We talk to a marathon man who has thrived on being able to focus on a solitary goal
Much is written about the paradox of choice. American psychologist Barry Schwartz argues that a dramatic explosion in it has made everyday decisions increasingly complex. In fact, there is a point at which excessive choice becomes detrimental to our psychological and emotional wellbeing.
For Phil Sesemann, the marathon – and the single-minded focus it required – was the perfect antidote.
“It made a massive difference [to have one goal],” says the 29-year-old who clocked 2:12:58 to finish seventh – and first Brit – at the Virgin Money London Marathon in October.
“I’ve found over the last four or five outdoor track seasons, even indoor, the goal is to get as fit as possible and essentially you have specific races you’re targeting, but if you don’t go well in those there’s always another race.
“You could finish a track season and as long as you run a PB you’re happy, which I always find a bit strange. You could have 10 rubbish races and in one race it clicks and you walk away thinking that’s a successful six months of work. But was it, really?
“I always found that whenever I went into a track season, after the first couple of races I was always thinking about the next season and what I could do better through the winter. I was always looking past it.
“It happened this year. I paced for the Cheshire Elite Marathon and I got to 19 miles and felt quite good. After that it was really tough not to look past the summer toward an autumn marathon. Suddenly you’re turning up at a track session not focused on what you’re doing, but thinking about six months down the line.
“With the marathon, you do all that training and if it doesn’t go well on the day – albeit the training does help you for the future – but basically it’s been for nothing. There was no second chance, which was really good.”
Sesemann, an accomplished track runner who represented Great Britain over 3000m at the European Indoor Championships in March, knew he was well placed to step up to the marathon distance.
“My long runs have always been a strength in my training and I’ve always enjoyed those, so I knew I’d probably enjoy the marathon training,” says the Leeds City athlete, a proud former member of Blackheath & Bromley.
Although he just missed out on the World Championships qualifying standard (2:11:30), he was reassured to know it was possible.
“I’ve run fairly high mileage for quite a few years, but just to know that I was robust enough to be able to handle 110/120 miles per week in peak weeks, knowing that my training was responding and it was still progressing – I knew the opportunity was there and I wanted to give it a go.”
With a top 10 finish in a Platinum Label Marathon – a World Athletics’ qualifying route to the World Championships, albeit not meriting automatic selection by British Athletics –choice, of the good kind, remains.
“I’m not sure yet [what’s next],” says Sesemann. “I definitely want to be at one of the champs next summer – whether that’s European, Commonwealth or World – but ideally I don’t want to run another marathon before then.
“With the European Champs being a team competition there are quite a few spots there, so the hope is I might get one of those. It might be the case that five guys turn up at the trial and smash it, and it might be that I’ve taken a risk and I’ve not got in. But my coach is very clear that I could do the trial and it could go well, but the champs would be my third marathon in 10 months and it would be very tough to actually compete there and give a good account of myself.
“He’s very much of the opinion that I’m not just going to turn up – he wants me to give it a really good go.”
» This article first appeared in the November issue of AW magazine, which you can buy here