Athlete Feature 49 - Tom Purnell - USA Athletics Scholarships

Athlete Feature 49 – Tom Purnell


Harvard may have the enviable reputation as one of the world’s finest academic institutions but it’s more than just a one trick pony. There are currently four Bits plying their trade in Cambridge, MA. Tom Purnell is one of them. Here’s his story.

*We spoke to Tom just before NCAA XC in late November.

tbUSA: How did you get started running?

TP: I started running back when I was only 9 years old. My first competition was an 800m cross country race, where I came in third. I was a year younger than the guys ahead of me so figured I was pretty good. I joined Stroud Athletic Club later that year and have been running ever since.

tbUSA: How did you end up at Harvard?

TP: Originally, I had decided after careful thought to remain in the UK for university, as I value my academics very highly and figured that I would do better by not adopting the party lifestyle that I had heard so much about from others I knew who were already in the US. I had hoped to study Physics at either imperial, Bristol or Bath, but after receiving a promising Facebook message from the Harvard coach, I decided to go on a recruiting visit there. I loved what I saw and decided to take the opportunity.

tbUSA: What is a typical day at Harvard like?

TP: On a typical day, I’ll get out of bed at around 8am for my short morning run and then go to breakfast before heading to class at 10. If possible, I’ll try to squeeze in a nap after lunch before I head across the river to the track at 3. I’ll get back to Dunster, which is my assigned house (upperclassmen at Harvard are assigned to 12 different houses), at around 6 and eat dinner there. Then I’ll head to the library if I have work and try to be in bed before midnight.

tbUSA: Do you find it hard getting a balance between your academic and sporting commitments?

TP: At first I found it tough, often finding myself up in the early hours of the morning doing work for weeks at a time. However, by the time I became a sophomore I’d figured out a pretty good routine in order to maximise my work efficiency, allowing myself to get a good amount of sleep and free time whilst getting the most necessary of my work done.

tbUSA: How has your season been going so far?

TP: My season has been pretty mixed in terms of success. I started training for cross country quite late in the summer due to qualifying for outdoor nationals, and this led to a pretty terrible start as I came in 21st at Harvard v Yale. Recently though I feel like everything is coming together in training. I came 8th at Ivy League champs which, although I would have liked better, was a big improvement on my previous races of the season.

tbUSA: What are your aims for the remainder of the current season?

TP: My aim for the remainder of the season is to qualify for nationals, preferably with my Harvard teammates. If I make it to NCAA’s, then I’m just going to give it all I’ve got and see where that puts me. Hopefully I will be able to top my abysmal 198th place from last year.*

*Tom did. He finished in 170th place.

tbUSA: Would you recommend Harvard to a prospective student athlete?

TP: I would. The track and cross country programs have a fantastic set of facilities available to them and are improving in their performances every year. There is also a great college experience to be had at Harvard outside of running. Also, I feel it’s important to not be put off by the academic reputation of Harvard in terms of how good a training environment it provides, as there is a huge amount of support to make it possible to do well both in running and academics.

Predictions – NCAA XC

Men’s Team – Colorado

Women’s Team – Michigan State.

Men’s Individual – Ed Cheserek

Women’s Individual- Kate Avery

Highest placed British/Irish Men’s Individual (yourself excluded) – Marc Scott

Highest placed British/Irish Women’s Individual – Kate Avery.

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