Like any athlete at the absolute pinnacle of their sport, elite marathon runners are amazing. As a massive fan of athletics and in particular running and especially marathon running, I love reading about the greatest runners in the world – past and present – or seeing and listening to interviews with them. But I almost always feel very slightly unsatisfied with what I learn. Being utterly narcissistic about it, I’m left feeling that there is little that I can learn from men who are running 2:04 or 2:03 for a marathon – their approach to training and life and nutrition and rest is so utterly alien to me, that there is very little, if anything, that I can adapt to use for my own success. So I decided that I would use this blog as an opportunity to do something about it.
The running community
I sometimes view the running community as a huge pyramid. There are very large numbers of slower runners who treat running as a hobby and as something that is far from central to their life. They form the base of the pyramid. As you get further up the pyramid the runners get faster, more dedicated to their running and less numerous. Until you reach the very top and there are the elite few. The pyramid is not static – runners move up and down the pyramid as their times improve or they slow down. And the analogy is not perfect because I realise that there will naturally be a bulge in the middle rather then a tapering from bottom to top (so maybe a better visual would be two pyramids base-to-base…) but I hope you get the image I am trying to create.
Runners At The Sharp End
My idea then is to interview people near the top of the pyramid, but not those at the very top. I am calling these individuals Runners At The Sharp-end (or R.A.T.S). Necessarily this is going to require some subjective judgement on my part, so please bear with me, but I think what I am proposing is that I try to interview people who have full time jobs, who started their marathon career with a modest debut (sorry Scott Overall, you’re out!), who know what it is like to not ‘be a runner’, but who have progressed to a point where they win smaller races or place in the top 50 or top 100 of big city marathons. They qualify for the roomy start-pens that you see at the front of some race fields. The idea I have is that these types of runners are more accessible than the elite men and women, they are normal (well, normal’ish) people and their training, whilst almost certainly further and faster than most, is something that we can aspire to moving our training towards.
I really hope that through a series of interviews with the R.A.T.S I will be able to gain an insight into what it takes to become a really good, in fact some might say great, runner and extract some tips from them that we can all use in our training to help us be the best runners we can be.
Ed: in a follow-up to the piece Catherine wrote before heading off to the New York City marathon (which you can read here), she tells us about how the day unfolded and whether she attained her goals.
The day of the race
I was in the city that never sleeps and as I ventured out in the dark, shortly before 6am there was evidence that this was a city on the move. 47,000 people were making their way to Staten Island and far from being a lone runner on the streets of New York, I was met by others in old track pants, gloves and hats, all clutching their clear plastic bags packed with supplies. It was Sunday 6th November 2011: The New York City Marathon.
The perfect day for a marathon
It was going to be an incredible day with clear blue skies, glorious sunshine, cool temperatures and virtually no wind. It was a day of “no excuses” for marathon running.
I headed across Central Park on foot towards 6th Avenue and 54th Street to pick up the “Elite Runners” bus. I was privileged to have an elite starting place which included transport to the start with the professional athletes. The flashing lights of our Police Escort down 5th Avenue were the start of the excitement and the nerves.
Arriving on Staten Island, we were ushered into our heated tent to warm up and relax before the start. The girls shared tips on the course; discussed projected pace and split times and made frequent bathroom stops before being lead up to the start with just 20 minutes to go.
Standing on the start line of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge with the iconic backdrop of the Manhattan skyline in the distance on a clear, cold day, one becomes acutely aware of how far 26.2 miles is. Manhattan, in all it’s breathtaking glory looks a long way away and if you’re running the marathon, it isn’t a straight route to get there. Once the canon fires the only means of transport to the finish is on foot.
It was 9.40am and the streets of New York were about to be electrified by the energy and excitement of thousands of runners all heading to Central Park. The enthusiasm of the residents of the five boroughs from Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx and Manhattan, cannot be contained in once sentence. From mile 2 when runners take the turn off the bridge and into Brooklyn, the party starts and it doesn’t stop for the next 24 miles. Bells, whistles, shouts, cheers, music and dancing from all ages and ethnicities, from the Italians in the Bay Ridge district of Brooklyn to the Orthodox Jews in Williamsburg – they all join in, and this is what makes New York, New York. And it’s what makes the New York Marathon with it’s bridges, hills, and concrete, pot-holed roads the greatest marathon in the world.
