Theo Quax is gunning for the top of the podium.

This weekend the 16-year-old Year 12 Macleans College middle distance runner will line up, barring any mishaps, in the New Zealand schools athletics nationals 1500m senior boys' final at Waitakere's Trusts Stadium as one of the favourites. Burning in his mind is the memory of last year's fourth-place finish in the same event.

"I'm aiming for top of the podium, hopefully, especially as I took out the under-18 club nationals in March. I've built a lot since last year. I was pretty inexperienced then, running in the seniors as a Year 11. I was actually leading with about 70-80m to go, but it was just a lack of experience. I shouldn't have kicked so early or I could have made podium," says Quax, who runs for the Pakuranga club.

He doesn't have far to go for advice. His coach is father Dick Quax, 1976 Montreal Olympics 5000m silver medallist. Quax Jr is already posting faster 1500m times than his dad did at the same age. Unsurprisingly, he is a proponent of the Arthur Lydiard methods of racking up the mileage to build the stamina that enables a withering finish.

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"I've adopted a lot of what dad used to do. There's a lot of track work and sprint skills."

His finest moment came in those club nationals in Dunedin nine months ago, smashing his personal best by six seconds to record a 3m 52.70s time. Some tactical errors and stiff competition cost him victories at the Auckland and North Island schools 1500m events but he feels in good nick to race well this weekend. He has bypassed the 800m to focus on the 1500m.

"We did a lot of build-up for that race (in March). Dad said 'You could win if you play your cards right'. Thankfully all the training paid off and I got the win," Quax says.

That 1500m competition includes the likes of James Uhlenberg of Sacred Heart, Dan Hoy of Westlake BHS and Matt Manning of St Kentigern, while Isaiah Priddey of Hamilton BHS, alma mater of Dick Quax, is also a top runner.

Macleans have a history of talented middle and long distance runners and triathletes, and will be taking a team of 17 to the nationals, among them Flynn Palmer in the 800m.

He and Quax push each other hard.

"This is the first track season I've had with a cross-country base, because I've always played rugby in winter," says Quax. The oval ball code is on the backburner, his exploits in March seeing him fast-tracked into the Pathway to Podium programme.

He has a swag of goals to try to tick off in the next 18 months, after which an athletics scholarship to the US is an option. The national under-18 1500m record, which stands at more than six seconds up from his PB, is in his sights, not to mention a rare sub-four minute mile while still at school, but this weekend is uppermost in his thoughts.

"There's a lot of strategy and tactics in a 1500m race, especially with the bad weather and wind recently. But there's a lot of great competition in my year."

Quax appears to have a strong mindset.

"If you are going at a reasonable clip, it'll start to hurt in the last 800m or so. That's when you have to break that mental barrier. There will always be a voice in your head saying you can't do it, but you drag yourself through."