Dominic Bersee

It’s a strangely warm Wednesday evening at Leiden Atletiek. The warm up consists of a gentle run through the Leidse Hout which neighbours the track. Running through the little woods of the Leidse Hout, I somehow fall into stride with Dominic and somehow we get talking about Sweat Elite – a running YouTube channel and podcast, founded by Matt Fox. After a quick chit chat, I encourage Dominic to run ahead at his usual pace, for I like to run slowly. But, we run on, talking about the various athletes Sweat Elite has profiled: Julien Wanders, Jake Smith and Nienke Brinkman who hails from nearby Voorschoten. The virtue of Sweat Elite’s videos is in part their opening up of the training routines and practices of the sport’s most elite athletes. Dominic tells me how he uses such videos and training sessions as inspiration and sometimes does some of the sessions for himself. As an athlete who has run 29:57 for a 10km (Indie 10km), his times are comparable to many of the athletes Sweat Elite profiles. No doubt he identifies more with these athletes than many of us others, in the Running Laity.

I’m curious about the similarities between athletes (runners?) across different levels. My hunch is that despite great variations in abilities, running feels the same for athletes of different levels.

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Having 16 pairs of running shoes on the go might be seen as an indulgence for some. But, for others, it can be a part of an ongoing engagement with working out which shoe works best for which occasion. It is a process of understanding the relation between the non-human and the corporeal. The shoe moves the runner. Moreover, it speaks to the specialisation and sophistication of the contemporary running shoe. As stated in the interview below, Dominic admits to developing a keen interest in running shoe technology. The line of shoes (below) is testament to that. But the shoes are not idle, stuck in a museum as objects of beauty. They’re a vital part of the runner’s trajectory. Each pair ready to be used at the right moment.

Indie 10km: first time under 30mins. photo by Erik van Leeuwen

I wasn’t sure what to make of Dominic when I first met him. Another tall, lean, blond Dutchman, gently making his way around the track at a pace most of us would be struggling at. He was moving effortlessly and almost silently. His cadence was consistent; each step a replica of the one before and the one after. I knew that he was one of the fastest at LA and perhaps that coloured my impression of him: I took his possible introversion for aloofness. Perhaps this initial impression of mine was not particularly generous. The very inherent and real hierarchies of running training mean that faster runners get grouped together; and those in one group get promoted once consistent results justify it. The faster the group, the smaller it becomes. This is another endless process of differentiation. As such, on the LA track, Dominic often runs alone.

In starting this series of profiles, Dominic was an immediate target of mine. Although I am interested in the Running Laity as well as the (Sweat) Elite, Dominic still fits into the category of Runners of Leiden, for he is coached by Bram Wassenaar and he does at least one session per week at the LA track. In about one month’s time, he’ll do the 10,000m as part of the Gouden Spike: one of Leiden’s signature running events. I learned a lot from talking with Dominic. Part of it was realising the egalitarian nature of running: the lessons of the elite runner are also applicable to runners at other levels.

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When did you start to commit to running in a serious manner? What triggered your commitment?

Amsterdam marathon: photo by Erik van Leeuwen

I started running (in a serious manner) in 2016. I was 26 years when I started running and I was a pretty serious tennis player back then. However, I felt that I was slowly getting tired of being stuck a certain playing level. Having enthusiasm and being committed is something I always had, but there was no way to raise my playing level any further without making sacrifices that I didn’t want to make. This made me decide for something completely new and to switch to a different sport. Cycling was a bit too dangerous to me. I decided to have a shot in running and that was quite successful after finishing in 2nd place in a local 5K race with a finish time of 16:43.

What kind of training benefits you the most? How do you structure your training weeks or blocks of training? What stage are you at now in your training?

The training that benefits me the most is relatively high mileage (60-70 miles per week) and consistency. It’s more beneficial for me to keep on running and not too intense, so that I am able to avoid any injuries. I usually train 7-8 times per week, divided over 6 days. I always have one day of no running at all. Within these 7-8 training sessions, two sessions are more intense interval sessions and the remaining ones are (easy) long runs. An average session is ~9 miles.