As I set off up the bridge for the first mile (one of the hardest on the course) the sound of footsteps, the cross-winds around my ears and the buzz of the helicopters over-head, focused my mind on what I was here to do. This year, I was running the New York City Marathon and my goal was to enjoy it; soak up the atmosphere; to listen to the shouts and the cheers; to notice the changing neighbourhoods; the signs, the sounds and the smells of New York City.
Whether to run
For weeks beforehand I had deliberated the wisdom of running a marathon despite many set-backs and a lack of training. I knew that I wasn’t fit enough to run a good time and that lead to much soul-searching and philosophical debate. Why do I run? It was a tough one to answer and threw out many interesting responses and further questions. The subject of the NYC Marathon provoked an emotional response. It wasn’t just about running, achieving and setting a new PB. The experience of running in New York – up 1st Avenue, down 5th Avenue and the undulations of Central Park, was something that I felt resonate in my heart. It was something I didn’t want to miss. I wasn’t injured and I reasoned that a marathon is as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one. So with just two weeks to go, I gave myself the challenge to get mentally strong enough to take on one of the biggest races.
I arrived in New York believing I could run a great time and shatter all previously held beliefs about marathon training. I was going to be the girl that believed so strongly that I made it happen. Being an experienced marathon runner, however, I knew that I was unlikely to be doing myself any favours by setting off at world record pace. So, I decided to run on how I felt and I quickly established a comfortable and conservative pace.
At the half way mark, I was able to make conversation with a guy I overheard proclaiming we were entering the Bronx. “You’re optimistic” I said, “we don’t hit the Bronx until mile 20….we’re only just entering Queens.” I was still running comfortably and was able to focus externally but I was starting to feel like I was working. I was sensible enough to know that being under-trained meant pacing myself for the last half which invariably is harder.
Around mile 14 in Queens someone held up a handmade sign which read “Caution, Kenyan Runners Ahead.” By this stage in the race, they were well ahead. So far ahead that Geoffrey Mutai was probably just about entering the park and well on his way to breaking the course record. He was to cross the finish line in 2.05.06. Exactly 1 hour and 2 minutes later, I was to follow him.
My official time: 3.07.06. It was going to be my slowest ever marathon but unlike the Mutai’s (Geoffery and Emmanuel) I wasn’t here to set a new course record or collect a prize. My prize was the sheer thrill, joy and exhilaration of running. No excuses.
I knew that the 20 mile marker would be the point at which I would know whether I had made the right decision to run a marathon. This is the point at which the mind takes over from the body and my mind told my body that it had been here before. As the 20 mile mark came in to view, I felt a wave of emotion, this was it: I was running the New York City Marathon and I only had another 10k to go.
As I ran through Marcus Garvey Park, I was able to admire the Brownstones in a way I hadn’t done before. My mind was focused but my eyes were open. I tried to ignore the fatigue setting in on the long climb up 5th Avenue between miles 22 and 23. I was nearing the turn into Central Park. The golden light streaming through the trees and the undeniable energy that is Central Park is what carries the runners those last few cruel and undulating miles. By mile 24 my quads were screaming at me to stop but my mind and my heart were not giving up. Not even on the climb up Central Park South towards Columbus Circle. With 800m to go and a final turn into the park, the crowds were deafening. I felt a surge of energy and I was still running strong, I wasn’t going to let go. I knew it was my slowest time recorded for the marathon and almost 20 minutes slower than my best, but it was still worth a sprint for the line with my arms in the air.
I had crossed the finish line of the New York City marathon. For myself and the other 47,000 runners who finished that day, we all know how that feels. It is a privilege to run in the greatest race on earth and it is something to be proud of.
Did I achieve my goal? I certainly did. My enthusiasm for running is unabated and I will be back next year with a new goal: to achieve my true potential.
In the latest edition of Outdoors Fitness magazine, there is an interview with the person dubbed the fittest man alive – Dean Karnazes. Now please don’t think for one minute that I am going to be disparaging about Dean and all he has done and continues to do. But I recently bridged the psychological gap between me and what I think I’m capable of and Dean Karnazes who seems to specialise in doing things that seem utterly impossible. One of the endurance challenges he is most famous for is his recent run across America: 2,900-mile in 75 days. I was reading the interview and I started thinking about my friend James Adams. He’d just run across America, competing in the LANY (Los Angeles – New York) race and covered 3,200 miles in 70 days. And I used to go running with James when we were at the same running club in central London….
After returning from his incredible feat and amazing adventure, James and I met up for a beer. I had a few questions for him and I really wanted to know whether he had metamorphosed into a Karnazes-like figure.
How do you get into that sort of running?
I started by asking James, on the record, about his running history. James told me that at school he was typically sporty, but not exceptionally so. He was typical of so many students who arrive at university with very little thought for sport but in 2000 he applied for and got a place through the London marathon ballot. At this point James had never run any long distances and was actually worried as he stood on the start line, that he would be pulled out of the race for not being a proper runner. He finished in 4 hours 35 minutes. That was obviously a good experience because James returned in 2003 and 2004 to the London marathon, running both times in under 4 hours. By the time James had run his third London marathon, he had moved to London where he joined the Serpentine Running Club, which was the club I became a member of and where I met James.
After his first few marathon experiences, James became dissatisfied with just running 26.2 miles. By early 2007, Adams was already thinking about much longer races. He had heard about the Badwater Ultramarathon and decided that he was going to make that his next challenge. He and I both ran in the Tring to Town 50 mile ultra along the Grand Union Canal towpath in January that year, but for me that was an event in itself. For James it was just a training run for something much bigger.
The attraction of ultra-distance running.
I asked James what he thought the attraction of ultra is. He told me that he found ultras easy and that he enjoyed running in races where there is no real time pressure. James went on to say that he loves the point-to-point quality of the majority of ultras and, most impressively for me, he said that knowing that a 50 mile run was a relatively easy undertaking made the world somehow feel more accessible. James went on to tell me about how he left his house in west London one day and ran… to Reading, before catching the train home. I guess that is what you do when you are dedicated to the ultra distance. I went on to ask James whether he thought he was competitive. He told me that he isn’t motivated by beating other people and that indeed he rarely knows, until he’s finished a standard distance race, whether he has gone quickly or not (although it should be pointed out that his marathon PB is a fairly handy 3:07).
Next I asked Adams for his top tips for people considering running beyond 26.2 miles and the answer I got was as I expected – very little about nutrition and training, and a lot about listening to as many experienced ultra runners as possible and then making up your own mind, finding your own way. James suggested that it is important to enjoy the social aspect of ultra running and he also emphasised the importance of fitting running into your life, not the other way round (for example James reckons he runs around 50 miles per week and much of that is to and from a demanding full time job).
Whilst James’ greatest achievement to date has to have been his run across America, he has completed ultras all over the world and in a vast array of conditions. I asked him what he preferred – desert, canal towpath, mountains? James said that he really enjoys running in the heat and believes that has much to do with the evolutionary process that have created humans as we are – designed to run long distances in hot and arid conditions. For James then, his run in the Spartathon was a real highlight. You can read about that race here.
The dream race.
So with so many incredible races under his belt, I asked Adams what he would design if he were to create his own event. James started, in his usual self-effacing way – by telling me that he is terrible at organising things which he thinks comes across in the blog he wrote whilst running across America (you can make up your own mind by reading it here). But if he was to organise an event, one idea would be for a Spartathon-length event (153 miles in case you are wondering!) finishing at the Olympic stadium as the London Games were starting (I’ve passed that idea on to Lord Coe, but had no response so far…)
Then James fixed me with a look and told me about the event he’d really like to set up; a race where the entrants do not know how long the course is. James suggested that the distance would be bracketed, say between 100 and 150 miles, but the actual distance would be known until the runners saw the finish line. That is a crazily challenging concept that only a man who has run across America could dream up!
Footwear for a 3,200 mile race
My final question to James was about the kit he used on his 3,000+ mile run. And James had saved the biggest surprise for last. He told me that he ran almost the whole way in Newtons. He took 8 pairs of Newton Gravity shoes and even sold the ‘emergency’ other brand of shoes that he had taken, on eBay when he got back. What surprised me even more is that Newtons haven’t even offered James a free pair in exchange for being allowed to make some publicity from this amazing effort!
And then there we were – me and my old mate James Adams, in a pub in Camden – chatting over a beer. He isn’t much changed from the chap that I used to run the ‘three parks’ route at the Serpentine Running Club with all those years ago. James is just very down-to-earth, easy going and friendly and someone who happened to cross the entire United States of America on foot faster than Dean Karnazes. I hope one day that I’ll get to meet Karnases and, as happened with James, I’ll let him buy me a beer and tell me his tale!
A few months ago, whilst leafing through Athletics Weekly, I came across an advert for a seminar that was going to be presented by a chap called Rasmus Ankersen, known as the High Performance Anthropologist. The talk was going to centre around a project that Rasmus had undertaken, called the Goldmine Effect, which lead him around the world visiting locations, often remote and usually very unassuming, from which had emerged world beating athletes. And not just one from each location, but dozens if not hundreds from each place. This examination of the forces that create these pockets of excellence dovetailed perfectly with some of the books I had been reading; Bounce by Matthew Syed, Drive by Daniel Pink, Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell and Gold Rush by Michael Johnson.
So I bought a ticket and waited for the date to come around. But I also tweeted Ankersen (@rasmusankersen) asking whether he would give me 15 minutes before or after the seminar so I could conduct an interview. Well if you don’t ask you don’t get, and I was delighted when Rasmus replied to say that he would have time for me.
Here is my interview with Rasmus Ankersen.
I asked Rasmus to tell me a bit about how he became interested in high performance and specifically the apparent clustering of excellence around certain nodes. He told me that when he was younger he harboured an ambition to play professional football, but injuries put paid to that. So, as he says, like many players with unfulfilled ambitions, Rasmus started coaching. During his time as a coach he encountered situations where apparently talentless players turned out to be world-class and others, who were great performers, fizzled away and never reached the heights expected of them.
Fascinated by why it is so difficult to identify talent and untangle performance now from future success, Rasmus quit his coaching role and identified five locations around the world where excellence thrived;
Seoul, South Korea, where 137 of the world’s 500 best female golfers come from
The MVP Track Club in Kingston, Jamaica which has produced the vast majority of the world’s best sprinters
Iten, Kenya from where almost all the world’s best marathon runners come
Rio de Janiro, Brazil from whose residents every second World Footballer of the Year has been chosen
A run-down tennis club near Moscow, Russia which in the last 10 years has produced more Grand Slam winners than the whole of the US and UK put together
Ankersen then travelled to these locations and interviewed the athletes and coaches in these special places to try to understand how they consistently created such excellence.
Elite performance and science
When we started talking I asked Rasmus what were the main drivers for him taking on the challenge of identifying the features that linked the Gold Mines of performance. Rasmus started by saying that he thinks there is a curious relationship between elite performance and science. He pointed to the fact that in Kenya, whilst training with the greatest distance runners in the world, he never saw a heart rate monitor or found an athlete who knew, much less cared, what their VO2 Max was. In fact the only HRM strap he saw was strung between two posts and was being used to dry running kit!
Ankersen went on to talk about the ‘tale of the tape’ – a concept commonly found in boxing circles, where certain physical characteristics are identified as being optimum for different weight categories, despite the fact that arguably the greatest boxer ever – Muhammed Ali – deviated from pretty much every measurement that was expected of a heavyweight boxer. With such blind adherence to pointless ‘science’ it is no wonder that sport desperately need people like Rasmus Ankersen to unravel the myth from reality, especially when so many of the myths are based on apparent science!
The mental muscle and the power of the mind in elite performance
With an obvious interest in how the brain and not the physical characterisitics of an athlete have such a fundamental impact on performance, I asked Rasmus what he thought about the comment that Ben Johnson made during his recent appearance on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, when he said that once he had reached a certain level of fitness, racing became almost equally mental and physical? Rasmus responded with the story of one Kenyan athlete who, when he heard on the radio that all the runners in the Kenyan Olympic team that year had returned with gold medals he assumed that was normal and that he was therefore destined to get a gold medal. Obviously huge amounts of hard work were required, but it was the belief – the mental element – that would, in the end make the difference for this athlete.
From talking to Rasmus, it seems clear therefore that it is this power of belief and the use of the ‘mental muscle’ that creates pockets of outstanding performance where genetics cannot possibly be the reason for the clustering of high performers. The examples are too numerous to list here, but in Mattew Syed’s book, Bounce, he talks about being at the centre of a clustering of world class talent in table tennis around a tiny area of a suburb near Reading in Berkshire. This cannot be explained by genetics. Looking further afield, Rasmus is quite clear that whilst, when we see the best endurance runners in the world coming from east Africa, the assumption is that their dominance is down to genetics, the reality is that their dominance is not down to genetics – it is down to sheer bloody hard work and a belief that they will be the best in the world.
So how far can that belief take us? I asked Rasmus about one of the athletes he interviewed for the Gold Mine project; Bridget Foster-Hylton, who trains at MVP Track Club. She says in the video that she trains differently and more than anyone else. That she believes that statement is undeniable. But I asked Rasmus whether he thought that Foster-Hylton did in fact train more and harder than anyone else and this was the key to her astonishing improvements and recent results, or was it simply that she believed that she trained harder and more and that belief gave her the mental edge?
Rasmus’ answer was intreaguing. He said that he believed that Bridget Foster-Hylton probably did do more training and harder training than the people she competes against. However without the self-belief and mental strength that she possesses, she wouldn’t train to the degree she does. It seems that it is a virtuous circle.
The future for the Gold Mine Effect
And at this point Rasmus and I had to wrap up so that he could get ready for the seminar. So I had one last question – I asked Rasmus what he is planning on doing with the research he is conducting for the Gold Mine Effect project? Rasmus, it seems, is not a man afraid to test himself and his theories for real. He is planning on opening a football academy near Rio in Brazil, where he will utilise all he has learned to help create a gold mine of football talent. From there he will focus on education and helping parents understand how to tap into the talent that every child has, but in so many cases is unfulfilled. So if you are reading this in 2030 and the greatest footballer the world has ever seen is thanking his coach and mentor, Rasmus Ankersen, for helping him reach his or her potential, you will know that Rasmus was indeed right and he has really struck gold in that mine of his!
Next week I will publish my thoughts on the seminar itself and there is a very special treat – Rasmus has allowed me to publish a section of his book, due out in the UK next year, which deals with the difficult issue of how to keep athletes hungry for success. Keep checking back for that.
The Olympic Games are coming to London. In just over 300 days. And there is an increasing amount of opinion being spouted about whether London will deliver a great Games, deliver on the medal expectations and deliver on the legacy, the promise of which went some way to winning the opportunity to host the Games for this great city.
It is often said – and I believe it – that if you want to know the truth it needs to come from the horse’s mouth. Last night I was privileged and honoured to be a guest at a dinner hosted by Nike where Lord Sebastian Coe addressed 30 of us and talked about how far the Games have progressed and what is still to be done.
In logistic terms alone organizing the Games is a herculean task. The numbers are mind boggling, from the thousands that are already employed by the organizing committee and the thousands more that will be required in the coming months, to the 70,000 volunteers who will work at the Games to the massed ranks of police, medical and security staff that will be required. Then of course there will then be visitors in the millions. And not forgetting thousands of athletes from around the world.
I often hear people say that sport is an analogy for life and to illustrate the mindset for winning the Games, Seb told the story of one of his earliest senior races over 800m at the European Championships Prague in 1978. In that race he set off at a suicidally fast pace, partly to try to neutralise the threat of his greatest rival, Steve Ovett. However, predictably, having run the first 400m in 49 seconds, physiology caught up with Coe in the last 200m and also predictably as he tied up, who was alongside him? Ovett. What neither of them realized however, was that there was a further threat – an East German athlete who blasted past the pair of them to take gold in the last 20 meters. Lord Coe said that he was on all fours, desperately trying to catch his breath when Ovett came over, put his hand on Coe’s shoulder and said ‘Who the f*** was that?’ With a wry grin Lord Coe told us last night that winning the Olympics was like that, with London as the unknown threat. Paris and Madrid were odds on favourites to win the Games, but with stealth and passion and great preparation, who snuck up on the outside and took it at the line? Yep, London. Lord Coe, undoubtedly a man of great vision, passion and leadership, talked frankly about the challenges that his organization faces, but in my mind there is no doubt that it will all come together and prove to be an exceptional event. And I got that from the horse’s mouth.
But the London Games in 2012 is about much more than the few weeks of competition. There is the issue of legacy. And for that Lord Coe dipped back into his own past to talk about the importance that companies like Nike play in encouraging and supporting young people and ensuring that sport, and athletics in particular, capture the imagination of youngsters and fuel the desire in them to compete and be the best they can be. Can we deliver on that? Well, thanks to Lord Coe and his team I have no doubt that we will have a great Games. But the legacy – well that is going to take a massive combined effort from all of us. I sincerely hope we succeed.
