Eyes forward, arms pumping and with a dip at the finish, Max Burgin crossed the line in June to become the fastest ever 15-year-old over 800m.
His world record time of 1:49.22 at the British Milers Club Stretford Grand Prix was the highlight of a season full of records and titles. But now, with the winter bite seething down on his home town of Halifax, it is time for Burgin to once again get out the 12mm spikes and plunge back into the carnage of cross country.
It is something of an “old school” training regime, which has been implemented by his coach and grandfather Brian and his father and former athlete Ian, who both know how beneficial it can prove to be. “It is certainly an old school style of thinking” says Ian, “some of these old school methods seem to be coming around now and people are starting to think that actually there was something in it.
“If you look at our internationals now, they’ve got all this technical backing and all of these technical improvements, but they’re not running as fast as the likes of (Steve) Ovett, (Steve) Cram, (Sebastian) Coe…no matter what they say…they are just not running as fast. A lot of those guys also did this kind of work. The likes of Coe, Ovett and (Peter) Elliot, they all did cross country. I think a lot of it is about having a rest (from the track). It is important to have a break from that kind of running, especially when they are growing like Max is.”
Cross country is almost a different world for Max. Even his tall, imposing figure can get lost in the mix after a season dominating on the track, but it definitely seems to have contributed to his recent improvement, despite being something of a necessary evil at times.
“I agree that I need to do (cross country),” says Max, “but it is just horrible, muddy, wet and long…I’ve never refused to do a race…but when you are in the race it just saps your morale and by the finish line you just don’t want to be there.”
Ian adds: “It builds character I think when you’re getting thrashed by all these little lads!” All the toil has definitely been worth it over the past two seasons in particular, with the UK under-15 record being the first to fall in 2016, before his 800m world record last season.
These achievements are undoubtedly what have caught the eye of many throughout athletics, however for Max, they often take a back seat. “I’d say winning English Schools (in 2016) ranks the highest out of everything.” Getting the times I have done so far is good, but I don’t think it can compare to winning a big race like the English Schools.
“I want to win that again next year, I haven’t really made a definite plan for what races I’ll do next season…but at the moment English Schools is definitely the target.This was one of the very few accolades that slipped Max’s grasp in 2017, losing out in Birmingham to close rival Oliver Dustin after the Border athlete ran his fastest ever time to edge past Max on the home straight.
“I definitely learnt a lot from that race,” says Max “there was Callum Dodds there as well as Dustin, who is also a really good finisher, so I didn’t want to be following them and then leave it down to a last sprint. “I wanted to at least make sure it was a fast race to hopefully neutralise some of the fast finishers. It might well have been a better result if I had just sat back, but I’ll never know because I didn’t do it! I learnt from that and then I was able to beat Oliver at the SIAB meeting the next week and sort of redeem myself.”
While it is mainly championship wins that Max will be searching for next season, many eyes will be fixed on the clock, which is something the national under-17 championship record holder has recently had to accept.
“We were just walking round before the national under 17s in August and then people started coming up to me and asking if I was going to go for the record. So it was almost decided before I set off, not by me, that I was going to go for that championship record.
Max Burgin on his way to winning the Northern Championships. Photo: Dave Hewitson/Sportsforallpics
I think it ended up being the fastest ever championship race run by an under-17 in the UK ever, because all faster times have been set at British Milers Club races, which I don’t think people actually realised at the time.”
The ultimate aim for Max in 2018 is to move up to 1500m, where he finished second in the under-17 UK rankings, despite only running two races all season. For that transition, as ever, he’ll be under the guidance of his family at the local Halifax track where he has been since the beginning.
“It’s a nice, simple set-up we’ve got down here,” says Ian, “we live very close to this track…so it’s very convenient for Max…at the moment it appears to be working more than we could possibly have expected. 1.49 (at 800m) for a 15-year-old is just unbelievable! It’s always different every year, so we’ll just see how it goes, but I definitely think Max has got a few seconds in the 800 and quite a lot in the 1500.”
A quick look at the different age records across athletics shows it’s foolish to assume that times guarantee future success. However, with a strong, experienced family dynamic behind him and a low-pressure, familiar environment, Max Burgin’s future appears to be in safe hands.