The Star Runner on Penn’s Track Team Wears What During Races?

Tommy Awad, who finished third at NCAA indoor national championships this year, runs in glasses. He says he doesn't even notice them when he runs.

Tommy Awad - Penn Relays

Photo by Don Felice/Penn Athletics

When Tommy Awad passed runners from Indiana and Georgetown in the final 100 meters to win the 4xMile at the Penn Relays last month, it was Penn’s first Championship of America relay win since 1974 — and the team’s first win in the 4xMile since 1950.

Awad has picked up quite a few accolades in his running career at Penn. He finished third in the mile at the NCAA indoor track championships this year. He helped Penn to a No. 21 rank nationally in cross country, and the team’s first berth in the NCAA cross country nationals since 1975. He holds the school record in the outdoor 5,000 meters, the indoor mile and the indoor 3,000 meters. He could run in both the 1500m and the 5000m at NCAA East Regionals and Championships, held later this spring.

And he runs in glasses.

That makes him unique among elite runners. When Awad set Penn and Ivy League indoor records this year by running a 3:57.03 mile in February, a poster on the LetsRun messageboards had one question: “Fastest Mile Ever in GLASSES?

It turns out it wasn’t. Another Ivy Leaguer, former Princeton runner Craig Masback, ran a 3:52 in specs in 1979. But Awad is still just a senior in college — he could break that record. But how did he start running in glasses in the first place?

“I have really bad eyesight, I have astigmatism, so my eyes are pretty bad,” Awad tells Philadelphia magazine. “When I was younger and I would run cross, I couldn’t really see the ground in front of me all that well. I tried racing without them a few times, and I was trying to get contacts for a little bit but I couldn’t get fit for them. I would try to run races in these bad contacts, and I would be going down hills and I was like, ‘Well, I can’t see the ground, this is not good.’”

Despite the uniqueness of his look among elite runners, Awad says running in glasses doesn’t pose much of a problem. In fact, he almost never notices it.

“I don’t even think about them when I run,” he says. “I don’t even know they’re there. Maybe once or twice I notice that someone hit me and they almost fell off, but that’s about it. It’s not really something that I feel going up and down my head or anything.”

His current pair of glasses are made by Nike, but they’re not specially made for running. He just picked them out at an eyeglass store near his apartment because he tried them on and liked them. Does his choice of running eyewear make him a target for trash-talking from rivals?

“I get the random posts online about how ‘Awad’s quirky and weird’ and I guess the glasses contribute to that,” he says. “I’m not the coolest person in the world, but I think the glasses just add to the demeanor.”

Sometimes, the message boards are a bit nicer, though, like this post on LetsRun last month: “Has anyone ever seen Tom Awad and Bruce Wayne in the same place?

Awad says he will attempt to run professionally after NCAA nationals later this spring. He’ll also run in the 1500 meters in an invitational at Swarthmore on Monday in an attempt to set a good time to qualify for Olympic trials this summer.

And, yes: He’ll be doing it all wearing glasses.

Like what you’re reading? Stay in touch with Be Well Philly — here’s how: