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Mo More Motivated than ever

03 February 2014

The London Marathon was over in Iten in Kenya at the weekend catching up with double world and Olympic champion Mo Farah as he prepares for his first marathon in April. His debut over 26.2 miles at the Virgin Money London Marathon on Sunday 13 April is the most eagerly awaited marathon debut of all time. Mo More Motivated than ever.

Farah will take on some of the best marathon runners in the world in a field that includes marathon world-record holder Wilson Kipsang, Olympic and world marathon champion Stephen Kiprotich, reigning London Marathon champion Tsegaye Kebede, and London course record holder Emmanuel Mutai.

When the London Marathon was founded 33 years ago, one of its aims was to improve British distance running and it looked well on the way to achieving that goal when Steve Jones set the British record of 2:07:13 at the Chicago Marathon in 1985. But 29 years later that record still stands and Mo could be the man to smash it.

The London Marathon supported Mo through his college years and now funds the British Athletics London Marathon High Altitude Programme in Iten, Kenya where he’s spending several months to prepare for his marathon debut on Sunday April 13.

How do you feel about making your marathon debut in London?

It’s always been my dream to run the London Marathon one day and this feels like the right time. Dave Bedford [the elite athlete coordinator] hasn’t made it easy for me by assembling an incredible field but I’m very excited. I love training in Iten – I’ve been coming here since 2008 – because it’s simple but great for training and it’s where all the champions come from so it’s good to be here. It’s a serious business to leave everything behind and just get my head down with my training.

What are your plans between now and the London Marathon in April?

I’ll stay in Kenya until just before the London Marathon, but I’ll also probably go off somewhere to race a half marathon to test myself – most athletes like to do a 10-mile race or half before to find their rhythm – and then I’ll come back here.

How does training for the marathon differ to training for the track?

Training for a marathon is completely different. I run more miles and do longer workouts. I used to love doing 400m, 600m and 1,000m reps in training but now the reps are longer. A speed session will feature mile reps now. My body takes a beating all the time, whereas during track training I’d feel fresh and bouncy. I’m finding marathon training is a very different kind of pain. I’m doing about 130 miles a week.

Are you nervous about making your marathon debut?

I’m nervous before every race but I’m training hard so I’m hoping I’ll feel confident as well as a little bit nervous – the same as the other guys.

How important is the rest of the field?

The field for the 2014 London Marathon is incredible. I don’t think the race has ever had a stronger field. It’s going to be a lot harder than the Olympics and my World Championship races. There are so many guys who are world record holders or who can run 2:04 and 2:05 consistently in the field, but this is a great year to test myself so I can find out how good I can be at the marathon.

I have British records from 1500m upwards so it would be nice to have another but the marathon is a completely different ball game to the track because if you feel bad on the track you only have a few laps to get through whereas in the marathon you have 26.2 miles to get through. You need to be patient and make sure you get the right drink, which I’m practising a lot in training.

Have you changed your running style for the marathon?

You could say that. If you look at the best marathon runners, they have a different style to track guys. It’s about saving as much energy as I can. I’ve watched a lot of videos. Alberto, my coach, and I have come up with a way that you could save energy by not changing too much but by being more conservative, but I wouldn’t really call it a change in style because I have my style and it works for me. You have to be quite smart about it and change tiny things like staying more relaxed.

Marathons are about being patient. I’m learning a lot, asking people questions like how does it feel, what’s the hardest part and just trying to understand. It’s hard for me to be patient because I like to go to the front in a race but you can’t do that in a marathon. It’s about being sensible until you know that it’s the right time to go, and then you go.

Whose running style do you admire?

I would definitely have to say the world-record holder Wilson Kipsang’s. He’s tall but he has great style. He doesn’t look like he’s moving fast but he covers the distance and he’s the world record holder so if you’re going to learn from someone he’s a good place to start. I’m hoping to jump into one of Wilson’s training sessions with him. If I want to train with him, he’s not going to say no. Right now I’m training with a few local guys.

I love athletics so I’m always interested in the style of other runners. Geoffrey Mutai has a similar style to me but Kipsang’s is completely different. For me the biggest thing is about saving energy over the 26.2 miles. Last year the London Marathon came down to the last 400m so I want to have as much energy at that point as possible.

How scientific is your training?

I love coming to Kenya. It’s the perfect place to train for a marathon. You can switch off and just eat, sleep and train. You put the miles in, try to be strong. There’s no secret – you just do the key sessions and listen to your body and put in a good block of training. It’s important that I put the necessary work in and I need to do it here. It’s going to be one of the hardest races of my life.

What’s your goal?

