­2014 London Marathon Race Report by Catherine Wilding

It promised to be one of the most exciting races ever.  The London Marathon was to bear witness to the double Olympic Champion – Mo Farah – making his debut over the 26.2 mile distance.  Ever since Mo turned up on the start line of the London Marathon in 2013 to “practice” going off with the leaders, before dropping out at the half way point, we have waited with eager anticipation to see what could happen in the second half.

Mo Farah after his baptism of fire. Photo © Telegraph
Mo Farah after his baptism of fire. Photo © Telegraph

After a year-long wait, here was the nations sporting hero and Olympic Champion “stepping up to the road”, carrying the hope of a winning debut on the Mall to add to his Olympic glory. For once, the Marathon made headline news.

It ended in disappointment, not just for Mo but for the rest of us – the media, the commentators and anyone who thought that Mo may be able to shake off the dominance of the Kenyan’s and Ethiopians.  2.08.21 was the finish time for Mo,  8th place and 4 minutes behind the winner, Wilson Kipsang.  Mo may just have settled for a new British record if not an outright win, but he even missed that by almost a minute.

So what happened?

The stakes were set high. There were some formidable names on the start line – Kipsang  (the current World Record Holder), Mutai, Kebede and Olympic champion Kiprotich.  All eclipsed however by the legendary Gabreselassie who was here to run as a pacemaker.  That’s right, the former world record holder was here to pace the leaders beyond the half way point with the aim of setting a new world record.

It seemed a risky strategy to assume that anyone making their debut over the distance would not only be able to win but also walk away with a new world record.  So, Farah and his coach, Alberto Salazar made the decision for Mo to run in a group, a few seconds back from the leaders. Mo was to hold back, 30 seconds off the pace with a half-way target time of 62.15. Presumably the rest of the plan – which was not discussed – was that Mo would catch the leaders in the second half and pick up the pace to run a blisteringly fast last 10K.  That was the plan.

It was much debated and the media couldn’t understand why Mo – a runner who runs every race with the self-belief to win it  – was not in the mix from the beginning with the leaders.  But any experienced coach and marathon runner knows that a few seconds too fast in the first half can cost dearly in the remaining miles.

The early miles

It was a day that runners refer to as “ideal marathon running conditions” – clear blue skies, a chill in the air and a temperature on the start line of 9 degrees. As the gun fired at 10am, the first group went off with the pacemakers and Mo followed just a few steps behind. So far, so good, but by the 5K mark the gap had opened up and Mo was already 27 seconds behind the leaders. Beyond the 10K mark it was starting to look like Mo was working a little harder than perhaps he should have been – still off the pace and more importantly off the plan.  Realising this he picked up the pace for the next 5K and ran a faster 5K split at this stage than the lead group.  In his efforts to make up ground and catch the lead pack, this burst of speed so early in the race could have been his downfall.  The pacemakers for the second group had a plan to stick to and that was to go through half way at 62.15.  As they kept to the pace, Mo had fallen further back from the pacemakers and was working hard to try to bring them back. At the half-way point with a time of 63.08, it was clear that his race was not going to plan.

By mile 17 it was even more evident that Mo was starting to tire and his pace slowed.  He was starting to look less like a marathon runner as he didn’t quite have the ease in his stride that the leaders had.  His dream of a home win was now – like the lead group – surely out of sight.

Meanwhile, at the front of the race, a pack of eight runners entirely dominated by Kenyans and Ethiopians had opened up a significant gap.  The pace was quick – too quick maybe – for Gabreselassie who had been scheduled to pace until the 16 mile mark, but had dropped out just after half way.

Killer finish

Just after the 30K mark, Kipsang who was looking comfortable and almost as if he was biding his time, suddenly surged away from the pack.  Only Stanley Biwott responded and went with him. The two then ran together along the Embankment until with just over 2km to go, Kipsang surged again and never looked back.  He opened up a gap of 26 seconds in the last 2km, sprinting down the Mall to set a new course record of 2.04.29 – 11 seconds faster than Emmanuel Mutai’s record set in 2011.  It was Mo Farah the crowds had hoped to see but next came Biwott in 2.04.55 to make it a double Kenyan victory with Kebede the Ethiopian finishing third in 2.06.30.

