The Victory Lap: Phil Sesemann🏆
This is a historic moment for The Victory Lap as this week we are joined by Phil Sesemann, our first international athlete ever interviewed! During our coverage of this year’s London Marathon, where Phil ran a 2:12:58 to finish 7th overall as the top men’s UK runner, we learned not only that he was a super fun dude to root for — but he was already a subscriber to The Lap Count. His progression and ability to balance a ‘normal’ job with his aspirations as a runner is an inspiration. We have become big fans because of his transparency on social media, but this interview only further validated that he’s worth continuing to follow!
You’ve recently run 62 minutes for the half and 2:12 for the Marathon. Did you envision having this much success so quickly after moving up to these longer distances?
So right at the end of 2019, I ran 28:24 in the 10k. Before that, if you'd asked me — exactly two years ago — I probably wouldn't have expected to have this level of success over long distances. But when I did run that 10k, I kind of thought, well, that's a pretty good time — if I kind of translate to the long distances, I could be fairly good at them.
I really wasn't originally thinking I was going to be a long distance runner. I always saw myself as like a 1500 or 5k guy. But my coach kind of told me — I think it's probably about two years ago — I see us moving up to the marathon. And that's kind of the plan at the moment. I was a bit taken aback by that comment. I thought well, we haven't exhausted much effort at the 1500 and 5k and I saw that more as where my talent was.
But I always knew that my training has been high volume and that's always what I’ve enjoyed doing: the long runs and that type of training and that kind of singular focus of one race rather than getting fit for a season and then throwing it all at a wall and hope some of it sticks.
That’s quite a bit of 1500 meter running. I don't really like the idea of doing 20 races in a season and if one goes well and you run a good 1500 meter time, but all of the nineteen others are crap, that you say that it was a successful season. That, to me — there’s just not a lot of fun in that. I want to be good every time I step on the line rather than five percent of the time.
I definitely noticed that change while looking at your race results. A couple years ago you had a ton of 1500, 3k, and 5k races and now your schedule seems to have much more purpose and direction with the smaller amount of races. Do you think the likelihood of getting sponsored has increased with your ability to show up consistently at these longer distances?
Yeah, I definitely think so. I mean, I think for me, especially for the build up for London, I had two key races: The Big Half half marathon (which was my debut back in August), and then my goal of the London Marathon. They were the only two races that mattered in that build up.
I knew those were big participation races with high visibility, both live on TV and that definitely gives you an opportunity to kind of be noticed and be sponsored if you perform well at these. They’re well seen on the domestic running scene in the UK as well, not just by those close in to the sport.
The opportunities are there in the longer distances, especially the marathon, with shoe deals and whatnot. Definitely more so than on the track. I mean, on the track I didn’t get a snip of anything and my results were good. They weren’t great, but they were still pretty good, but you couldn’t get anyone to throw you a pair of free shorts running what I was, to be honest.
Well we all know if you were an American you’d probably have a contract yesterday with your recent performances and how good your social media is — which is slightly odd because as a country, we care much less about athletics than you guys as a whole. Kyle and I think you might have the best “runner’s runner” social media we’ve come across. It’s fantastic. Do you use your openness as a confidence booster showing competitors that you’re fit, or is it just a space for you to be educational and honest with your followers? How do you view it?
That’s nice to hear and high praise. I appreciate that. I think it’s more just being open and honest and sharing a little bit. I've worked as a junior doctor, I've worked part-time in my time as a junior doctor and I've got the dogs and I kind of see them as a big part of my enjoyment. And what I want to do is encourage others to not stick to what people expect you to do — you should be doing what you want to do.
If that means your house isn't as big as it would be, or your car isn’t as fast, then that's fine. Just do what you want to enjoy doing and not do what's kind of expected. And I see the value in sharing what you're doing and know that there is value to brands and potential sponsors. And the more I do and the bigger following I can build, the more fans I can get and engage, then I can work less and spend more time doing what I enjoy doing, which is basically seeing what the limit is of how far I can push this running thing and how fast I can go.
There is some interest from some brands post-marathon, but none of it's based on the social media or the Strava. It's very much just okay, you had this good result now, you are quite visible now.
The Strava isn’t for trying to push for sponsorships or anything. I see it as a useful tool to look at and a good social media. I enjoy looking at other people, what they're doing, coming out with new routes and new training ideas. And I don't feel like I should do that without sharing mine. I feel like it’s quite a synergistic thing. And if I'm benefiting then other people should have the opportunity to see what I'm doing.
Is there any educational or physiological knowledge of your junior doctor profession that you take over into your professional running or would you consider them fairly separate?
I would say they are fairly separate. I'm not that scientific or even physiological-minded when it comes to my running. The running is definitely based more off feel and just what we think worked in the past, we just kind of do it again. Me and my coach aren’t reading physiology textbooks and trying to work out what's the perfect lactate levels to be running at, at this certain pace on a Monday morning kind of thing. It’s definitely a case of okay, just do more than I've done before and don't get injured and don't push too much.
Now with where you are on the current UK marathon list and the next three years all having World Champs or the Olympics, what’s your biggest goal in this next cycle and what are the little steps you think you’ve got to take along the way?