I’ll be running against the best guys in the world but I’ve trained hard for the race and I’m going to go out there and give it 100 per cent. I’m still learning a lot. I believe I can break the British record and having the crowds behind me will push me that extra bit but it’s also about being sensible.

Is it hard to be away from your family for so long?

Yeah, three months will be the longest I’ve been away and it’s hard, but I have to do it. I need to come out here. I believe, if you want to do something you have to give it 110 per cent. It’s not easy. But it’ something I must do.

Ever struggle to lift yourself to get back out there?

After my long run on a Sunday, it’s not like I can’t be bothered but the next morning my legs still feel they have taken that beating of 20-odd miles so Monday is probably the day I feel most tired. Friday’s my rest day…I just run 10 miles steady and Saturday morning I do a 10-mile tempo run, with a couple of the pace guys, then I’ll have something to eat, sleep, and then go for another run.

Will you run at the Commonwealth Games?

I haven’t made a decision yet. It just depends how I feel. Right now all I’m thinking about is running a half somewhere and then doing the marathon. That’s all I’m tuned into. And then I need to see how I recover.

Will you attempt any track world records after the marathon?

It would be nice to go after something after the marathon. Always in the past it’s been about training for major championships; it’s never been about going for records, apart from the 1500m last year – I knew my training was going well and that I had close to 3.30 in me. I’d probably say I’d go for the 10,000m record more than the 5,000m.

Will the public expect you to win?

Yeah, and if I don’t it will be like, ‘What’s happened to Mo?’ And I’d say, ‘You don’t know what I was feeling like.’ But I’m getting more into social media to keep people informed of what I’m up to. So hopefully they will have a better understanding.

Do the kids in Kenya still call you Farah?

Yeah. Mofarah. But they think it’s one word. I run through a village and they shout ‘Mofarah!’

Do you fear failure?

No. As an athlete you never think about defeat. If you think like that you will never be a champion. I’m doing the right training and I’m working hard – probably twice as hard here.

Do the other athletes watch you?

On the track they do. Not the top guys but various people do watch you because you're known, they've seen you on TV. Occasionally there will be a few coaches at the track with a stopwatch. People are nice to me here. Even on the plane when I was coming from Nairobi to Eldoret, the pilot wanted a picture of me.

Nike are going to make you some shoes – have you seen them yet?

Yeah, I know the colour, I know what they look like. I've tested them but I can't give away too much. I've done a lot of tests in Portland. I can't say exactly where they're made. It's definitely to help me but the aim is not about making this special shoe that will help me to run under two hours but about my long-term running and finding out what works for Mo Farah.

Has your coach Alberto said anything about what he thinks you can achieve time-wise?

He has but I'm not going to say too much about it. Marathon training's not about trying to peak early or too late, as long as you can peak at the right time, hopefully it should go well.

How much do you think the London crowds will help you in April?

It's definitely going to help me a huge amount and I'm hoping if my rivals are going to intimidate me, the crowd can do their bit and intimidate them. Maybe I can just give them some signals? Having the crowd is amazing and that's what carries me to the line. You saw that from what happened in London – there was a lot of people out there and they just kept cheering. It's amazing to have such a great crowd. And that's another reason I want to run London. Imagine if 75,000 people in the stadium are just shouting your name, what would it be like if you're on the street where people don't have to pay anything, they've just come to watch you.

Do you study the courses before you race routes?

I have all the race routes on my phone so I study the turns and ups and downs. I look at the mile splits of previous winners, how fast they went through half way etc. Sometimes you really need to do your homework. It’s about understanding the route and doing the training and it you cover every angle it should be good.

What do you think about on long runs?

I tend to switch off. I try not to look at my watch for the first hour, and then I count down the miles. I never listen to music but I take drinks to practise with. It’s not easy getting the drinking right. You’re going at speed, you have to have the right fuel for your body, and you have to think about your next drink. If you drink too much you get cramps. I’m working on it.

Have you ever watched your London 2012 performances?

I have, and hearing that many people shout your name really does send shivers down your spine. I can remember at every moment what was going through my mind. It stays in your memory. Knowing I’ve come through that helps take the pressure off but going into the marathon the pressure will ramp up again.

How do you feel about not being the bookies’ favourite in a race for the first time in ages?

I think they’re right to say I’m the underdog because it’s true. In the marathon, previous form is so important. Tergat, Gebreselassie, Kipsang – none of them won their first marathon.

What drives you on?

Once you become a champion, you want that feeling again, and that’s what drives me. Doing well for my country drives me too. I want to be able to look back on my career and know that I did everything I could. The medals I’ve won can never be taken away from me.