The British men didn’t make much of an impact on the Kenyans and Ethiopians, with Mo in 8th place and Chris Thompson not too far behind in 11th place at 2.11.19.  It was also another disappointing race for Scott Overall who having gone out at 2.10 pace and passed the half way mark in 1.05.05 finished in a disappointing 2.19.55.

Enthralling women’s race

Kiplagat victorious for the first time. Photo © Run247
Kiplagat victorious for the first time. Photo © Run247

It’s fair to say that the women’s race was overshadowed by the excitement of the men’s but in a separate story, the plot line here was remarkably similar.  Tirunesh Dibaba – double Olympic champion in the 5K and 10K was also making her debut over the marathon distance.  The race, however, for Dibaba was more closely fought than for Farah.  The Kenyan’s, Florence and Edna Kiplagat (not related) lead the race with Dibaba in the group going through half way in 1.09.17.  All three looked in contention until the 18 mile point when a debacle at the drinks station left Dibaba behind.  Dibaba reached for her bottle, dropping it and then stopping to pick it up.  The Kiplagat’s had seen the mistake and with a quick glance and exchange to each other they took advantage to surge ahead opening up a gap of 5 seconds. This seems to be where Dibaba lost her chance of a debut win.  From there she couldn’t close the gap.  It was Edna and Florence that were still leading side by side with 800m to go.  As they turned into the Mall, it was Edna that had the final kick. Having twice finished second in London perhaps she was more determined as she sprinted to the finish line in a time of 2.20.11 leaving Florence 3 seconds behind in 2.20.14. Another double win for the Kenyan’s.  The gap for Dibaba had now opened up to 11 seconds as she finished 3rd in 2.20.35.

Of the two track-stars, it is Dibaba that showed the most promise, keeping the leaders in her sights and securing a podium finish. A runner who is used to coming from behind and with a big kick in the closing stages of a race, who knows how the story could have unfolded for Dibaba had she not dropped her bottle.  We’re sure she’ll be back.

In the elite race, the lead British woman was Amy Whitehead in a time of 2.34.20 with the 44 year old Emma Stepto a couple of minutes behind in 2.36.04.

A little further back from the lead men was Simon Freeman. He breezed along looking a little too comfortable and with a smile and a wave he cruised to the finish line to break the 3 hour mark in style with a 2.58.55. He said “I was running comfortably and within myself and the difference in terms of pain and suffering is incredible.  It was an amazing experience.” You can read about his race here.

The marathon distance can never be underestimated. “I know what the marathon is about now and hopefully I will come back stronger” Mo added with the greatest respect for the greatest race.


Mo Farah and the ‘double-double’

Screen Shot 2013-08-17 at 00.05.57

I don’t have a huge amount to add to what will certainly be an avalanche of superlatives as sports writers throughout the UK and almost certainly the world, try to explain what Mohammed Farah has actually done by winning the IAAF World Championships 5000m race this evening. I certainly don’t have the words to do his achievements justice.

From a personal perspective, however, I am so incredibly happy that we have a man like Mo racing under the flag of the UK for Team GB. I was only just aware of the significance of what English runners were doing when Coe, Ovett and Cram were taking it to the world and winning time and time and time again. But as an avid fan of the history and lore of running (not the book, although the book is pretty good!) I have often felt pangs of jealousy.

Witnessing greatness

I go to see live music – especially jazz – with my wife and yet I doubt I will ever say that I saw the next Miles Davis or John Coltrane before they were famous. I love photography, but I don’t think I will ever see an exhibition and know that I have seen something special in the work of a young photographer. And I never thought that I would see English athletics be able to claim a real, global superstar as it’s own again. Mo Farah has dealt with that. I have witnessed true greatness, met him in the flesh, watched one of the most important moments in his career live and in person. I have met a living legend…

One memory that I will treasure for life, is the night I spent in the Olympic stadium in London on Super Saturday when Jessica Ennis emphatically justified all the hype and proved that her tag of face of the Games was entirely justified. I was sitting a few rows back from the sand pit as Greg Rutherford literally flew through the air to a gold medal. And I screamed myself hoarse as Mo ran lap after graceful lap at an impossibly fast speed to win the 10,000m Olympic titles.

