From cross-country and rugby via multi-events, Britain’s No.3 400m hurdler in 2013 told AW how he has achieved his current status
Seb Rodger has always been keen on sport and his first love was rugby. His dad was a very good player and he first introduced his son to the game at a relatively young age.
Rodger junior says: “I didn’t start in athletics until I was probably about 12 years old. I won the local schools’cross country, which was organised by Derek Manning, a coach at Eastbourne athletics track. He approached afterwards and said I should come down to the track. I thought it was a bit of fun and never looked back!”
The 22-year-old was initially a long-distance runner after having some early successes at cross country. He adds: “I played around with 800m and 1500m really, but I just enjoyed running. I also took part in a few summer camps like StarTrack and this allowed me to try other events such as high jump and hurdles and I loved doing those too. This is where I started doing multi-events and I started out as a very average athlete still playing rugby and not taking athletics too seriously.”
At the age of 15 he suffered a few injuries due to his rugby and so he quit the sport for good. He also snapped a hamstring when hurdling. The Shaftesbury Barnet man says: “My hamstring injury was a result in me having a big growth spurt. I feel this major injury at such an early stage has made me a better athlete – it made me so aware of my body and to be strict with rehab and stretching, which is something I’m very good at to this day!”
After those injuries Rodgers managed to come back for the last competition of that year – the English Schools combined events championships, in which he was part of the Sussex winning boys’ team. He says: “It wasn’t until I moved to my previous coach, Steve King, where I saw big improvements and had a proper structure to training. I really enjoyed the running and jumping, but struggled with the throws and in particular the shot!”
“There is no greater feeling than winning and knowing that you’ve put all the hard graft in and seeing the results”
In 2010 Rodger opened up his decathlon season by reaching the qualifying standard for the World Juniors but then failed to complete the national trials. However, after running a 400m at the British Athletics League for Crawley in 47.87, which ranked him third in the UK as an under-20, he gained a place in the 4x400m relay squad.
Rodger says: “I went to Moncton, Canada, still training for the decathlon as well as running track sessions and relay practice. I ran the heat and final and we ended up coming back with a bronze medal – this was a huge achievement and my first taste at athletics at elite level. It was even more exciting as I ran those times over 400m while still training for nine others!”
The man who did not duck under 50 seconds for the one-lap hurdles until 2013 continues: “I went into the 2011 season still training for decathlon and this was my first year as a senior athlete so the weights and hurdles went up! The hurdles weren’t a problem and I adapted very well but the shot and discus were more of a problem.
“I did my first senior decathlon at the start of the year and broke the Sussex county record, but after that I began to lose the love for the event. I had been doing decathlon for years and was just tired of it and wanted a change.”
For years many had been telling Rodger that he could be a decent 400m hurdler due to his flat speed and being good over the high ones. Rodger explains: “I decided along with my coach at the time that we would give the one-lap hurdles a go. Without any practice, we turned up at an open meeting in Kingston and I ran 54.1 seconds – I really enjoyed doing it and it felt so easy!
“Shortly after that race we decided to concentrate on the event and, although I ran a few more races that season, I improved in every one. My final race saw me clock 51.8.”
During the winter of 2012 Rodger worked particularly hard on his stride patterns and general hurdling conditioning. However, he points out: “Going into that summer season I was extremely confident, but due to terrible racing conditions I clearly underestimated the event and quickly realised that it was going to be a learning year.
“I clocked 50.50 seconds, which ranked me ninth in the UK, which wasn’t bad for my first season at the event. This year, though, has seen me really nailing my stride pattern despite some awful winter training conditions. It’s allowed me to have the confidence during the summer that I could race in any conditions and still run to my stride pattern.”
The results were clear for all to see. After a season-opener in April of 50.55, he followed up with a PB fest, including a 50.14 in May, 50.04 a few weeks later and finally broke the 50-second barrier at the England Athletics Under-23 Championships in Bedford with 49.87. Then he gained a silver medal at the European Under-23s in Tampere with a World Championships ‘A’ standard and PB of 49.19.
Going to the IAAF World Championships in Moscow was an unforgettable experience for the Shaftesbury athlete and he says: “I loved every minute of it. I made it through to the semi-finals and finished with my second quickest time ever of 49.32. My run at the Under-23s was undoubtedly my best and most satisfying performance of the year – way back before the summer campaign began my target had just been to qualify for the championships!”