It is commonly said that the opening of a book is the most crucial thing that the author will write. I have found that to be true; in every great book I have read the opening lines have been captivating and exciting. That is absolutely true of Christopher McDougall’s book Born to Run which I have now read twice and started again last night. Why have I started it for the third time? Well, last night I met the hero of the book, Caballo Blanco, at an event set up by Saucony to promote their range of minimalist footwear. The opeining paragraphs of McDougall’s book describe him meeting Caballo Blanco for the first time like this;
“For days, I’d been searching Mexico’s Sierra Madre for the phantom known as Caballo Blanco – the White Horse. I’d finally arrived at the end of the trail, in the last place I expected to find him – not deep in the wilderness he was said to haunt, but in the dim lobby of an old hotel on the edge of a dusty desert town”
My meeting with this mysterious man was much less dramatic and lacked the poetry that Chris weaves into his tale. But it was nevertheless quite an experience.
Saucony minimalist footwear
The event that Saucony invited me to was one of the best product launches I have had the opportunity to attend. Everyone from Saucony was friendly, knowledgeable and clearly enthusiastic. The products that were on show make up the range that Saucony have developed to appeal to those runners looking for minimalist shoes; the Kinvara2 and Mirage, with 4mm heel drop, flexible yet cushioned soles, unstructured heel-counters and minimalist uppers. And the Hattori, a sock-like shoe with zero heel drop (i.e. no more material under the heel than under the ball of the foot). I’ll write about these in a future post.
Meeting Caballo Blanco
So after an introduction to the science behind the minimalist range with Spencer White, the director of the Saucony Human Performance & Innovation Lab in Boston, I found myself momentarily alone, looking at a display of the shoes I had just learned about. I glanced to my right and there was a tall, upright, lithe gentleman, dressed in Saucony gear but wearing a bright green pair of Hattoris, standing all alone, seemingly lost in thought and sipping a glass of water. “That can’t be…” I thought. But it was – the man who started out as Mike Hickman, became Micah True and ended up as Caballo Blanco running with the Raramuri Indians in the Copper Canyons of Mexico’s Sierra Madre. So I pulled myself up tall (Caballo Blanco is well over 6 feet tall) and strode over to introduce myself and then I said something stupid:
“So what are your thoughts on the trend for barefoot running” I said…
Caballo Blanco thought for a moment and said “I don’t know anything about a trend, man. I just do what I do” That pretty much sums up what I now know about his philosophy and his approach to running.
Running and philosophy
I won’t spoil the story for anyone who hasn’t read Chris McDougall’s book, but suffice to say that Caballo Blanco ended up in the Copper Canyons living with the Raramuri and adopting their approach to running. No training, no warm-up, no fancy gadgets or technical gear. Just go out and run. The Raramuri run for survival, for honour and for the sheer hell of racing for dozens or even hundreds of miles in footwear made from cut-up tyres and leather thongs. I got the impression that Caballo Blanco was less than impressed with the glass and steel building that we were meeting in, the busy PR people, the DJ spinning cool tunes for the assembled journalists and writers. He seemed out of place and I don’t doubt that what he really wanted was to go for a run, probably back home in the canyons that he loves. But he didn’t betray any of that; he was engaging and happy to answer questions and signed a copy of Born to Run for me (despite then telling me that he hasn’t had any contact from Chris McDougall for a very long time, which I thought was rather sad). Ultimately I doubt that Caballo Blanco worries about whether he has a message for someone like me, but he did have an effect. I left the event and rushed home along busy, concrete streets through London traffic thinking that it is very, very easy to forget that at the very core running is something totally natural for human beings and something that we should love doing, whether that is in minimalist shoes or not, in the Copper Canyons of Mexico or on the streets of a major city, for 2 miles or 200 miles. That brief meeting has reminded me to focus on the running and forget all the other stuff… a very important lesson delivered without pomp or pretence. Just get out there and run. Run Free!
So here it is – my first video interview and I bagged a really good one. Mo Farah.
To give you some background, the interview was at an event organised by Nike and Sweatshop at the Trackside Cafe at St Mary’s University College in Twickenham, where Mo gave a talk to an invited group of athletes, primarily young athletes, and was later presented by the Nike team with a pair of one-off red and white track spikes in the Arsenal livery.
As you can tell from the start of the interview, I didn’t have much time with Mo, but it was really great to meet a hero of mine and I can confirm that he really is a lovely chap. I can also confirm that he is an incredibly hard-working individual and I hope that whilst he can do massive good for young people through his inspirational feats on the track, he also gets a chance to train effectively so that he gets the Olympic medal I and many others believe he deserves.
I hope you enjoy it.