Meeting Mo.

A few months later, thanks to Nike, I had met Mo in person and interviewed him for this blog. He was utterly charming, modest, enthusiastic and excited beyond words by, it seemed, almost everything. I asked him about the Olympics and he was realistic, confident and most of all, modest about his chances. I couldn’t have guessed what he would achieve so soon afterwards.

Like so many other people I was delighted when Mo won his two Olympic titles, but to be honest, in that stadium, at that time, it felt as though anything was possible. Almost as though the impossible was somehow predestined for those GB athletes brave enough to believe in themselves and the power of magic.

A Championships too far?

But Moscow? A year later? Having spent so much time fulfilling media and sponsorship obligations and with the gnawing feeling of hunger blunted by a belly full of gold medals, and Olympic ones at that? I would not have been surprised if the IAAF World Championships proved too much too soon, not least since Mo was now carrying a massive target on his back.

So when Mo won the 10000m earlier I thought “what are the odds that he will win the 5000m and the double-double? 5000 to 1? 10000 to 1?” it was going to be long odds whatever.

Tonight Mo Farah, having already raced 25,000m in 10 days and with the biggest target on his back possible, stepped up to the line against a field where only one other athlete had competed in the 10,000m (his training partner Galen Rupp) and proved that he is truly one of the greats of distance running. Certainly the other runners, cowed perhaps by Mo’s reputation, played into his hands. But I doubt it would have mattered whatever tactics they employed. Farah was unstoppable.

So Mo, if you are reading this, thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving me the opportunity to tell my Grandchildren that I met you at least twice in person and I saw you race in the flesh, at the greatest Games ever staged. And I saw you bring all the work, dedication and belief that has been so hard earned and deliver a performance over 12 and a half laps that will live very long in the memory. You are, quite simply, phenomenal.

What we need are heroes

I believe that one of the reasons for periods of time when certain nations or even regions dominate in any particular sport, is the presence of heroes. There are others factors, certainly, but being surrounded by people one knows or you can relate to who are doing amazing things, tends to be a hugely motivating force.

For an in-depth discussion of the role that heroes plays in motivating others, Rasmus Ankersen’s book, the Gold Mine Effect, is a great place to start and you can read the interview I did with Rasmus here.

But for now, I am going to stick with my assertion that heroes are important – whether that is the people in your running club or running group or a relative or friend or indeed a national hero.

Heroes and their heroes

And the best runners I have ever met keep confirming this to me. In the past few months I have been interviewing some amazing runners for my Lessons From The Legends series of articles in Running Fitness magazine. The same thing keeps coming up time and time again:

  • Mike McLeod used to rock up to the sea-front in Newcastle to run with a group including Steve Cram.
  • Bill Adcocks trained at Coventry Godiva at a time when the club was home to Olympic, Commonwealth and European marathon medalists.
  • Richard Nerurkar was pushed by school- and club-mates as well as rivals throughout his career and was inspired watching the likes of Dave Bedford and Brendan Foster when he was younger.

These runners were in contact with people who were their heroes and rivals and inspired them to train harder and be more consistent in order to become better and better runners.

They don’t make ’em like they used to

Image © Getty Images

I think that one of the problems with distance running now is that recently there haven’t been running heroes that have captured the imagination of runners of every level. And I know that one swallow does not a summer make, but Mo Farah could just be the person to ignite the fire.

His heroics at the Olympics were astounding and made him a household name. He has also clearly inspired Galen Rupp and Chris Thompson and others at the top level to do better. That is a start.

