Phil Sesemann: Junior doctor targeting Paris Olympics after London Marathon breakthrough

Having ‘Kipchoge’ by his side in preparation for his breakthrough London Marathon debut, Phil Sesemann now hopes ‘Haile’ can help him on the road to Paris.

By Nick Westby
Monday, 4th October 2021, 6:15 pm
Updated Tuesday, 5th October 2021, 8:48 am
Magnificent seventh: Leeds junior doctor Phil Sesemann crosses the line to finish seventh in the Men's elite race during the Virgin Money London Marathon on Sunday Picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire.
Magnificent seventh: Leeds junior doctor Phil Sesemann crosses the line to finish seventh in the Men's elite race during the Virgin Money London Marathon on Sunday Picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire.

For British marathon running’s newest star is not your ordinary athlete. The elite sportsperson’s routine of training run, nutritional diet, massage and then bed does not cut the mustard for the man who finished seventh in the most prestigious marathon of all on Sunday.

Sesemann is a part-time runner and part-time junior doctor, splitting 116 hours a week training with 30 hours or so on shift in Accident and Emergency at St James’s Hospital in Leeds.

And when he does run, it is not in a high-altitude camp in Kenya like the professionals he will now seek to match on a more frequent basis. Sesemann runs on the Meanwood Valley Trail and around Eccup Reservoir, his training group comprising amateur runners from Leeds City Athletics Club and his faithful wisla spaniel cross dog Kipchoge, named after marathon world record holder Eliud Kipchoge.

Olympic dream: Leeds runner Phil Sesemann is targeting the Paris Olympics in 2024 after his successful London Marathon performance. Picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire.

“I haven’t done a 26-miler with Kipchoge yet,” says Sesemann of his training partner, “but she has done 20-milers and 21-milers and has been perfectly happy with those.”

Kipchoge proved a great inspiration to Sesemann in lockdown, providing him with a training partner when no human contact was allowed and keeping him in shape for the track season, which was his plan for 2021. When that didn’t work out, he turned his attention to the marathon. A smart move on Sunday’s evidence.

“Back in March I’d hoped to do the Olympic marathon trails but didn’t get a pace so went for the indoors instead.

“After that, I tried to target a track season which didn’t go very well, so I set my sights on the marathon for the past 17 weeks.”

That involved upping his training to 116 miles a week on average, 133 miles at its peak. “There was a bit less quality and more training volume,” he says.

Through the summer, while the runners he would race alongside in the London Marathon were on their high-altitude training camps, Sesemann was still forging his career as a doctor.

Earlier this year he was on the pyschiatric ward, through the summer it was in A&E.

“I was working all through June, July and August at St James’s Hospital predominently, but in September I dropped my hours significantly to reduce the risk of catching Covid so close to the marathon.

“I find that a few shifts a week is actually good for the structure of my week and helps me build my training around that and gives me something else to focus on. Because running wise there was a lot of focus on that one day, quite a lot of pressure.”

But Sesemann delivered, those hours around Eccup with Kipchoge at his side providing the aerobic base to negotiate the 26.2 miles around the capital in two hours 12 minutes 58 seconds.

“When I looked at the field beforehand I thought there was a chance I could get top-10 if everything went right on the day, but seventh was beyond any dream scenario I was imagining in my head,” says the Leeds doctor, who also turned 29 on Sunday. “I was happy with the time, especially given how hard the headwind was in those final six miles.

“I felt my training had gone well so felt I could run a time like that, or quicker, but that wasn’t to be on the day but I’m not going to complain after my first London Marathon.

“It was a brilliant experience, so much fun. The last 10k was really tough, it felt like a bit of a death march but getting to the end was a brilliant feeling.”

It is an experience and an achievement that could change his perspective. His time on Sunday was 88 seconds shy of the qualifying mark for the 2022 World Championships, but it has given him a hunger to go quicker.

“It has changed my focus,” says Sesemann, who can now even consider the Olympics in 2024.

“I’ll probably hold off applying for a training programme with my medical career a little bit longer, and then still work in A&E whilst training and try and have a marathon career. We will see.

Paris is definitely a dream and something I would look towards and base my training and racing calendar around trying to qualify for.

“I’d have said seventh at the London Marathon wasn’t a realistic prospect at the start of this year, so you never know. I’ll definitely give it a go.”

And he will have another dog by his side helping him

“We did get another dog in August, a puppy, and called him Haile after Haile Gebrselassie, so she took a lot of the pressure off and gave me something else to think of. She has run a mile with me. Hopefully we can get her out running soon.”