This has been a breakthrough year for young steeplechaser Zak Seddon. In his own words, making the London 2017 World Championship team “was everything coming together – the pinnacle – the moment.”
His voice perks up as he explains, “I walked into the stadium with no nerves, just pure excitement.”
It was the realisation of a dream that began in his back garden, with the 23-year-old’s coach and father Jeff, a huge influence. “I started around year six, year seven, I remember seeing my dad running cross country and going to the track and it wasn’t long before I tagged along.”
As he got more into athletics and waned to get faster, Zak saw an element of challenge in the steeplechase. “It was an event I had seen on TV and thought I would like to do. We used to do it in the garden, using the paddling pool”, he laughs.
“Eventually I got a chance to race at under-17 level. It was a 1500m chase, I didn’t run too badly, and since then I haven’t tried to specialise in anything else.” Impressively, he remembers the time he ran that day in Bournemouth eight years ago as 4:27.
Zak has come a long way since then, winning a Commonwealth Youth Games title in 2011, followed two years later by becoming the European Junior Champion in Italy. He’s grappled with what naturally tend to be the biggest mental and physical challenges involved in steeplechasing; having faith in your technique and dealing with fatigue towards the end of races.
“Confidence over the barriers is key, you can’t be scared of each hurdle you jump over. It also requires a lot of strength work. I remember beating myself up about doing long sessions over hurdles. With reps of 800s over hurdles in training, hills and plyometric sessions, I would really feel the fatigue.”
Staring up a hill metaphorically too, it is understandable that Zak has questioned himself on the path to his current success. “There have been a lot of times where I felt like quitting, yet wanted to get better. You have to be careful, but my dad can tell me if I’m going too hard.”
For some competitors, the agonising battle and wait for selection can be hard to bear, but Zak’s route was a little more straightforward. “At the British Championships, I had the qualifying time already, so I knew I was going to be selected once I had crossed the line (in second place).”
Cue euphoria in a special moment at a sunny Alexander Stadium. From there it seems everything fell kindly into place. “You try your kit on, sort the training camp details and that is when it really sinks in and you do not care about anything else.
“The week before, we went to Paris and met up with the rest of the GB team. I was rooming with Ieuan Thomas, Rob Mullett and Jake Wightman. It was a morning race, so we were up early, and could eat breakfast together before and you didn’t feel lonely.
“Then you are by yourself, but my friends and family were there. I remember being at the warm up track and then looking up and seeing them watching and that really got me in the mood. I just wanted to race in front of the crowd. They exceeded everything I expected and I believe I had a good run.”
Looking ahead to next year, Zak has been training with the likes of Wightman (below) at an altitude camp in Arizona. He seems to be coolness personified, but also full of determination to build on this year’s wonderful experience and prove it wasn’t a one off. “It has given me inspiration going forward. I am excited about how things can be different compared to last year when I had an achilles injury and couldn’t run for a while.
“But it’s going really well. We are all around the same age and living together and we are all very motivated, so you can rely on the others to keep pushing you hard. It is about building a base for next year. Having had the taste, anyone would want more.”
“Obviously the Olympics is a main thing, but what I really want to do is to bring home a medal for the event.”
Raising the profile of the steeplechase is obviously important to Zak, and he hopes the number of Brits selected for London will increase standards at all levels. “That’s perfect, it is one of the main goals. There are also lots of people just behind us, bringing competition to the event.”
But whatever changes around him, as he recalls the paddling pool days and early races for Bracknell Athletics Club, there is clearly one constant that Zak is particularly proud of.
“To do the journey with my dad is the best. We work well as a team. He wasn’t a coach before and I wasn’t an athlete before, so as I get faster, he gets better as a coach. Being father and son, we can speak any time, any place. There are no boundaries.”