Claire Seymour, one of the nation’s top 800-meter runners, will run the last race of her college career at this week’s NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships. After negotiating Graves’ disease and shin splints and a pandemic year and a conversion from sprinting to the 800 and enduring tortuous workouts, she has achieved national class status. But she’s ready to be done. Again.

She thought she was done two years ago when she graduated with a degree in exercise science in 2021, but she’d made such a dramatic improvement that year that she thought, as she recalls, “Dang, maybe I should keep going.”

She asked her coach, Diljeet Taylor, “Would you take me if I came back?” Which of course was a ridiculous question. This scene repeated itself after last year’s NCAA championships. “Same thing — I was going to be done,” she says, “but then I decided one more year and I have had no regrets.”

That should qualify as an understatement. In April, Seymour raced LSU’s Michaela Rose in the Bryan Clay Invitational. Rose clocked 1:59.08, the second-fastest collegiate time ever, and Seymour 2:00.04, the eighth-fastest collegiate time ever. Seymour’s time also broke a 36-year-old school record held by former NCAA champion and Olympian Julie Jenkins. 

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“Her decision to come back each year surprised me initially, but I think she knew there was more to accomplish,” says Taylor.

This week, Seymour will return to the NCAA championships in Austin, Texas. Besides trying to claim BYU’s fifth national championship at 800 meters, Seymour still hopes to break two minutes after coming within five-hundredths of a second of doing so last month.

“I’ve wanted to break two minutes for a long time,” says Seymour. “It’s been a goal of mine. My workouts indicated I could do it. Coach (Taylor) was very supportive of that goal and catered my workouts to do it. Getting so close was crazy. I watched the clock the last few steps. I was a little bummed about it, but you can’t be too sad about a PR.”

It is almost certain that the winner of Saturday’s 800-meter final will have to run under two minutes. Three of the seven fastest 800-meter runners in NCAA history — Rose, Seymour and Stanford’s Roisin Willis (1:59.93 indoors) — will be in the race.

Circuitous route

Seymour took a circuitous route to get here. She was a long sprinter at Enochs High in Modesto, California, competing mostly in the 400-meter dash. As often happens in high school, the track coach was the football coach. “I didn’t do much training,” she recalls. “I just showed up and raced.” She ran 58.18 seconds as a freshman, 55.92 as a senior. She ran a couple of 800-meter races, but her best time was a modest 2:15.

Seymour gave little thought to running at the collegiate level until her mother, Ann, took charge. While visiting Provo to participate in Education Week classes, she met Dale Robison, a long-time USA Track and Field official. He introduced her to coach Taylor.

“My daughter wants to run for BYU,” she told the coach. After asking for the girl’s name, Taylor, who had coached at Cal State Stanislaus before coming to BYU, said, “Oh, I know who she is. I’ve been watching her since she was young.” Taylor awarded Seymour a scholarship and informed her that she was now an 800-meter runner.

“I always knew I would move up,” says Seymour. “I said, ‘All right, let’s do it.’ I trusted her from the beginning. But I thought I could convince her I could run the 400.”

The move up to the 800 and to a serious training regimen at BYU was a dramatic change for Seymour. During fall training camp her roommate asked Seymour how many miles she ran each week. “I thought, what?!” she recalls. “I never did mileage. I was very undertrained.” She began running several miles each day.

“It was a huge adjustment,” she says. “Things were so hard. I cried a lot my freshman year.” She was required to do regular two-mile tempo runs and, as she tells it, “I never actually finished one without throwing up. I was very out of shape and unprepared. My freshman year was tough.”

“Claire came into college with minimal exposure to collegiate training and competition,” says Taylor. “As a former 400-meter specialist in high school, the collegiate adjustment took time. Once she was able to adjust, we started to see a rapid improvement.” 

Seymour posted a time of 2:08.56 as a freshman — a seven-second improvement over her high school time — and qualified for the NCAA regional meet.

That remained her best time for two years.

‘Something is wrong’

During the summer of 2018, just before the start of her sophomore year, Seymour began experiencing a variety of symptoms. She had trouble sleeping. She was chronically hot. She began losing weight — eventually, 20 pounds. She experienced tachycardia. When she attempted training runs she could go no farther than 1 ½ miles.

“I felt like I was going to pass out every time,” she recalls.

Nearing the end of the summer break, she told Ann, who is a nurse, “Something is wrong.” They went on a run together, but after just a quarter-mile Seymour had to stop. Her mom took her pulse — it was more than 200.

Ann took her daughter to the emergency room. Suspecting that Claire had Graves’ disease (as does one of her other daughters), Ann asked doctors to check Claire’s thyroid levels. Her diagnosis proved correct. Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disorder in which the thyroid produces too much thyroid hormone.

Seymour redshirted her sophomore year while doctor adjusted her thyroid levels through medication. She did most of her training on a stationary bike, nursing shin splints and regaining her strength. She continues to take medication and undergoes regular lab tests to check her thyroid levels. The results are sent to her family doctor, who adjusts the medication as needed.

“I’ve become in tune with my body and how I am feeling,” she says. “My coach and the trainers were patient in working with me.”

“The Graves’ diagnosis created some barriers with training,” says Taylor, “but she has a great doctor who has guided her through it and I’m grateful for that.” 

Waiting game

Seymour didn’t race for about 1 ½ years and even then her return was short-lived. She raced in the 2020 indoor season and lowered her personal record by a half-second to 2:07.96, but the outdoor season was canceled because of the pandemic.

She had to wait another year to return to competition. By the time Seymour started racing again, she had had only five races in 32 months, but she returned in a big way. During the 2021 indoor season she blew up her previous best, running 2:02.20, a startling six-second improvement, and placed fifth in the NCAA indoor national championships. In the 2021 NCAA outdoor championships, she placed fourth with another PR, 2:01.91.

A year later, she placed second in the 2022 NCAA indoor championships with a time of 2:01.96, and a couple of months later  she returned to her roots in the 400-meter dash and posted a time of 53.69, the fifth fastest time in BYU history.

She failed to make the finals of the 2022 collegiate outdoor championships, but last March she finished fourth in the NCAA indoor championships.

“This has been a great year for Claire,” says Taylor. “As she ends her collegiate journey, I’m proud of the way she has overcome adversity. ... I’m excited for this last championships with her and look forward to watching her compete.”

Eventually, Seymour plans to return to school to become a physician’s assistant. Following this week’s NCAA meet, Seymour again plans to be done with running after nationals. Maybe. She’s never had aspirations to try professional running, but she says, “I’m navigating that now. It was always a hard no; I was never going to turn pro. But this year flipped those things on its head.”

BYU’s Claire Seymour, center, holds her hardware on the podium with fellow competitors at the NCAA Indoor Championships. | Joey Garrison, BYU Photo