But imagine what could be if Mo moves up to the marathon and has an impact there? Well, his coach Alberto Salazar has just announced that he could be attempting the 10000m  and marathon double in Rio in 2016 (more details can be found here) I just hope that is realistic because I think that if Mo could do for men’s running what Paula has done for women’s running, then by the time I hang up my racing flats in a few years, we could well be on the road to a new era of great marathon runners coming out of the UK. We can only hope!

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.

The perfect review of ‘The Perfect Distance’

A two part review of Pat Butcher’s book The Perfect Distance

In this review, Michael Shelton took the time to review the book that takes an in-depth look at the rivalry between Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett and ultimately resulted in such spectacular races in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Having read the book myself, I have then added my thoughts at the bottom – Simon

Michael’s review

My earliest memories of athletics were of events like the Golden Mile in Oslo and seemingly amazing feats as runners tried to break 3 or 4 world records in a matter of weeks. It was a golden age of British athletics, being led by two men,  Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe.

The Olympics are just around the corner [Michael sent this review before the Games started but I have only just had a chance to post it here. Sorry Mike! – ed] and despite all the predictions of a record medal haul, there are few expectations for team GB in the men’s 800m and 1500m.

Yet just over 30 years ago, in the Communist stronghold of Moscow at the 1980 Olympics, it was the British that ruled middle distance running with an iron fist. In 1984,  we went into the Los Angeles Olympics with the Olympic champion (Coe), the world record holder (Ovett) and the world champion (Steve Cram). It is scarcely believable these days.

The Perfect Distance is the fascinating story of Coe and Ovett, two driven athletes, following contrasting timelines from promising beginnings through to titles, world records and Olympic triumphs.

The title refers to the magical mile distance, but also how a middle distance runner has to be the perfect athlete. They must have the speed of a 200m runner, the endurance of a six miler and the tactical savvy to win a race at any speed and from any position.

The fact that Coe and Ovett rarely faced each other in a competitive race meant that the Moscow Olympics was even became a national talking point in the USA, a country who had boycotted the games.

The events of 1980 may be well known (Ovett won the event, the 800m, that Coe was favourite for, while in the 1500m the reverse happened), but it’s the more personal moments that Butcher captures and you come to understand how these champions were moulded.

Butcher draws the battle lines between the pair –geographically, physically  and socially. Coe would become an MP and head of the London Olympic movement, while Ovett has remained out of the spotlight, even to the extent of being the only living British Olympic gold medal winner not to appear on special series of BBC Radio programmes. Rather than by these great enemies represented in the media, they were just very different personalities who would never be friends in any walk of life.

Like the Boat Race, most of the media and watching public lay their allegiances in either the Ovett or Coe camp. However you would be hard pressed not to develop a huge amount of respect for the other by the book’s conclusion.

Imagine being in the shoes of Coe, after running the worst race of your life at the Olympic Final. Rather than getting encouraging words from his father, he instead receives a four letting dressing down from his coach (aka Dad) in front of a packed press corp.

Ovett is remembered as incredibly hard working and a natural runner. He could complete the 400m in under 50 seconds, won a 5000m gold at the Edinburgh Commonwealth Games in 1986 and clocked 1hr5 for a half-marathon he entered on a whim. His unwillingness to speak to the media saw him portrayed as aloof, but the picture Butcher moulds is of a shy man with a complicated family who just wanted to run.

The eyes of the world may have been on only two men, but Butcher does not neglect the forgotten men. From the Scandinavians who tried to disrupt the gold parade, to German Olaf Beyer, who split the Brits to grab Olympic silver in 1the 1500m, we see how the Coe and Ovett phenomenon was portrayed around Europe and the world.

Inspiring, humbling and ultimately a very human story, I finished the book thinking that athletic perfection may be unattainable, but here were two runners who would give everything to try and reach it.

Simon’s review

I must start by saying that I agree completely with everything Michael has written. I think that Pat Butcher elegantly and accurately captures the rivalry that drove Coe and Ovett to achieve marvelous things in middle distance running during a period when Great British runners were unsurpassed at those distances.

