Phil Sesemann, the junior doctor out to make his mark at the European Indoor Championships

Phil Sesemann was at a gym session with his coach Andy Henderson at the Carnegie School of Sport in Leeds a few days ago when the message came through that could alter the next few years of his life.

Saturday, 6th March 2021, 6:00 am
Phil Sesemann after the Percy Pud in 2019 (Picture: Steve Ellis)

The text was from Marc Scott of North Yorkshire, one of the rising stars of British long-distance running, telling Sesemann that he was withdrawing from the Great Britain and Northern Ireland squad for the European Indoor Championships, meaning the former was next in line.

After what felt like an age, confirmation from the selectors came through and the 28-year-old Sesemann, a part-time runner and full-time junior doctor at St James’s Hospital in Leeds would be representing his country at a track event for the first time.

“I wasn’t expecting it at all,” reflects Sesemann, just a couple of days before taking the startline this morning for the heats of the 3,000m in Poland.

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Phil Sesemann won a cross-country title with Great Britain's Alexandra Bell (Picture: PA)

“Why would Marc in the great shape that he is in not want to come back from America for it? So I had put it out of my mind after the disappointment of finishing outside the top two at the trials.

“I’d started focusing on other things, so it’s a nice little bonus.”

That is an understatement, as it could be so much more for Sesemann, who for his entire adult life has combined his passion for running with his determination to make it as a doctor.

Born in London, he was a swimmer in his early years before switching to athletics when he hit double figures.

“I think swimming helps at an earlier age developing that aerobic base,” he says. When he moved north to begin studying to be a doctor at the University of Leeds, he tried the sport most young adults try when they migrate to Leeds – triathlon.

“I didn’t like the cycling,” he admits. “But again, the aerobic training from the triathlon saw my running improve and I just thought this is what I want to do and I’ve been all in on the running since 2013.”

He says all in, but in reality he fits running every day around his shifts as part of the psychiatric team at the hospital, which most often are the sociable hours of 9am to 5pm three days a week, but on occasion can be three 12-hour night shifts in a row.

Through it all running was a hobby, first with a group of like-minded students, and then with Leeds City Athletics Club in 2018, when the combination of structured competition and the social aspect of it saw his performances improve.

“Leeds City has been great,” he says. “In 2019 we had a really successful year and it provided me with a good balance of trying to perform at a high level on the national scene and also enjoying sport, spending time with my training partners.

“When you’re coming towards your late 20s, that keeps people in sport.”

Representative honours with Great Britain in cross-country events alongside fellow Leeds athlete Alexandra Bell followed, and even in lockdown he was able to keep running, even if his training partner was a little unorthodox.

“I’m lucky to live half a mile off the Meanwood Valley Trail so I was able to train on there with my dog, Kipchoge,” he laughs.

“I was quite fortunate that even in lockdown when you couldn’t train with anybody else, I could still exercise with her. It did wonders for my motivation, getting out with the dog on the trails every day. It was one of the simple pleasures.”

Like the runner she was named after, Kipchoge also did wonders for his form, helping Sesemann set a personal best of seven minutes, 51.27 seconds at the trials in Manchester. Good enough only for third, but good enough for his piece of mind.

Now given a second chance at the Europeans, he is eager to seize the moment.

“I’ve decided that when I get on that startline, past results go out the window and I’m just going to get in the race and compete and do my best,” he said of this morning’s heat.

“I’ll approach Saturday as if that’s my final; be confident and be in the race rather than watching what happens.”

After this weekend, who knows? Sesemann concedes he may leave Poland incentivised to make a real fist of his athletics career; whether that be in the 3,000m, the 5,000, the 10,000 or even the marathon.

“Being on the team this week I’ve already learned how single-minded the other athletes are,” he says. “They’ll happily leave family, leave pets, leave homes just to go on training camps for months on end, whereas that’s something I’ve not been keen to do. Maybe that’s something I need to consider if I really want the top performances.

“For the next few years running could be the focus. I might be doing medicine til I’m 70, so I might as well enjoy it.”

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