The day I went running with Julia Bleasdale

Last week I had the pleasure of going running with Julia Bleasdale. Yep, that’s right…

  • the runner who came 8th in both 5,000m and 10,000m finals at the London Olympics, running a personal best time of 30:55.63 in the 10,000m race.
  • the very same Julia Bleasdale who is ranked as the 9th fastest female 10,000m runner in the world in 2012, by the IAAF.
  • the athlete who, in 2012, knocked 42 seconds off her 5,000m personal best taking it to 15:02.00 whilst improving her 10,000m lifetime best from 34:20.77 to 30:55.63.

And I was going to run with her. I think the main question was, would I survive?

An annus mirabilis

Last year was pretty special for Julia. The numbers I have listed above tell a tale, but whilst we ran and talked, I got the distinct impression that there was more to it than just the figures. I think that Julia really enjoyed her Olympic year. Her eyes lit up when she talked about what it was like to walk out into the Olympic stadium for the 5000m and 10000m finals. The noise, the sights, the support – she was clearly inspired and I think it has given her a desire to do more and go further.

Partly the success has been down to Julia linking up with coach Nic Bideau in mid-2011. Up to that point Julia had been self coached and told me

I was probably pushing myself too hard and as a consequence was picking up injuries which affected my ability to train consistently…

which would obviously have a knock-on effect on what she achieved.

I asked Julia how it worked with Nic and I was interested to hear that he structures her entire week, even deciding the pace that each part of every run should be done at. This is no mean feat, given that Nic is based in Australia and Julia said that she has to make sure that she feeds back to her coach about all the aspects of her training and how she is feeling, so that he can adjust her training accordingly.

But it seems to be working and I was interested to hear that more than anything, the change that Bideau has introduced is that Julia is training less intensively than before which has meant that she has been able to train more consistently.

Other support

I have written many times about the importance of having good people around you. I am enormously lucky to have an amazingly supportive wife, a great coach and many friends who challenge me a spur me on in my running. Julia similarly seems to have a great network.

She told me about her partner, Kevin Nash, who was heavily involved in the London Olympic Games, managing the courses used for the cycling road races for the Olympics and Paralympics. His support seems to be very valuable and being a fit man himself, he can presumably understand Julia’s commitment to her sport and spends many hours cycling alongside her as she runs, whether that is in the hills around her UK base in Surrey or in Ethiopia where she goes for altitude training.

Julia also mentioned two other people who have played a part in her success: Mark Buckingham, her physio and Dr Steve Peters, the sports psychologist and author of The Chimp Paradox. Not a bad team, it would seem.

The future

As we run through the forests that surround Julia’s lovely house in Surrey, we talked about the future.

Julia knows that she has the raw talent to succeed. It is also clear that she has the commitment and desire to work hard to get better – as an example, her Christmas Day workout was four sets of 4x500m. As if that wasn’t tough enough, it was done at Kenenisa Bekele’s new track at 2,750m above sea level in the Yaya African Athletics Village, a facility part owned by Haile Gebrselassie – who, coincidentally, Julia told me is “really lovely”!

We met the week after Julia had captained the GB team in the Bupa Edinburgh Cross Country, against teams from the USA and Europe and I was amazed to hear that despite her really impressive performance there, Julia knows there is more to come because the seven weeks she had just spent in Ethiopia contained a majority of endurance training and not much speed work. Once she builds speed in, goodness knows what she will be doing!

Bleasdale’s concrete plans for 2013 include the athletics World Championships in Moscow and the World Cross Country Championships and I for one, will be tipping her for even more success.

Beyond that, Julia told me she is happy on the track for now and Rio 2016 is actually not all that far away. She (and I along with anyone who has an interest in Team GB athletics) is hoping that the upward trajectory that her running has been on, continues. And if that does happen, then her friend and occasional training partner, Meseret Defar, who won the 5000m in London, had better watch out.

A marathon, perhaps?