The final question you must all be asking – did Mo get a PB. Well not quite. Before the editing job (excellently carried out by Sistak) the interview took 8min 20sec, which would be a massive PB for me but a light jog for Mo!
It is not often that one meets their hero. Tonight that is exactly what I did; I met and interviewed Mo Farah.
Mo was the guest of honour at an event that Nike organised at the track at St. Mary’s University College, Twickenham in London. Mo was there to provide advice and inspiration to a select group of youngsters and he was kind enough to take a few minutes to talk to me.
Talking to young people and encouraging them to strive to be the best they can be is clearly close to Mo’s heart. At the question and answer session after our interview, Mo was asked what must be one of the most common questions he hears now: how did you first get started in athletics? The answer is simply that the PE teacher at his first school, a man by the name of Alan Watkinson (who incidentally was on hand tonight to receive a generous round of applause) saw some potential in Mo and encouraged, bribed and coerced the young, football-mad Farah to join a running club in Houndslow. From there it was simply a matter of his fitness, dedication and enthusiasm combining to create the superb runner we see today.
Mo has a singular belief that anyone, especially any young person, can get into sport. When I asked him what he would say to youngsters who say that they can’t run, he looked a little puzzled for a moment before stating simply that they can run, they just have to try. He went on to say that he thinks that the answer to getting kids involved in sport is to make it fun for them.
So does Mo see himself as a role model? Actually I’m glad to say that he told me that he does, especially to those who already run. And that was apparent from what I saw tonight. The kids surged towards the stage he was due to appear on – giving the Nike organising team a bit of a headache as they tried to get everyone to move back to make it easier for the whole room to see Mo in the Q&A. And when Mo sat down to sign autographs after the Q&A session the line seemed endless. Nevertheless Mo shook hands, signed autographs and posed for pictures long after the PR people would have whisked him away. He really seemed to love interacting with the young people present.
My interview with Mo was a very rushed affair – I told him that I was going to try to get through the questions in a 3,000m PB time (which for him we didn’t, but I would have been very happy with 8 min 20 secs!) and in that time Mo reminded me again of why I love this sport of ours – he is warm, engaging, enthusiastic and very, very successful.
I hope to have video footage of the interview online in the next couple of days. But in the mean time if you need any more reason to make this man your hero, check out the footage of his 10,000m triumph in Barcelona on the BBC. Simply fantastic.
Earlier this week I heard U2’s hit “Where the streets have no name” on a radio being played in another room. Suddenly I was reminded of the classic YouTube video – well it is a classic as far as I am concerned! – of the dual in the sun. This was the 1982 Boston marathon in which Alberto Salazar and Dick Beardsley ran the entire distance neck and neck, finishing within two seconds of each other. The video is quite amazing, especially towards the end as the commentators get ever more excited. Check out the crowds and the impressive array of technology used by the television companies to broadcast the race, which goes some way to illustrating what an important sporting event it was.
Equally compelling viewing is the video that usually pops up to the side of the race coverage video – that of Dick Beardsley describing the end of the race from his point of view and, I guess, with the benefit of hindsight.
What strikes me about Dick’s monologue is what he thought during the final few hundred meters of the race. Dick Beardsley had been leading the race, albeit only by the length of his arm, for most of the 26.2 miles. However Alberto Salazar was the favourite and, as Beardsley acknowledges, Salazar was considered to have the better kick, so it was no surprise when Salazar dropped the hammer with less than a kilometer to go and passed Beardsley just as his hamstring cramped up.
Dick could have eased up at that point. With a cramp in his hamstring and against one of the greatest marathoners of all time and certainly of his generation, Beardsley knew that second place was his and there would be no shame in that. But he didn’t…
Instead he put in one of the fiercest comebacks in any marathon and with only a few hundred meters to go, Beardsley went for the win.
So what does that mean for us? Well I think the simple lesson is don’t give up. I know that in the end Dick Beardsley did not win the 1982 Boston marathon. But he did know as he crossed the finish line that he had given his all and exceeded everyone’s expectations of him, perhaps even his own expectations. I think that the way he raced and didn’t give up also illustrates the kind of man he is and the level that he was training at. He gave it his all and this is what I think that everyone should do, whether that is running the first 10K or the 100th marathon, giving it all allows us to find out what we really are capable of.
So have a look at the videos and remind yourself of your aim. Then in every way you can make sure you give it 100%… you never know U2 might find out that you are capable of more than you ever thought possible.