Fast times for professor Sancton Wood and Cambridge and Coleridge athlete Jonathan Escalante-Phillips in a summer to remember
If the cumulative improvement in five different racing disciplines is almost three minutes in a summer, he doesn’t need a math teacher to explain that the season has been successful.
However, it helps if the athlete in question struggling with the stopwatch is in fact a math teacher.
Calculating the average progression of personal bests, Jonathan Escalante-Phillips, director of mathematics at Sancton Wood School, on average, over five distances, improved by 34 seconds in 2021.
It came at a time when, as he approached his 30s, he was starting to wonder if a step towards the marathon might be necessary, but he was someone who – in a relative sense – was a latecomer in athleticism.
“I had run a few cross country races in elementary school in grades 5 and 6 in Australia, but basically I hadn’t run since then,” he says.
“I had played football, a bit of table tennis, but I had fallen in love with football and I was really a lazy teenager.”
The inspiration for getting off the couch came from a visiting uncle from Australia, who had also taken to running later in life.
“He said, ‘Come on boy, get out the door, I’ve got this three mile loop that you should be able to do in 18 minutes,’” says Escalante-Phillips.
“I dragged myself around the block and I think it was 24 minutes – something that I ran for the three miles and was very discouraged.
“But I admired my uncle, he was a real role model to me, and I thought ‘he thinks I can do it so I’m going to go see if I can really do it.
“I spent the next month trying to improve my loop about three miles around the block, and I went from there.”
When Escalante-Phillips first joined Cambridge & Coleridge AC, it wasn’t a natural talent who left instantly and won top prizes.
But the appeal of the sport lay in the varying ages and abilities of the limbs, which led to a sociable environment in which to train – be it ages 12 to 40, and a mishmash of road runners.
Finding athleticism at the age of 17, not having been jaded by cross country in the winter and school or regional championships in the summer, meant that the exponential improvement curve did not run out of steam as d other distractions loomed on the horizon.
“At 17 or 18, it’s totally reasonable that after five or six years you hit a tipping point,” he says.
“It coincides with growing up, meeting girls, going to college, partying, etc.”
“You get that culmination of all these other exciting things that happen with the fact that the sport you play isn’t improving you massively anymore.
“While I didn’t have that because I was improving. By the time I hit the plateau, I was 23, 24 and still enjoying sports and enjoying going out for a run on my own without needing to chat with my friends, which I like too.
As Escalante-Phillips puts it, the call was “not someone making amazing brownies at the end of a workout to show up,” it was enjoying running.
Falling in love with the “unhealthy atmosphere” of football, athletics came at the right time to be a breath of sporting oxygen.
“I really love going out and I feel calmer after running now,” he says. “I know it’s basically good for me.”
What is very clear about Escalante-Phillips is that the motivation to do well comes from a competitive nature.
“My whole family is ridiculously competitive,” he says. “My mom is super competitive.
“It was passed on to me. “
It would seem, however, to be fair to say that the greatest competition is with himself.
He talks about landmarks on these tracks early on, when he knew what time he would hit, creating mini targets along the way.
“I was planning things very carefully for the routes I was doing and I was trying to fight back,” says Escalante-Phillips.
“At first I had this naive expectation that I could go out every time and take a second off.”
He was also realistic. There was no aiming too high too soon.
This leads Escalante-Phillips to wonder if if he spent a little less trying to ‘take a second of my time around the block’ and had more important goals at events such as the County Championships, it would have led to something bigger.
But these are only “what ifs” and his approach has paid off.
The development of personal bests is where the math teacher and penchant for numbers is glaring.
Escalante-Phillips can quote times and improvements from five different disciplines out of the blue.
“I’m really happy with how this year has gone,” he says.
“It was a bit of a last chance to try to prepare for a practice… try to have so many races to see how I was.
“In fact, I went from the 1,500m to the half marathon this year, over all distances. “
He took eight seconds from his best 1,500m time to bring it to 3 minutes 52 seconds, 20 seconds over 3000m to run 8.03.19, 14 seconds over 5,000m to beat 14 minutes for 13.57, 76, one minute from the 10,000m for 29.32.69 and 1min 22sec from the half marathon for a personal best of 64.14.
Having been prompted by fellow C&C athlete Norman Shreeve to consider running for England, Escalante-Phillips did just that and was chosen to take part in the inter-zone roadhouse in Leeds.
“A lot of the racing you do is for yourself,” he explains.
“To have someone from a little outside to say that your time on your 3k was really good and we would love you to run for England is special.
“When you put on the kit and the crisp vest that you put on, it’s really nice to have that. “
It is when the question of a privileged distance arises that there is hesitation.
Escalante-Phillips, who also represented England in the Antrim Coast Half Marathon, was hopeful this year would help crystallize the plans, but it’s still a work in progress.
“I’ve always loved 5K,” he says. “I started with parkruns – it was my usual date.
“This is why the minute under 14 [5K] meant so much to me – it’s always been a bit of a target. Arguably my half marathon time puts me at the top of the UK rankings, relative to other athletes. “
While the chosen distance is still up in the air, pride in representing England has made Escalante-Phillips question whether a greater distinction is achievable.
He looked to see if he could fulfill the ambition of winning a Great Britain vest, potentially over a half marathon distance.
“I don’t think a GB vest is going to come blindly to meet me,” he adds.
“This will be something I’m going to have to work on over the next couple of years, but it’s something on my mind that would be cool to achieve while enjoying my run – that means meeting friends for a great social run in. the evening or get a PB.
It would certainly be a story for Escalante-Phillips to inspire the students of Sancton Wood.