What we can’t learn from Mo Farah

Yesterday at the Diamond League athletics at the Alexandra Stadium, I watched Mo Farah race in the unusual distance of 2 miles. And whilst it was great to see him boss the field of athletes assembled and witness what was undoubtedly a sort of lap of honour (well eight and a bit laps…) after his amazing visctories at the Olympic Games, there was something missing. Here’s what I think it was…

There was nothing to learn from his victory. Nothing that we didn’t already know.

Mo and the rest of the world learned a lesson from this

The race followed a rather familiar pattern: the field went out slow, so slow in fact that I could have stayed with them for the first 800m, then the pace wound up but nowhere near fast enough to trouble Steve Ovett’s British record for 2 miles which he set in 1978. After a mile or so, Mo moved to the front of the group, with his old team mate Chris Thompson, and the bunch became a line as the athletes began to stretch out. But still nothing particularly exciting. Then with 300m to go a cheeky American by the name of Bobby Curtis decided to kick and as Mo spotted him out of the corner of his eye, he simply accelerated away opening a gap of 30m in a few seconds.

Now please don’t get me wrong, it was great to see Farah win and I am sure he had to find some strength to do it, coming at the end of a week when his wife gave birth to twins and he has been dragged hither and thither making TV appearances and showing up at events and functions. But he made it look easy. There was nothing to learn about tactics or grit or team work. There was just a great athlete kicking away from a field of merely good athletes.

The same is true for so many endeavours. I have known it in my running ‘career’. When I blew in the London marathon in 2010, walking through a water station to try to rehydrate in order to just finish under 2hrs 45min, everyone wanted to learn from that: what had I done differently? What had gone wrong? How would I cope with heat in the future? Was it the heat?

But this year, when I ran the same course but PB’d with 2:38:30, no one wanted to know what I had done right or how I had coped with the conditions better. In fact one person told me how lucky I was, to have been able to run a time like that (what the…?) whereas when I tanked the year before, it wasn’t a matter of bad luck.

The same goes for Farah. When he was outkicked at the end of the 10,000m in the World Championships but an unknown Ethiopian Ibrahim Jeilan, there were questions asked like did he kick too early? Did he kick too late? Who was Jelian and why did Farah and his coach Salazar not know about him? Why did he tie up at the end?

After his 10,000m and 5,000m victories in London, there was no questions asked. There was, seemingly, nothing to ask.

But here is my question – should we not question the manner of victories and the training required to achieve them, at least as much as losses? If we are to create more top class runners, don’t we need to know what Farah has been doing to allow him to kick away from a decent field in the way he did yesterday afternoon in sunny Birmingham? Now I am not naive enough to suggest that Mo and his coaching team are about to give away the family secrets, but maybe, amid all the arm-waving and adulation, we need to start to analyse the victories at every level to work out what went right. That is half of the battle when it comes to improving ourselves.

1 Comment

  1. If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll get the same results. Now if what you’re doing works, then don’t change it. You need to change when things go wrong so that’s why we ask questions then.

    It is a bit odd that you were told you were lucky to have run such a good time in London. Luck had much less to do with it than lots of hard work and careful preparation.

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