11 April 2014
Has there ever been as much hype about any athlete in the world making their marathon debut? Well what if that marathon was arguably the biggest marathon in the world, and taking place in your hometown with your adoring fans cheering you on. It’s safe to say that Sunday’s Virgin Money London Marathon should be a very special day for Mo Farah (coach: Alberto Salazar).
Turn back the clocks just over 18 months to London 2012 and Mo was writing his name into the history books by winning double Olympic gold in the 5,000m and 10,000m, the first time a British athlete has ever managed it. And in the years before and after, Mo has gone about re-writing the British record books from 1500m up to the half-marathon. Now, on his debut, he has the chance to complete the set, with many backing him to break Steve Jones’ 29 year old British marathon record.
"My main target is definitely to break the British record then see what comes with it. It's going to be an incredible race whatever happens, because if you look at this field it is something special", said Mo.
Earlier in the week Farah was in a jovial mood, laughing and joking with the assembled media.
"I want to thank David Bedford [the London Marathon elite race coordinator] for making this such an easy race for me" joked Farah.
"There's no doubt I'm going to start my marathon career in the deep end, but that's what champions do. I know I need to respect the distance because it is going to be completely different for me, going from track racing to the road. It is such a long way."
When quizzed on his build up to Sunday’s race, he commented:
"My training has gone reasonably well. There have been a few hiccups, but that's all part of it. On the whole it's gone as well as I wanted."
Last month Farah made his only competitive outing during his marathon build up, finishing second at the NYRR Half Marathon in New York, despite being tripped and hitting the concrete midway through the race.
"The fall was more of a worry for me than collapsing, to be honest. When you fall, mentally and physically it is hard to recover. I had a few scratches on my hip and my back but it's all good, I'm fine. I'm just glad it happened in New York rather than here."
Of his chances of winning on his debut in one of the best marathon fields ever assembled, Farah wanted to reserve judgement until after the race.
"I'll give it 110 per cent. I'm just going to go out and run with the group, try to be patient and not waste too much energy."
Also making his debut in London is the man who beat him to the European U23 5000m title way back in 2003, Chris Thompson (Alan Storey/Mark Rowland). He’ll be joined on the start-line by training partner Scott Overall (Storey) who boasts a 2.10.55 personal best from Berlin in 2011.
The pair are pleased with how their training has gone, and both agreed that training together had been mutually beneficial, and they'll aim to set off together at 2:10 pace on Sunday. Both have made the switch to be coached by Mo Farah’s old coach Alan Storey in recent months, preparing in West London after returning from Colorado Springs, USA at the end of February after a successful five weeks altitude training.
“It’s been good to have someone there during sessions,” said Overall, who won Reading Half Marathon in on his return to the UK in March.
“Before Berlin I was training with Ben Whitby, but since he retired a lot of my build ups have been on my own. With Chris, we can check in with each other asking questions like ‘are you completely knackered too?!’ just to make sure things are as they should be.
“Looking back, I think it was good going into my debut marathon [Berlin 2011] with some naivety. I knew I was in shape to run sub-2:12, which was the Olympic qualifying time, but after I achieved it I was definitely swept up in the Olympics and my 2:10 made every marathon after it more difficult.
“Going into the Olympics I perhaps over trained, and there were a few other reasons it perhaps didn’t go as well as I wanted, while in the London Marathon last year I had a bit of a niggle leading up to it and I probably shouldn’t have started. It’s all gone well this year though.”
Thompson echoed Overall’s sentiments that having someone going through the same process on a day to day basis has helped him better prepare for his 26.2 mile debut.
“It’s been good training with Scott. I’ve asked a lot of questions, I’ve learned a lot, and I’m ready for Sunday. We’ve been extremely honest and open with each other in training, and although we’re competing against each other on Sunday, we’re coming at it from different angles.
“I’d always been a bit worried about the training and because of my history of injuries I was bit nervous, but physically my body has responded well. I’ve not felt any anxiety and I think that’s a good situation to be in. I think the intensity of track running put me on the edge with lactic sessions, but the volume-based marathon training has been good.”
In the men’s wheelchair race, David Weir (Jenny Archer) will be going all out for his seventh London Marathon crown, but he will have to be on his mettle to achieve this remarkable feat. Hampered by a recent chest infection, Weir knows it won't be an easy task.
"I need to put all my efforts in to London. Every single bit of me will be on Sunday's race."
Weir was disappointed to finish fifth last year when he was still recovering from his unbelievable successes of 2012. Adding a sixth London Marathon title in the April, ‘the Weir Wolf’ went on to win four Paralympic gold medals, including the marathon.
After a down year last year where he passed up on the opportunity to compete at the 2013 IPC World Championships in Lyon in order to recover both physically and emotionally, the fire in his belly is burning again as we head into 2014 with another home championships on the cards in the form of the IPC European Championships in Swansea in August.
"It was a good decision not to focus on much last year. It was nice to actually watch some athletics and not feel the pressure to win medals for the team.
"I've got my hunger back for training now. The next couple of years are busy ahead of Rio [the 2016 Paralympic Games]. I'm not retiring yet. Even if I don't win on Sunday, I'll keep going."
In the women's wheelchair race, Shelly Woods (Archer) will aim to win back the title she won in 2012, after a fifth place finish in 2013.
The other big name in action this Sunday is IPC World 200m Champion Richard Whitehead (Liz Yelling/Keith Antoine). After an action packed twelve months where he ran 40 marathons in 40 days and finished runner-up in reality TV diving show “Splash”, Whitehead now has his sights solely set on athletics once more, and is relishing the opportunity to compete over the marathon distance again in 2014.
“The marathon represents who I am as a person and it gives me the opportunity to show what I’m all about. It’s a really inclusive event where anyone can compete or spectate, and it’s liberating to get involved.
“As athletes, this event also gives us a great platform to showcase what we can do and highlights our ability to perform; it’s a legacy from London 2012.”
Tune in to BBC1 from 8.30am on Sunday morning to catch all the action live.