The Endurance and Kick Transition of Mo Farah from Track to Road

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Life is a marathon, not a sprint – according to the famous saying. For British athlete Mo Farah, it’s fair to say that both have been equally important to the success of his elite running career. The final kick with sprint finishes are what defined his winning performances, with double golds in the 5k and 10k events at consecutive World Championships (2013 and 2015) and Olympic Games (2012 and 2016), producing a ‘quadruple-double’ of gold medals that had never before been achieved in track distance running. A feat that not even the legendary Haile Gebrselassie managed to achieve during his phenomenal endurance race career.

What’s perhaps most interesting amongst the most tactical of track events, is that Mo Farah never broke any world records in either the 5k or 10k. That honour still rests firmly with one of his key competitors, Ethiopian distance star Kenenisa Bekele, with both record times achieved when ‘Sir Mo’ was still a relative unknown who was struggling to break into the sporting elite. Despite less than a year separating the two in age, the pair were poles apart when it came to their track success.

Heading west with a new coach and new approach

The immensely popular Mo Farah recently took a completely different approach to training and preparation, he developed new methods, diets and even worked on a regime that entirely focused on the principle that fast finishers win distance titles, as he would eventually go on to discover with aplomb. Bekele had already raised the standards with his own explosive kick and distinctive style of finishing distance races, and though a strong final kick was already part of Farah’s own race strategy, it needed to be greatly refined and improved if he was to beat the best in the world.

The watershed moment undoubtedly came in February 2011, when Farah announced he was changing relocating to Portland in Oregon, where he would work with leading distance running coach, Alberto Salazar, while training alongside the best American 5k and 10k track athlete of his generation, Galen Rupp. The two athletes quickly developed a strong friendship and training partnership under the guidance of Salazar at the Nike Oregon Project, and both soon began to get the results they were striving for.

Rupp was swiftly improving his personal best times and finishing positions in races, setting a new American 10k record in 2011 at the September 16 Memorial Van Damme meet in Belgium, finishing third on the podium behind none other than Bekele, who won the race. If the improved quickness over the final lap was already paying dividends for Rupp, the changes in biometrics, running habits, training and overall performance, were pushing Farah into an altogether different stratosphere.

Reaching for the gold standard

After setting new British and European 10k records during his win at the Prefontaine Classic meeting in Oregon in June 2011, Farah then made his global breakthrough at the 2011 World Championships in South Korea in September. Winning a silver medal in the 10k and gold in the 5k, he wrote himself into the British athletics history books as the first man from his country to win World Championships medals in both distance events. Nevertheless, for both Rupp and Farah, the best was yet to come.

US Olympic Trials records fell before Rudd in June 2012, first with a 10k time of 27:25.33 to beat Meb Keflezighi’s 2004 time, then the iconic Steve Prefontaine’s 5k record dating back to 1972, with a time of 13:22.90. At the same time, he finished ahead of fellow American rival Bernard Lagat for the first time. Meanwhile, Farah won the European 5k title for the second time in his track career, and the first athlete ever to do so.

The stage was set for the 2012 Olympic Games in London for the two distance runners. Having reached the 10k final, both produced spectacular finishes in the race. Farah finished ahead, achieving his lifelong dream of Olympic gold thanks to much improved tactical savvy throughout the race, and of course, the energy and power of his trademark kick in the final stretch to the finishing line. The strategy “fast finishers win distance titles” was indeed proven right. Rudd ran an exceptional final lap of 53.8 seconds to claim the silver medal, becoming the first American to reach the medal podium since Billy Mills won gold at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo.

Although Rupp couldn’t reproduce the same kind of form in the 5k event just a few days later, he did finish a creditable seventh amongst a highly competitive field of the best track runners of that distance in the world. Riding on the crest of a wave, it was Farah who would win the race, claiming his second gold medal of the Olympics and on home soil, roared on by a British crowd that delightedly reveled in his success.

Moving over to the marathons

While the 2012 Olympic Games was undoubtedly the peak for Rupp at major international track competitions, he had already achieved a promising level of marathon success and began to switch the focus his efforts from the track to the road. Meanwhile, Farah remained the golden man of track distance running, dominating both the 5k and 10k with further European and World Championship doubles, before achieving another golden Olympic duo of wins at the 2016 Games in Rio.

Indeed, Farah’s star only began to fade slightly in 2017 with the announcement he was ending his track career, and although he won 10k gold at the 2017 World Championships in London, an uncharacteristic performance in the 5k resulted in a somewhat disappointing silver medal. The winner was Muktar Edris, another rising distance running star from Ethiopia more than ten years younger than Farah, although it’s fair to say the British athlete didn’t judge his last ever major track race with his customary tactical smartness, or time the introduction of his fearsome kick until it was too late.

Farah is now looking ahead to the next challenges in his sporting career, taking to the roads and the marathons. Akin to the switch his former training partner Rupp made, it’s a natural progression for someone who has enjoyed an exemplary elite athletics career, and one he’s already quite accustomed to. ‘Sir Mo’ already boasts four consecutive Great North Run half-marathon wins between 2014 and 2017, along with victories in the New York City Half Marathon in 2011 and Lisbon Half Marathon in 2015.

Farah’s dreams of Tokyo marathon gold

Having returned to live in the UK, parting ways with Alberto Salazar and working with new coach Gary Lough, the legendary British distance runner will once again need to change his training focus and methodology, as he seeks to emulate his track success in the World Marathon Majors over the coming years. How Farah performs in 2018 marathons will be an early indication of his transition from track to road, as he attempts to beat the best in a strong field of endurance competitors, including former track rival, Kenenisa Bekele, who recorded his world record time of 2:03.03 at the Berlin Marathon in 2016.

One thing is clear when it comes to his next objectives. Farah is aiming for the 2020 Olympic Games, and the chance of wearing a marathon gold medal around his neck. “Tokyo is possible. If I’m in great shape and I’m good enough to get a medal I will be there,” he ambitiously told BeIn Sports in January 2018. Given his past successes fueled by such drive and determination, few can doubt that he will be battling away to reach the finishing line first in Japan. Adding an Olympic Marathon gold to his already impressive haul of medals, will be the icing on the cake of a remarkable athletics career.

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