Isaiah Priddey was one of the stand out stars at the recent New Zealand Secondary Schools Championships securing the 1500m/3000m double. Steve Landells chats to the Hamilton-based athlete and finds out how a dose of speed has proved critical to his success.
If what marks out great champions is their determination, persistence and a desire to improve, then Isaiah Priddey ticks all the boxes. A winner of the New Zealand Secondary Schools junior 1500m and 3000m double in 2015, the Hamilton City Hawks athlete has gone on to grab a swag of medals.
Last summer Isaiah secured the New Zealand and Australian U18 3000m titles and beat the best at the Australian equivalent, but in his drive for perfection he was left disappointed to win “only” 1500m silver at both national competitions on either side of the Tasman.
Believing his speed to be lacking, during the winter he introduced an additional speed session into his programme and the move worked a charm as he landed the senior boys 1500m and 3000m gold medals – the former courtesy of a blistering sprint finish – at the New Zealand Secondary Schools Championships in Hastings last month.
“Crossing that finish line (after the 1500m) was the best feeling I’ve enjoyed from racing because I know how good that field was,” he says. “There are four of us (the others being Sam Tanner, Nick Moulai and Theo Quax) capable of running 3:50, there is barely anything that separates us and the winner come down to who performs on the day.
Introduced to the sport via his family, his father Vaughan was a former New Zealand 800m finalist and older brother, Jacob, won the 2013 national under-20 3000m title, Isaiah quickly made his mark on the domestic scene.
After completing that 1500m and 3000m junior boys double at the 2015 New Zealand Secondary Schools Championships in Timaru later that summer he struck 3000m gold and 1500m silver in the U18 division at the New Zealand Track & Field Championships.
However, in the countdown to the 2016 New Zealand Secondary Schools Championships in Waitakere his preparations took a jolt as he picked up a nagging hip injury. Despite this, in West Auckland Isaiah produced an outstanding run in a high-quality race to win silver in 8:17.37 – slashing more than 12 seconds from his PB in a race won in a championship record by Nick Moulai. Sadly, the hip injury forced his withdrawal from the 1500m final but after reflecting on his display he was proud of his accomplishments.
“My first thought after the race was disappointment because I was beaten, but then when I saw most of the field set a PB and I was a part of history (as the quickest ever boys 3000m in the history of the championship), it was a slightly surreal feeling.”
Later in the summer after the hip injury settled down he went on to win 3000m gold and 1500m silvers at both the U18 New Zealand Championships and Australian Championships. While many would have settled with such an impressive collection of medals the high-motivated Hamilton athlete craved more.
“I enjoyed a good season but I was also a bit annoyed because I really wanted a fast 1500m,” he says. “I was often out-kicked in the 1500m.”
To address the issue, Isaiah added an extra speed session often at a park on grass to his weekly training regime.
“I knew the only way to beat these guys over the last 200m was to add more speed,” he adds.
Coached by his father, last year in the countdown to the Commonwealth Youth Games the teenager also enjoyed half a dozen sessions running in heat chamber at temperatures of up to 35c at Wintec in an effort to prepare him for the brutally hot conditions he was likely to face in Bahamas.
Ultimately, despite the foresight of spending some time training in the heat, he found adjusting from the cross country season – where he won silver behind Sam Tanner in the senior boys race at the New Zealand Championships – to prepare to compete on the track at July’s Commonwealth Youth Games a stretch.
“It was a crazy period,” says Isaiah. “I was focused on the cross country season and then to switch to the track off just one month of track training with no rest was hard.”
“Also until you experience racing in that kind of heat as I did in Bahamas (when the mercury reached 36c) it is really difficult to prepare for.”
In Bahamas, although disappointed to place sixth in the 1500m final while a calf issue caused him to quit the race with just 500m remaining in the 3000m, he was determined to suck the positives out of his first major international championship event.
“It was definitely one of the best experiences of my career,” he adds. “Travelling to a country like Bahamas, living in an Athletes’ Village with athletes from many different sports was something else.”
Returning to training enriched by his Caribbean adventure, he then went into last month’s New Zealand Secondary Schools’ Championships in Hastings full of confidence as he pursued the 1500m and 3000m double. In the latter event, the final of which took place on the Saturday, the Hamilton Boys’ High School student claimed a relatively comfortable win to stop the clock in 8:40.12 – four seconds clear of silver medallist Joseph Clark.
However, he knew he faced a much sterner test over the metric mile, where he faced the aforementioned Sam Tanner, the 2016 senior boys 3000m champion Nick Moulai and 2017 national U20 1500m champion Theo Quax.
In a slow tactical race, which probably played into Isaiah’s hands following his exertions in the 3000m final 24 hours earlier, once the pace quickened with 300m remaining the Hamilton-based athlete responded positively.
“I saw Sam sink down and lean forward as if he was really trying, but I felt really comfortable,” he explains. “With 150m to go Theo came on my shoulder but I moved out a little to make it harder for him to pass. With 110m to go I kicked past Sam to take the gold (in 4:03.89).
The additional speed work has paid dividends and the prestigious double was secured.
For the rest of the summer season, Isaiah hopes to focus on the 1500m where he hopes to gain the qualification mark of 3:48 – his current PB sits at 3:50.62 - for the World Junior Championships in Finland in July.
Beyond that in August he will take up a full scholarship to study and train at Oklahoma State University, where he will start the next phase of his athletics journey in the US.
“They were one of the first universities to contact me and I quickly got to know the head coach, Dave Smith, what sort of person he is and how accomplished he is with his athletes”, explains Isaiah. “He was definitely one of the big selling points.”
Aged just 17, the Waikato endurance talent has an exciting future ahead of him and he has little doubt as to what his main gift is.
“It is my determination,” he says. “If I get beaten I don’t lie down and take it. It plays on my mind and it drives me during sessions.”