I am currently in my track season. Most of the high mileage and workouts are done, it’s now time to focus on racing and making sure that I stay fit, fresh and healthy until the Gouden Spike in June.

Racing: What has been your strongest race (or races)? What did you do during these races that worked well for you? Have you learned anything in particular from disappointing races?

My strongest races were my 5K (2021), 10K (2022) and half marathon (2021) PBs. It’s hard for me to compare them, because I felt that I gave everything during all of these races and the finish times are relatively comparable to each other.

I always try to analyse what went wrong after a disappointing race. The reasons are apparent in most cases and they are valuable lessons learned. Consequently, I try to accept it, give it a place in my mind and finally move on, because life also moves on. 

What are your goals for 2022?

I like to make my goals SMART every year. (SMART standing for: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Based.)

Participate in a 1500m, 3000m and 5000m track race at least once.

New PB on 1500m, 3000m or 5000m (achieved in May-2022).

Running a 10km under 30:00 (achieved in Feb-2022).

Running a half marathon under 1:06:00.

Running a marathon under 2:20:00.

How does running fit into your everyday life? How do you manage running/work?

Running is a very – maybe the most – accessible sport, which makes training pretty time efficient. I do my (easy) long runs on Monday and Thursday after work in Delft where I live. On Tuesday and Wednesday, I go to the track for interval sessions. During the weekend, when I don’t race, I train twice a day and usually a longer session on Sunday.

Ter Specke 3000m: 8:24, photo by Erik van Leeuwen

My work is fulltime in an office behind a desk, so I am not physically exhausted after a work day. However, it’s mentally hard to push myself off the couch after work, but it’s a battle that I always try to win. One thing is for sure: you never regret a workout, regardless of the weather conditions or your mental state. It makes you stronger, both mentally and physically, either in the short or long run!

Finally, some thoughts on shoes. I’ve noticed you’ve got some fancy pairs.

Since the global pandemic in 2020, I expanded my running shoe collection and became interested in the techniques that manufacturers use to improve performances. Nike is a frontrunner since 2017/2018 with their bouncy foams combined with a carbon plate in their race shoe soles. Other brands are catching up, which makes it even more interesting to me. I think that it’s a good development in a conservative sport like running that these inventions are legal and that they help athletes to perform better. As long as it’s a level playing field, running is as exciting as it used to be, maybe even more exciting, because athletes are able to compete with each other like before and run faster than ever.

Shoe library. (photo courtesy of DB)

Many of the runners I know are not in favour of innovations. They have an attitude of something like ‘the simpler, the better’. There is also quite some controversy around the whole shoe debate. I know a lot of people (who love to run), but are not happy with the super shoes – they feel that it gives some runners an unfair advantage.

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The training session concludes with a cool down (uitlopen) around the Leidse Hout. Most of the dog walkers have returned home. A few jongens play pick-up games of football on the open grassy field. A group of women do circuit training and their bakfiets are parked nearby. It’s a kind of low-key, Leiden sporting idyll. The runners have slowly dispersed and I have lost track of where Dominic is and what session he did. The track and club serves to condense those with running interests and over the course of an evening the running collectives come together, then dissipate.

From these slow, meandering conversations, somehow replicating the paths of the Leidse Hout, it becomes clear how similar the training patterns, ambitions and anxieties are between runners of different levels. I feel that Dominic’s times are a product of not only his talent, but also his consistent training and refinement of numerous processes. He’s found his level. But it’s also a level in which he fluctuates between feeling ‘fast’ and ‘slow’. At a race in Valencia, when he almost broke 30mins for 10km (30:03), he came in at position 94.

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DB’s Numbers:

3000m: 8:24.90

5000m: 14:19.92

10km: 29:57

21.1km 1:06:39

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