Talent Hub Boasts Phil Good Factor

Phil Sesemann was the first British runner home at the 2021 London Marathon. We found out how the TASS-supported Talent Hub at Leeds Beckett University has helped the 29-year-old doctor realise his dual career dream.

TASS: Why did you want to pursue a dual career approach?

Phil Sesemann: Running is what I love doing. It’s my passion and what gets me up in the morning. I always wanted to push myself as far as I could with the running. In terms of the medicine, it’s important to me because I know that, for the most part, running isn’t a career. It’s a hobby and I knew I’d need a career to fall back on financially and in later life.

TASS: What drew you towards combining your passion for athletics with a career in medicine?

PS: Medicine’s always been something I’ve loved and it’s something I’ve always been more than capable of doing. I’ve always enjoyed it, I find it interesting and it’s a challenge. It’s a better option than a lot of careers if you’re an athlete as there’s plenty of opportunity for flexible working. There’s a clear career pathway in medicine which is key. Athletics can be pretty unpredictable so if your alternative career path is set out clearly it makes a huge difference. I don’t feel any anxiety about what might happen next or what’s around the corner when it comes to pursuing a career in medicine.

TASS: What’s the biggest challenge you face in terms of keeping the dual career dream alive?

PS: My career journey might be a bit slower than colleagues because I can’t always put the extra work in. But I’m still on a clearly defined career path and I can take things at my own pace. I finished my Foundation Year 2 about four months ago and I’ve been working as a locum emergency doctor. It’s very flexible. It means working less but the pay is competitive so it’s a good compromise. I can pick and choose my shifts and I generally get home on time which is hugely important as far as my running’s concerned. I don’t have to take any work home with me so when it’s time to run I can focus 100% on that.

TASS: Is your dual career path mapped out for the next few years?

PS: I’ll be looking to apply for a medical specialism at some point and right now I’m looking at emergency medicine or psychiatry. But given the success of my running I’m looking at delaying the final decision for a year or two. I can’t really get tied down to a specific medical training programme at the moment as my running schedule is so packed and so varied.

TASS: In terms of time management what advice would you give to TASS athletes attempting to juggle full-time education with elite sport?

PS: It’s just a case of making sure you’re organised and that you always know what you have to do and when. I look at my work as very similar to my training — you just have to get on with it, do what needs to be done and get through it. The races and competition are the reward for everything else. When I was younger I was lucky enough to get plenty of support from colleagues and the deanery at the medical school. Given the nature of my course I couldn’t miss exams or get extra time for exams — nothing like that — but I was able to secure local placements that were more conducive to training in Leeds.

TASS: How important is downtime to a dual career athlete?

PS: It’s vital that you find time to relax. I’ve got two dogs and I love walking with them to wind down. And there’s nothing better than watching a film to clear your head and help you chill out. I try not to stress about things that are beyond my control when I’m enjoying my downtime. Switching off is important for any elite athlete.

TASS: You have full access to the Talent Hub at Leeds Beckett University. How would you describe its impact and importance?

PS: I’m just starting my third year at the Talent Hub in Leeds. For me the biggest thing is knowing that my coach is being paid for the work he puts in with me. That makes me feel more comfortable and gives me the confidence to ask for extra support when it’s needed. I never lacked that support but everything just feels far more professional in and around the hub. I feel I can ask for more and that I have a right to expect more.

TASS: Can you detail how the support staff at the Talent Hub have helped you to progress your athletics career?

PS: With the strength and conditioning side it’s almost like I have a personal trainer! There’s someone there to set things up and tidy things away and that means I can focus fully on the session. I’m much more motivated to do the S&C because there’s a full-time staff member driving me on and putting the work in. It’s the first thing I’d sack off in the past because I struggled to motivate myself…now I’m there every week and raring to go. I also access the in-house nutritionist and that expertise really helped in the build-up to the London Marathon. We looked at different products and concentrated on the most efficient approach to refuelling both before and during the race. I’ve also used the sports psychologist and I’ve always found that side of my sport interesting. I love bouncing ideas off the experts.

TASS: And how about the physiotherapy support that’s on offer?

PS: It’s been massive. It’s difficult to pinpoint a certain thing but even just knowing that if you pick up a niggle you can get immediate and free consultations and support is a game changer. As a student, I’d often go for a weeks hoping that things would just clear up because I was worried about the cost of visiting a physiotherapist. That approach can make things worse or, at the very least, delay your recovery. So having that support has been key to my progress during the last few years. I’m not losing any days and I’m being given the best advice possible.

TASS: What do you enjoy most about being part of the Leeds Talent Hub?

PS: The whole atmosphere and culture around the hub has helped to take my running to the next level. The people around you are more accountable and so you start to look at things differently. There are higher expectations of you as an athlete and you have higher expectations of the support available. Everyone is there to perform at the highest level possible. Seeing the athletes who are better than me, doing the same things as me, fills me with confidence that I can reach the next level and the level after that. Even when my designated coach is busy I can always talk to the other coaches and know that I’ll get the very best support and advice. And being one of the older athletes I feel like I can offer my own advice to some of the younger guys and point some of them in the right direction. I enjoy that side of things too.

TASS: What does the future hold following your success in the London Marathon?

PS: I plan to target a 10k in Valencia in January and then go to Kenya for four weeks to see how I can benefit from altitude training. I think I’ll fly back via Dubai for a half marathon en route home before targeting the British Championships in May. Hopefully that will be the springboard for the Commonwealth Games or the European Championships…or possibly both!

The Talent Hub at Leeds Beckett University is the result of a collaboration between England Athletics and British Athletics, who have restructured their Talent Pathways, along with London Marathon Events and TASS.

The Talent Hubs were part of an initial 18-month pilot scheme activated from late 2019, within the UK-wide Talent Pathway, designed to support athletes and their coaches but also to provide a link between the talent/performance pathways and wider athletics and club community.

Listings photo credit: Stephen Gardner