I think for me, the most wonderful thing that Butcher manages to capture is the value of the rivalry from the point of view of driving the protagonists on ever harder. It is almost as though they were in a world of their own – team mates and yet fierce rivals who knew how hard the other was training and racing and as a result pushed themselves harder and harder to not be outdone.

This is epitomised for me in a story that Coe wrote about in the Telegraph:

It was a harsh winter (harsh enough to bring down a government) but I ran 12 miles on Christmas morning. It was a hard session and I got home, showered and felt pretty happy with what I had done.

Later that afternoon, sitting back after Christmas lunch, I began to feel uneasy but was not quite sure why. Suddenly it dawned on me. I thought: “I bet [Steve] Ovett’s out there doing his second training session of the day.” I put the kit back on, faced the snow and ice and did a second training session. I ran several miles, including some hill work.

Not long ago, over supper in Melbourne, I told him the story. He laughed. ‘Did you only go out twice that day?’ he asked.

It should never be forgotten that the fruit of the rivalry between Coe and Ovett (and to some extent the young pretender Steve Cram when he joined the fray and pushed the two greatest middle distance runners to even great heights) were magnificent:

  • three Olympic gold medals
  • two Olympic silver medals
  • one Olympic bronze medal
  • seventeen middle-distance world records

An amazing period and one that might not ever be repeated. As the Olympic Games of 2012 come to a close, we have been treated to the incredible running ability – hard work and humility being the fuel – of one Mohammed Farah. But he has no domestic rival. There is no one in the UK that he fears and indeed it is arguable that trying to find a team mate who would push him to new limits was part of the motivation for moving to the Nike campus in Oregon to train with Galen Rupp. So I hope that the Olympics of 2012 has a part to play in lighting the fire of inspiration into at least two youngsters currently taking their first steps in athletics – let’s all pray for the next Coe and Ovett!

London Olympic Games: Saturday 4 August 2012

An experience like nothing I’ve ever known before

This is going to be one of the hardest posts I have ever written: I don’t want to rely on over-used superlatives to describe the experience of watching the Olympics in the athletics stadium last night, but that might be very tough indeed.

Where to start? Well, I guess at the beginning of the day. I had seats with two friends from my running club and we decided to try to absorb the whole atmosphere so we got to the Olympic Park nice an early – lunchtime for an evening session. The journey was painless, the process of accessing the park was easy and pleasant, the soldiers on duty (in place of the G4S people who were never hired!) were efficient and friendly.

The park itself – well that was very, very busy. Not long after we arrived 80,000 fans from the morning session of the Olympics tipped out and added to the masses that were milling around already. And this really is the basis for my only slight complaint. There were queues everywhere. For everything.

There were queues for the shops, for the steel sculpture thing, for the garden areas where the big screens are. But they moved fast and frankly I think given the enormous number that were there, the whole atmosphere in the Park was unbelievably friendly and relaxed.

After a couple of hours of soaking up the buzz around the Park, we went into the stadium to take our seats.

The stadium is really, really beautiful. There cannot be a ‘bad’ seat in the place and the arena is the perfect setting for Olympics. I really, really hope that all talk of a football club taking over is finally laid to rest. This needs to be the UKs centre for athletics for the future. It is stunning.

And then the sport started.

Actually I am not going to write a blow-by-blow account of the action. If you were living in a cave and didn’t see it or you just want to relive all the excitement (and I implore you to watch this again and again and again), the BBC is the perfect place to catch it for the first time or again. Click here for the Farah victory. And here for the climax of Ennis’ victory.

The atmosphere in the stadium was like nothing I have ever experienced before.

Jessica Ennis seals victory,

The people around me were all on their feet as Ennis started her two lap race and the noise as she ran off the front, was caught and then kicked past the two athletes who had passed her, grew and grew and grew until there seemed to be an explosion of emotion and cheering and whistling and screaming as she crossed the line.

Mo Farah. Olympic champion.

Photo: © Richard Gregory

Not that I am in any way taking anything away from Ennis’ victory, but if it is possible the noise around the stadium for the 10000m seemed to be a notch greater.