And I had to ask about the possibility of a marathon. Julia said that as of now she has no concrete plans, but I was pleased to hear that she believes that there will be an attempt on the 26.2 mile race in the future. I am absolutely sure that she is capable of great things beyond the track and whilst she was prepared to pace our run so that I wasn’t left behind somewhere in the trees and the falling snow, I doubt that my marathon PB would be good enough to stay anywhere near her when she does make the step up in distance.

Many thanks to Julia for hosting me at her house (the home-made scones were really delicious!) and especially for taking me for a really wonderful run in the snow. Personally I am really excited to see what the future holds and if you are keen to find out more about Julia, and her passion for creativity as well as running, check out her website – www.juliableasdale.com. I am going to try to convince Julia to allow me to ‘join’ her for a track session at some point and if that happens I’ll report back on how that goes!

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!

Hicham El Guerrouj – a running hero

For many people in the UK, the 1500m is a race that had its heyday with Coe, Ovett and Cram. After them – after Peter Rono put an end to Great British dominance of this event in the Olympic final in 1988 – the 1500m sort of lost its shine.

But I think that this is one of the most iconic distances of all. Please don’t misunderstand me, I love all running distances. But I think certain distances are special. They, for me, are about the raw pursuit of fulfilling our genetic heritage. The 100m is impressive, but as a species we’re pretty crap at running fast over short distances and every predator in the savannah would have absolutely no problem making Usain Bolt lunch if he was caught 100m from safety. A squirrel would outrun Bolt by rather a large margin over 100m (especially if the savannah predator was happy to have either one for lunch!)

But the 1500m becomes the sort of distance where the genetic benefits that come with being homo sapiens really come to the fore. Sustained speed-endurance that has beauty, grace, power, tactic… everything basically.

And this clip from the BBC series Faster, Higher, Stronger really illustrates the point that post Coe-Ovett-Cram, the 1500m did not stagnate. It found new heroes. It reached new heights. It became an even more beautiful race to watch. And Hicham El Guerrouj was at the forefront of that. He and Bernard Lagat, now a US citizen and one of Mo Farah’s keenest rivals, created one of the most memorable races in Olympic history. You cannot fail to be moved by this. Have a look at the clip and let me know: how does this make you feel?

 

 

Feather-weight comfort

I like Adidas – I like the brand, I like the German-ness of the company. I like their focus on performance above all else. And I really like the products, especially the adiZero range. One of my favourite bits of kit – and I have quite a bit of kit! – is a second hand adiZero longsleeve t-shirt that my coach, Nick Anderson, gave me.

Above all I really like the Adidas shoes that I have tried out… which is actually exactly one pair – the adiZero Adios 2s, with super-special Continental rubber in the soles. They are really good shoes (especially after the toe-box was widened a smidgen which means they now accommodate my big fat feet!) and I ran my marathon PB of 2:38:30 in London this year in my second pair of Adios.

But unlike Nike, Brooks, Mizuno, New Balance, Saucony and others, Adidas have never wanted anything to do with me and my little blog. Until recently, that is.

A few months ago I was contacted by an agency on behalf of Adidas asking me to give them some details about myself and tell them about the blog. Which I did. And for a while nothing happened and I didn’t worry about that. I don’t chase brands – if they want to reach all the lovely people who come and read this nonsense… erm, I mean blog, then they can chase me.

Then suddenly two weeks ago, I received a very large package with an address label prominently displaying the Adidas logo. Inside was a magnificent metal and perspex box, containing a pair of the new adiZero Feather 2s. I was immediately taken aback by the amazing packaging and presentation of the shoes. You can see for yourself:

 

Now THAT is a shoe box!

But packaging is all well and good, but it doesn’t tell you how the shoes perform on the feet. So after wearing them in the office and at home for a few days to get used to them, I went out for a few easy 45 minute runs in the bright blue Feather 2s.

Now I know this is not the worlds most insightful review, but

They are great!