He reminisces: “My first early successes must have been winning competitions like county championships and of course my very earliest memories are of winning school sports days and also that cross-country which got me down the track for the first time.
“Athletics is great because there is no greater feeling than winning and knowing that you’ve put all the hard graft in and seeing the results. This is what got me hooked from an early age.”
His favourite sessions are when he’s on the track and he says: “I love the feeling and satisfaction you get after a really hard running session and speed endurance is something that I probably enjoy the most.” However, his least favourite type of work is all the rehab and stretching. He adds: “It isn’t too bad, but after a hard session you just want to relax and recover and not spend another hour doing extra bits. I understand how important these extra things are and how essential they are to my programme though and they all help me to improve and make my body the best that it can be.”
Over the years there have been some big changes to his training after moving from the ardours of 10 events to training for just one. Rodger explains: “Going full-time allows me more time to recover. Recovery is so underrated – it’s almost a session in its own right!”
Having improved year on year, the ambitious hurdler is finding new ways to push his body in the quest to continue improving at a similar rate of knots. He adds: “The volume may go up, the weights will be heavier – there are all sorts of factors that will change.”
Coaching has also played a huge part in his development. “Having a coach is massively important to help with every aspect of training,” he says: “It’s vital to have a good relationship with your coach and I’ve had some great coaches who have pushed me both physically and mentally in every session. It’s helpful to have coaches that are motivated and driven to make you the best athlete that you can be.”
Rodger’s coach of the previous eight years, Steve King, did a fantastic job taking a skinny 15-year-old Eastbourne youngster who was struggling to break into the top-30 in the UK through to the semi-final of this year’s World Championships.
“Steve did a brilliant job as my decathlon coach and helping me to switch up to 400m hurdles,” the athlete points out. Now training at Bath under new coach James Hillier, a specialist hurdles coach, he says: “I’m now in a fantastic environment surrounded by other elite world-class athletes, which is what I need to move on to the next level.”
Rodger feels that speed is essential to be a world-class 400m hurdler. “I always think that improving my 200m time will help my 400m and improving my 400m will naturally help my hurdles time. I would like to do more races over the flat and this will be a future aim.”
TYPICAL WINTER TRAINING WEEK (NOVEMBER)
Monday: Speed drills. 6x60m easy strides with walk back (foot and ankle stiﬀ ness) 4x30m, 4x40m (over mini hurdles) and 2x4x90’s build – sprint – flow – sprint (30m, 20m, 20m, 20m). Hamstrings x 5 exercises.
Tuesday: Warm-up: 3×10 overhead squat, 3×10 hip thrusts, plank circuit (30sec each exercise). 3×6 @ 75% – clean, full squat, deadlift, bench and pull-ups. General circuit and 20min jog.
Wednesday: 3xhurdle 10 (6min), 10min then 1xfull hill fast. Hamstrings x5 exercises.
Thursday: Warm-up: 3×10 overhead squat, 3×10 hip thrusts, plank circuit (30sec each exercise). 5-4-3-2 @ 80%, 85%, 90%, 95% – full clean, deadlift, single leg press (4×4). Calf raises & hanging leg raises. Ab circuit and 20min jog.
Friday: 5x2x30m accelerations (first run with sled 20% bodyweight). 2x4x120m (2min 30sec and 10min recoveries). Hamstrings x5 exercises.
Sunday: 17x230m (2min 30min recovery) @ 28-30sec pace.
TYPICAL SUMMER TRAINING WEEK (JULY)
Monday: 350m, 300m, 250m with full recovery (20-30min).
Tuesday: Weights: (Jump squat, snatch, dumbbell bench) 3×6 @ 60% focusing on fast bar.
Wednesday: 400m hurdles work: H1, H2, H3 and 3 x H6 (race stride pattern).
Thursday: Block starts on bend (2 x flying 30’s (30m build, 30m). The flying 30m is done with timing gates.
Sunday: Rest/travel and recuperation with race reflection plus biomechanical analysis of touchdown times and running and hurdle technique. This will often dictate what we need to work on in subsequent sessions and in subsequent races.
» The above sessions are specific to the individual athlete and may not be suitable for other athletes