I suspect that this was because there was no certainty that Mo would win. For Ennis the 800m, baring catastrophe, was going to give her victory and the underlying emotion behind the noise in the stadium was jubilation and excitement.

But for Mo it was different. From the moment the gun went everyone I could see in the stadium was yelling encouragement. By the time he had three laps to go everyone was on their feet. And as he surged to the front with 450m to go and across the start/finish line for the final lap, the noise was truly unbelievable. It was as though everyone thought they could propel him to victory by making more and more noise. There was a sense of desperation, of straining, of fear in the noise. Victory for Mo was far from assured and the athletes that tracked him around that last lap always seemed poised to ‘pop’ out and streak past in the last few hundred metres or even last few metres to snatch victory.

So the noise when he hit the home straight and opened a 3 or 4 metre gap was – there is only one word for it – hysterical. Everyone around me was jumping and clasping each other and screaming and yelling. Really and truly, I have never known anything like it.

We were on our feet shouting and clapping for what seemed like hours after as Mo collected first himself, then his daughter, then a Union Flag and then his wife for a victory lap that I will always remember. It was a truly remarkable moment in a truly magical night.

So what now?

After the sheer unadulterated joy at what we had witnessed subsided just a little – by which I mean after I had left the stadium and was alone on my way home on the tube at midnight – I started to wonder what this will all mean?

I will write more on this no doubt. But one thing I want to ask, is whether it is too much to hope that this will make a real, sustainable and positive difference? I believe that big events can create lasting change and last night was a huge event. Not just for athletics and not just for the wider realms of sport. This was a big event on a much bigger canvas. Last night we saw – whether that was in the flesh or on TV – what ordinary people can achieve. Mo Farah is amazing, of that there is no doubt. But he is amazing because of what he has made of himself. He is amazing because of how hard he works. So I hope I am not reading too much into it all when I say that I believe that Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis and Greg Rutherford and all the other Olympians who are doing things far, far beyond what was expected of them and hoped for them, are showing all of us that there is so much more that we can achieve if we believe in ourselves and we work hard. Now we just need to make sure that this message reaches everyone and raises us all up to do more and try harder. That, in my opinion, is how significant what I saw in the Olympic stadium last night should be.

Mo silences his critics, spectacularly.

There have been quite a few people – press and spectators alike – who have ‘worried’ about Mo Farah in his recent outings. Steve Cram’s comments in mid-March, were typical of the concern that was being expressed about Mo’s form when he failed to win four races on the bounce. You can read Cram’s piece here.

Back on form? Two wins in an hour suggests he is.

But at the USATF High Performance meeting in Eagle Rock, California, on Friday night, Mo ran two races that must have given those thinking Mo is struggling, something to think about.

He started with a very satisfying 1500m victory in 3:34.66, just half-a-second outside his PB of 3:33.98.

Then just 56 minutes later he won the 5,000m which he won in a 2012 European-leading time of 13:12.87.

Let me repeat that: he won the 1500m in 3:34.66 and then less than an hour later won the 5000m in 13:12.87 – the fastest time by a European this year.

What is more extraordinary still is that he won the 5000m wearing racing flats, not spikes, having only entered to help pace his Oregon Track Club team mates round.

After the race Mo was reported to say

“It felt good so I thought I would just finish it. I was just trying to help out my team mates. I feel good, it felt alright, I just hope Alberto (Salazar, his coach) gives me an easy day tomorrow”

All this comes just before Mo comes to London tomorrow to defend his title at the Bupa London 10,000 in the British capital, racing against our marathon hero Scott Overall.

So I for one think that Mo has proven that his losing a few races last year is not a sign of something more significant. As with many of us less super-human athletes, a dip in form is just that: a dip. There is always a way back and Mo has shown us how to do it in style!

Nike nailing the zeitgeist?