OK, more detail. They are a touch on the narrow side, but that has always been my experience of Adidas shoes and they are not as narrow as the first version of the adiZero Adios that I wanted to wear but couldn’t because they were too tight around my toes. The Feathers are stiff and the cushioning in the forefoot and heel is firm, but that only serves to make the shoes feel really fast. If you are an efficient runner, used to racing flats or minimalist shoes, then you’ll feel right at home in the Feather 2s. The upper is super-lightweight, but without feeling flimsy and a side effect of that, which I like is the great breathability of the shoes. I even like the short and thin laces that stay tied perfectly.

The main thing that catches the eye about the Feather 2 however is the SPRINTFRAME construction which runs the full length of the show above the Adiprene cushioning material. It looks like a sort of plastic spring and seems to me to be a bit like the Wave insert that Mizuno use in the construction of their shoes, although in the adiZero Feathers the spring is under the mid-foot, not in the heel like the Mizunos. This seems to give the shoe a real springiness that means there is no sensation of losing momentum through the cushioning compressing, which I have experienced before. I am sure that it is this plastic plate which gives the Feather 2 such a pleasingly fast and responsive feel.

So, conclusion: the Adidas adiZero Feather 2 feels like a serious racer/trainer to me. This is a properly light shoe (just under 190g according the kitchen scales), low to the ground and with a firm feel that makes the shoe very responsive. This is a shoe for tempo runs, fast sessions, 10ks… that sort of thing. Light, biomechanically efficient runners will love this shoe as will anyone else who is looking for something quick and eye-catching. They’ll make you feel and look like an Olympian!

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 Men’s marathon report

As the London Olympic Games of 2012 draw to a close, the men’s marathon promised to be a fitting end to a wonderful few weeks of sport. Perfectly appointed to provide a stunning backdrop to the action, London was going to make the most of this final act in the Olympic athletics calendar. And we are lucky to have another report from the wonderful Catherine Wilding. Here is what she had to say about the race today (and if you want to read her report of the women’s marathon, it is here.)

 

Sunday 12th August 2012: It was the men’s turn to hit the streets of London.  Historically the men’s marathon represents the denouement of the Olympic Games and it is customary for the race to end in the Olympic stadium.  However, London 2012 organisers wanted to treat the global audience to some of the city’s most iconic sights and therefore devised a three and a half lap course around the City finishing on the Mall.  The course was to follow exactly the same route as the women’s race, yet a week on, conditions could not have been more different.

Iconic sights greeted the runners

It was ideal for spectators – hundreds of thousands turned out to line the route – 10-15 deep in places.  Views over London looked nothing short of spectacular on this blistering summer’s day.  But with temperatures reaching 27 degrees and humidity at 77% conditions were less than ideal for marathon running.

The race was always going to favour the African runners and perhaps conditions were a little more to their liking. If ever there was any evidence needed of how much the African nations dominate the sport, Kenya had 278 runners all meeting the Olympic qualifying time, yet were only able to select three, and therefore overlooked the current World Record holder – Patrick Makau. Ethopia had a similar problem but their selection criteria became rather contentious – again overlooking some of their best runner’s.  Unfortunately it proved to be entirely the wrong strategy.  Not only did their runners fail to make the podium, all three failed to make the finish line.

Team GB had just managed to scrape three runners together after an appeal by Lee Merrien (who fell just over a minute outside the qualifying time set by UK athletics) earned him selection for the team.  However only two of our men – Merrien and Scott Overall made it to the start line as Dave Webb was forced to withdraw from the race owing to injury.  Unfortunately we had no other runners in reserve – much to the chagrin of the African runners who had missed out.

To the non-runner, the marathon can be a rather confusing sport.  (Why – I am often asked in a manner of disbelief– would anyone want to run 26.2 miles? )   And to add further confusion to the un-initiated, on this occasion there were three runners all wearing the same name – Kiprotich.  Wilson Kipsang Kiprotich was running with the bib “Kiprotich” yet is better known as Kipsang.  A former London marathon winner who has won four of the five marathons he has run –  he was a favourite for the race. Stephen Kiprotich was running for Uganda and there was also a Kiprotich running for France.

