Philip Sesemann: from trails to 2:12 marathon

The top Brit in last year's London Marathon on his canine training partners and his love of off-road running

Philip Sesemann

by Paul Larkins |

Kipchoge and Haile are, if their constant surges and all-out sprints over the crest of any hill that dares to get in the way to be taken into consideration, clearly very talented runners. They move with an effortless grace, with a spring in their stride and at a pace that even Philip Sesemann, the recent seventh place finisher in the 2021 London Marathon, can’t hope to match.

And when Philip does actually take the lead, Haile is only too keen to nip him on the elbow as a sharp reminder to make sure he knows his place when it come to who’s boss on the trails.

Kipchoge and Haile, of course, are not humans in this instance. They’re dogs. But even Eliud Kipchoge, the first man under two hours for the marathon, and distance running legend Haile Gebrselassie, would struggle to keep up with this pair. And if you’re in any doubt of their abilities, check out Kipchoge’s Strava account; 80-mile weeks are a regular occurrence. Haile on the other hand is just a puppy and more of a sprinter with modest 20-mile weeks.

But both are amazingly energetic dogs and keen to join Philip on just about every mile he covers – most of which are on the trails. Indeed, for a road runner with such an incredible string of personal bests to his name – a mile close to four minutes and a marathon in 2hr 12min 58sec – Philip has a wonderfully laid-back approach to his training. He says it’s all about having fun. Forget times, chasing the stopwatch and endless laps of the track. No, “the biggest reason I run on the trails is because of enjoyment,” he says nodding to the woods and trails snaking off in every direction. “It’s 70% of the reason that

"I run,” he says, modestly not mentioning that for the other 30%, he’s run for Great Britain indoors on the track over 3000m and England on the road and cross country. And of course, there’s that World Champs qualifying performance thanks to his top 10 finish in one of the world’s biggest races.

“I did do marathon-specific stuff for about 12-14 weeks,” he admits, almost reluctant to reveal he spent a few months away from what he truly loves, off-road adventuring. But not that far away. True, he ditched the gnarly stuff he visits in the Lakes and the Peak District for the well-groomed trails of the North Yorkshire Moors but he was still very much off-road for much of what he did. “I needed to run on surfaces that allowed me to get into the same rhythm running on the road uses,” he says. “Plus, the soft surfaces are more forgiving so I can actually run more miles.”

But he’s most definitely back in the world of more testing terrain now. Indeed, two words – a name so familiar to trail runners – quickly crop up in any conversation about how and why trail running is so much fun. Bob Graham. “I’ve checked out bits of the course and I’m nearly ready,” he says, insisting that this isn’t a record attempt. Far from it. “I’ll never be competitive on the trails,” he insists. “I just love to run on them. Trail running for me is purely enjoyment and I don’t have any ambition to be competitive. I’ll definitely leave that to other runners!”

It’s a world apart from his everyday job as a locum in A&E and even his running background as a fast school age runner in South London. “But once I got Kip [choge] I realised it was so much more fun running off-road and that’s when we started to go to the Dales.”

It’s moved on from there and now thanks to his trusty camper van, and a shift pattern in the hospital that is suitably forgiving, he can head out from his Leeds base to the Northumberland coastline, the Lakes, the Peaks or the Dales all within a couple of hours. “It’s pretty much perfect,” he laughs as he chats about how great it is to run in Edale in the Peaks. “Such great running there,” he says.

It's refreshing to chat with someone so positive. Whether it’s recalling a 5km road race in Armagh “tearing around five laps as hard as you can” or talking about the benefits running on soft surfaces can have for your body, it’s rare to meet an international athlete quite so comfortable about their sport. Even more so when he reveals he’s had dreaded plantar fasciitis for the best part of eight years now.

“Every now and then it flares up and I can’t run, but I try to keep going as much as I can. I don’t think it’s good to stop so I keep loading it,” he explains, sprinting off with his training partners as if to emphasise how effective that self-help has been. “I do single leg calf raises and isometric exercises, but it’s all about keeping it mobile,” he adds.

For runners, plantar fasciitis is one of the most common injuries and any training forum is full of questions on how to deal with it. Here you go; keep running, but make sure it’s off-road and you’re 90% of the way there. “Trails are just so beneficial,” says Philip. “Yes, there are lots of different benefits – soft surfaces are good for you legs and joints – but more than anything else it’s enjoyable!”

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