New year: new ambitions or resolutions. That is the way many, many people mark another revolution of our planet around the sun. I have read hundreds of blogs and tweets and facebook updates listing plans for 2012 as well as quite a few people criticising the glut of new year’s resolutions. Those cynics might have a point, after all 1 January is identical to every other day so why decide that this is the point to get fit or save money or get a new job. But as regular readers know, I am a strong believer that as much as training is crucial for becoming the best runner you can be, motivation is equally important and if people find that an arbitrary date is enough to convince them to take on a challenge that they have shirked for the last 364 days, then I am all in favour.

I also think that the Christmas and new year period is a great opportunity for many people to take time to think about what they would like to do in the future – so many new careers, relationships or hobbies are formed in the crucible of a couple of weeks without work. Sadly however, many of the good intentions are also dead and buried by the time January comes to an end.

Softly, softly or GHOGH*?

The issue of broken resolutions in sport and fitness is one that I know many people are concerned about – from the government to personal trainers and from health professionals to gym owners, they are concerned by the initial rush of enthusiasm for getting in shape followed by the plunge in numbers as the reality of what it takes to change from a sedentary life to one gilded with sport comes into sharp focus. So what seems to happen about now is donning of kid gloves as those with a vested interest in getting the nation in better shape try to gently guide people away from returning to their old ways:

  • just exercise for 30 minutes a couple of times a week
  • if you can have two alcohol-free days a week
  • maybe try a 5km jog

But does the softly, softly approach work?

Make it count (or #makeitcount for the twitterati)

Nike seems to think that a more direct approach is required, which I am 100% in favour of. The new Make It Count campaign seems from my point of view to be a continuation of what, in some areas, Nike has been doing for a while: baring its teeth!

Sure there is still the slightly saccharine side to their marketing, most notably the advert of the girl who never stops running from dawn until dusk, foregoing all personal relationships and refusing to stop running even for a coffee (check out the ad here), while not breaking out in a single bead of sweat, let alone exhibiting any of the symptoms that someone running non-stop for days on end would suffer from. But this silliness has been rebalanced with a brilliant new campaign around making it count in 2012, following on from the #historystands campaign from last year.

Nike has taken a range of athletes – including two of my absolute idols: Mo Farah and Paula Radcliffe – and built a campaign around what they are going to do to make it count in 2012. And then Nike wrapped this uncompromising message around the Metro newspaper. I love that idea. Take a tough medicine, refuse to wrap it in a sugar coating, use unusually challenging imagery and stuff it down the throats of slightly hung-over, depressed and podgy-from-Christmas commuters. That’ll give them something to think about. Indeed when I saw the campaign I had a very strong urge to ask the people sitting around me what they were going to do to make it count in 2012? Eh? Yes, you… what are YOU going to do in 2012 to make it count?

So Nike, my cap is doffed to you. Please, I implore you, keep on with this style of challenging advertising. Sure, you might alienate the terminally-lazy and uninspirable, but I think that there are many people who will have looked at the steely gaze of Mo or Paula and thought to themselves

maybe this year it would be great to do something that means when I review the year at the dawn of 2013, I have done something to make it count

And what about me? Well I am doing everything I can to make sure that I achieve the marathon time I want in 2012. That will certainly make it count for me.

*Go Hard or Go Home – adopted from the excellent RunDemCrew which you can check out here


Will he, won’t he? The Galen Rupp saga continues

Thomas Boyd/The Oregonian

Since reporting a few weeks ago that Galen Rupp, the US 5,000m record holder and Mo Farah’s training partner under Alberto Salazar, had decided to enter the US Olympic marathon team selection race (here) at the Houston marathon, it has now been announced, by Ken Goe in the Oregonian, that Rupp has decided not to contest for a place in the marathon team for the London Games.

At the time that Rupp announced he would race there were rumours that it was all a bit of a ruse to get under the skin of certain other runners, especially those who might make it hard for Dathan Ritzenhein, a team mate of Rupp under Salazar, to qualify. After all, stress is very disruptive for anyone training for a marathon, not least someone training to beat the best runners the US has to offer and thereby qualify for the greatest athletics competition of them all. The inclusion of an unknown quantity over the marathon distance and an undoubtedly first-rate runner at lesser distances, could be just the thing to create a few sleepless nights.