A great race in store

It was in the final stages of the race when there were two Kiprotich’s in contention (the French version having dropped out much earlier in the race) that the confusion became excitement. By the time the Kenyan Kiprotich (Kipsang) and the Ugandan Kiprotich arrived for the final time on the Embankment it was the Ugandan that was the strongest already having made a surprising move and pulled ahead. He stormed to a convincing win on the Mall in 2.08.01.  Running straight into both Olympic and Ugandan history books as the first ever Ugandan to win an Olympic marathon and the country’s third only ever Olympic medal – their second Gold and first medal since 1976.

It was another surprising result for the marathon with an outsider sweeping Gold.  The Kenyan’s – Kipsang and Kirui, both ran impressive races with Kirui taking Silver and Kipsang Bronze.

It was Kipsang who began to push the pace early into the race.  The lead pack set off at a comparatively swift pace in contrast to the women’s race.  By the 10k mark there was a clear lead pack dominated by the African runners and gaps in the field had begun to open up early into the race.

The first surprise of the race came just beyond the 10 mile mark on the Mall when Ryan Hall of the USA – a possible challenger to the Africans – stepped off the course clutching at his hamstring.  He had gone into the race with a slight injury and clearly didn’t feel it was going to hold up.  Disaster struck again for the USA when moments later his team mate Abdirahman pulled up on Northumberland Avenue.  That left Meb Keflezighi the only contender for the USA.

By the half way point, Kipsang had opened up a 16 second lead on the chasing group.  The 5K splits were averaging 15minutes and the pace was hotting up.   In the chasing pack were Kirui, Abshero of Ethopia and Kiprotich of Uganda.  By this stage, the Ethiopians Sefir and Feleke were already starting to struggle with the pace.  By mile 17, however there were three leaders as Kirui and Kiprotich had caught Kipsang .   It was starting to feel like a race yet there were still 9 hard miles left to run.   The Brazilian dos Santos – two-time NYC Marathon winner – was the nearest contender but over a minute off the pace and back in 4th place working on his own, it seemed he had too much to do to be in contention for a medal.

The marathon gold medalist

There were many tight turns  on the course and it was at around the 36k mark in the City of London that Kiprotich made a swift move on a turn and pulled ahead of Kirui and Kipsang.   At this stage it was anyone’s guess what would happen next.  However Kipsang started to fade and Kirui put on a good fight down the Embankment but couldn’t close the now 19 second gap between himself and Kiprotich.    Making several glances over his shoulder, Kiprotich was checking his lead but by the time he arrived on Birdcage walk he was almost confident of victory.   Heading down the Mall he had the breathing space to pick up a Ugandan flag and hold it aloft as he crossed the finish line making history for his country.  He had opened up a 26 second gap on Kirui who finished in second place.  Kipsang finished in 2.09.37.  The early injection of pace in the race had clearly cost him the Gold medal spot for Kenya.

In 4th place came the American Keflezighi who had over-taken dos Santos to finish in a respectable 2.11.06 with dos Santos just behind in 2.11.10 and 5th place.

The conditions had clearly taken their toll.  Many of the runners neared the finish line looking exhausted and in distress.  Even the Kenyan’s had raced for the drinks stations pouring water over their heads to cool down.  Of the 100 runners to start 18 didn’t make the finish including all three of the Ethopians.  There were many casualties along the way with the South African runner Ngamole collapsing by the roadside with only 3 miles to go.

Scott Overall suffered in the heat and after a promising start he dropped back in the last half of the race to finish in a disappointing 2.22.37 and 61st place.  Lee Merrien finished in 30th place and a respectable 2.17.00, having proved his worthiness for selection.

 

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.

Lessons from the Legends: John Treacy

Recently I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to meet a running legend – John Treacy, AKA The Mudlark. It was a huge honour to meet him and have the opportunity to ask him about a whole host of different things.

Naturally the conversation turned to training and how he prepared when he was racing, especially in the run up to his Olympic marathon silver medal in 1984.

The interview became a piece about the lessons we can learn today from runners of the past and Lessons from the Legends #1: John Treacy, has just appeared in Running Fitness magazine. If you get a chance, please get a copy and have a read.