile down the road and the writing was on the wall..."

As it turned out, the race was won by a Briton - Eamonn Martin, making his first attempt at the distance. That summer, Evans' frustration was compounded as he dropped out of the World Championship marathon in Stuttgart suffering from dehydration.

Four years on, however, he enters the London event with a real chance of victory after an outstanding sequence of performances over 26.2 miles - fifth and third in the last two London races, second in the 1995 New York Marathon, and winner in Chicago last October.

If Evans is to mark his 36th birthday with what would be his most prestigious victory to date, he must first overcome the challenge of another Briton, Richard Nerurkar, who has his own strong prospect of winning. The two men, racing each other over the marathon distance for the first time, contrast compellingly.

Nerurkar, a 33-year-old Anglo-Indian with language degrees from Oxford and Harvard, has a running style as fluent as his tongue. Evans, a former shoe factory worker and part-time footballer for a Jewson Eastern League side, habitually proceeds with teeth gritted and face contorted - effort personified.

The contrast extends beyond social background and running style. While Nerurkar has chosen to concentrate on running in championships since taking up the marathon in 1993 - this, indeed, is his first big city race - Evans has turned away from championship marathons since his traumatic experience in Stuttgart. A family man with two boys - Kane, aged nine, and Justin, 11 - he is unabashedly in it for the money.

"One of my main reasons for competing is financial," he said. "I'm quite honest and open about that. If some people don't like it, that's too bad."

The cash he has earned with his recent performances - his Chicago win was worth at least pounds 20,000 not counting additional bonuses - has financed a move to what he describes with a grin as "the posh part" of Lowestoft. "We've got the Broads on one side, the beach on the other. And the golf course is nearby," he said.

Evans has come a long way in the last seven years since finding himself without a job when the town's Bally shoe factory was suddenly closed down. It was an experience he will never forget.

"Looking back, it was the best thing that ever happened to me because it pushed me into full time running. But it didn't feel like that at the time."

Evans had worked there for 10 years since the age of 19, from 8am until 5pm, putting on soles and heels, checking outgoing shoes for scratches or mistakes.

"I thought to myself, 'this is hard work, but it will do. I'm safe.' Then we were all called in for this meeting and told that was it. Finito. They were closing down.

"My wife, Karen, wasn't working at the time because the children were so young. I needed to put food on the table. I thought 'What do I do?'"

The answer was: put more effort into the running. Within two years, the club runner was at the Olympics. "I am the local boy made good," he says.

"Without beating my own drum, everyone in Lowestoft knows Paul Evans. I like to think I'm doing it for the town. I am. But I feel very privileged, very lucky to be getting paid for something I love doing. I have to pinch myself sometimes that it's all happening.

"I believe everybody is good at something, but a lot of people don't find out what it is. I still see a lot of my old mates from the factory. Some of them have got better jobs. But a lot of them haven't."

He has left the factory, and the football club, far behind, moving into a newer, but lonelier life. "I missed the camaraderie for a long, long while," he said. "I still do. All that factory talk - 'what did you get up to at the weekend?'..."

He still likes to pop down and see his old team, Kirkley, play on Saturday afternoons. "They are a nice lot of lads, and they look like winning the league this year," he said, adding with a another of his grins: "It all took off when I left."

True enough.

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