Nevertheless, conspiracy or not, Galen Rupp is not going to debut at the marathon this weekend because as Goe reports, he is worried that running a marathon would damage his chances of honing his finishing speed in advance of the Games in July. So peace is restored. America’s marathon runners will only have to worry about other marathon runners. And by this time on Saturday we will know who will be coming to English shores in the summer to try their luck over 26.2 miles of our fair city’s streets. Good luck chaps. See (some of) you in August.

Is the US becoming a marathon super-power?

There has been much written about the recent emergence of the US as a force to be reckoned with in distance racing. The likes of Chris Solinsky (10,000m PB 26:59.60), Bernard Lagat (5,000m PB 12:53.60), Ryan Hall (marathon PB 2:04:53), Meb Keflezighi (marathon PB 2:09:15), Dathan Ritzenhein (marathon PB 2:10:10), Brett Gotcher (marathon PB 2:10:36) and Jason Hartmann (marathon PB 2:11:06), to name but a few, all point to a bright future for US distance running. But as American coaches and commentators are at pains to point out, becoming a great distance running nation is a slow process (and as an aside I would argue we have not even really started on this process in the UK in any meaningful way yet).

History repeating itself?

Since heroes such as Alberto Salazar, Dick Beardsely, Bill Rodgers and Frank Shorter lit up the world running scene, there has been something of a lost generation. But now the athletes I have mentioned above are looking like the green shoots of recovery. And from what I understand, these luminaries at the pointy top of the pyramid are being followed by a larger and larger group of hard-working and determined young runners.

But the really exciting news that has been announced this week is that Mo Farah’s training partner, and another star in Alberto Salazar’s group at the Oregon Project, Galen Rupp, is due to run in the up-coming US marathon trails for the 2012 Olympics. This is big news!

US Olympic trials

The way the US picks its athletes for the Olympics, certainly in the marathon, is by holding a race. My understanding is that this ‘do or die’ way of choosing the team for the Olympic marathon is something that US Olympic committee is very proud of, albeit the process has had it’s share of controversies over the years. Indeed the tone of the text on www.marathonguide.com gives some insight into how dear the idea of a one-off smack-down, is held:

Most countries around the world use a selection committee to choose their Olympic Team Members, but not the USA. Prior to 1968, a series of races were used to select the USA Olympic Marathon team, but beginning in 1968 the format was changed to a single race on a single day with the top three finishers selected to be part of the Olympic Team and the fourth and fifth finishers designated as alternates. As a once-every-four-years opportunity to be selected to the Olympic Marathon team, the USA Olympic Team Trials is arguably the most important marathon that many will run.

This year the ‘race for a place’ will be at the Houston marathon. The race’s website excitedly announced the news, thus:

On January 14, 2012, for the first time ever, USA Track & Field and the Houston Marathon Committee will host the men’s and women’s Olympic Trials Marathon on the same day, at the same site. This historic event will determine the three men and three women who will represent the United States in the marathon at the 2012 Olympic Games in London

So back to Galen Rupp. His personal bests are pretty impressive:
Mile – 3:57.72
3,000m – 7:42.40
5,000m – 13:07:35
10,000m – 26:48.00
Half Marathon – 1:00:30

What does Rupp’s entry really mean?

And now he is going to try for the US Olympic marathon team. Or is he? There is talk that he is going to start the race to help pace team mate Dathan Ritzenhein, at the behest of their coach Alberto Salazar. Taking the conspiracy theories one set further there is also talk that there is no intention for him to run at all – that in fact this is a red herring to put other competitors off their training and give Ritzenhein a psychological advantage. Or maybe he has just decided that he wants a crack at the marathon. Whatever the reason for his involvement, if Rupp races and does as well as I and many others think he will, then one of Ritzenhein, Hall or Keflezighi might not be coming to London next year. Which is interesting in itself…

… but not half as interesting to me as the thought that Salazar might be grooming his top runners for marathon super-stardom sooner than many predicted. And his top athlete? Mo Farah. Now his marathon debut would be exciting news!