I mean, the long term dream and goal is Paris.
Despite not currently being in the top three, I definitely feel like I've got scope for improvement on my next few races and it will be really exciting as a few new guys are coming through who are going to be doing marathons soon, who’ve run a bunch of good half marathons in Great Britain.
It will be quite fun to kind of be at the forefront of that as guys are pushing UK marathon running on for the next few years — I definitely want to try and be at the front of that, to be honest. So for me, that's kind of the main goal, and definitely in the short term it’s looking at a championship next summer.
Fortunately, as a British athlete, there's the World Championships, the European Championships and the Commonwealth Games, and there's a lot of opportunity there because they are within a month and people aren’t going to be doubling up in marathons. So the hope is that my run has secured me a spot in one of those. And if that happens then brilliant. I'm not planning to do another marathon before then.
My coach feels like it could go really well and I could solidify a spot on the team. But then you turn up next summer and it's your third marathon in 10 months. And are you really in the best possible position to actually perform at the Championship that you qualified for? Or are you just kind of turning up for the vest? And that's not that's not the goal I have.
I dream of making the Olympic team and yeah, you'd do everything for the vest there, but I would say the other championships, whilst I hold them in high regard, I don't really hold them higher than, say, the London Marathon, or maybe Berlin Marathon. If I wasn't to get selected, then there's an opportunity for other marathons next autumn that I could go to.
I really like that approach because of how your selection system works. You get to go try and prove that you can show up and perform in one of these championship races this year with the correct training cycle and preparation. Hopefully that bodes well with selection for Budapest and Paris.
Yeah, and I'll give my coach credit for that, because he was the one who thought that through and got the message across to me because I met with him the week after London and I said, I want to do Valencia in eight weeks time. So yeah, he got quite strict and he said no to Valencia: “You’re not doing it. You're going to go to altitude three times before the next championship or the next marathon and you’re going to learn how to utilize altitude and what effect it has on you. And we'll do that through 10K and half marathon target races rather than a marathon.”
Where will you be going for altitude camps?
So the plan is to go to Kenya in January. There's a couple of guys in my club who also fancy going. And then go to Font-Romeu in the Pyrenees, most likely, mainly because those are easier to reach and then in the summer, I can drive across with my dogs and take them. So I won't have to worry about being away for a month for those two.
Let's get to your dogs. You actually train with your two dogs Kip and Haile. That’s insanely fun. How many miles a week are they running with you?
So Kip runs all my easy miles unless something's cropped up and she can't. So it depends how many easy miles I'm doing, to be honest. In the biggest weeks, I'd be doing 120 miles, maybe 130, and probably 40 of that would be a fairly decent clip. So she would probably do 80 those weeks, maybe a little bit more. There was one week in the build up where I was tapering for a race, so a lot of easy miles and no hard training. And then when I was at the race, my brother took her in our camper van to a national park and he was training for a marathon as well. So she ended up clocking up 103 miles that week on a seven day rolling.
Do you have to keep track of their mileage? You seem pretty intune with it and I’m sure they absolutely love it.
Yeah, they love it. And I mean, you don't have to keep track in terms of the load because it's very simple: you just look at how tired she is. And if she looks tired you ease up. I've never been that bothered about how much to feed her, either. I just look every day how lean she is and I think, well, maybe she'd do with a bit more. Nothing special with how I feed her and how I train her.
I add her to all my runs on Strava because she pretty much covers the same distance. She rarely takes detours. She might sprint ahead or lag behind, but she's pretty much staying on the path most of the time. So I can be fairly accurate with how much she’s doing, and same with the little one as well, Haile. She’s started running now as well, and is probably up to about four or five miles a day on average.
Is this something you’ve always wanted to do or did it start by accident?
No, it was always one of my ideas that I'm going to get a dog and I'm going to run with my dog. But I didn't think Kip would do quite so much to be honest, and be able to do twenty milers and kind of really do whatever you felt like.
You get a lot of information about being careful with their joints and not pushing too hard when they're young. When she was about six, seven months old, when she first came for some runs, , I was feeling a bit guilty for doing four milers at seven-minute pace with her. And then one day I'd gone and put a Garmin on her when she was playing a game of fetch, and she covered four miles in 24 minutes. So it’s like well, clearly she can do a fair bit. And so that kind of gave me the answer, that I could keep pushing it and see where she could get to.
You also travel quite a bit in a camper van with your brother, are you guys ever living and training out of that for long periods of time?
From 12 weeks out to 10 weeks out from London I did two weeks in Scotland in the van this year, and then mainly it's kind of like three to four day trips. Long weekends and stuff like that. I'm not living out of it. I do have a house. But I do spend quite a bit of time in the van, especially in the summer months when it's just long, long days and pleasant weather. We're actually off for a few days tomorrow, so I'm quite excited for that.
Thanks so much to Phil for spending time with us for this interview. You’d be doing yourselves a disservice by not following his Instagram and Strava. We wish Phil the best of luck in his next build up and cannot wait to see him, Kip, and Haile in Font-Romeu!