Four-time Olympic champion expecting to be pushed all the way as he aims to secure Tokyo place at British 10,000m Championships in Birmingham
Sir Mo Farah is someone who likes to keep things simple, whether that’s the objective of his next run, his approach to training or how he copes with the life of a top-level athlete with a young family to look after.
Having raced just once this year – in winning the Djibouti Half Marathon at the beginning of March – his next assignment also falls into the category of uncomplicated.
To be certain of his place at the Olympics, the four-time champion must cover the Müller British 10,000m Championships in Birmingham on Saturday evening (June 5) in the qualifying standard time of 27:28:00 or better and finish in the top two.
Both are entirely achievable goals and the odds appear weighted very much towards Farah booking his ticket to Tokyo. Yet there are aspects to consider where the apparent black and white of the situation starts to merge into shades of grey.
Firstly, the 10-time global medallist has not raced the distance since winning the world title at the London Stadium in 2017. Secondly, there is a new and hungry crop of emerging British athletes who will be looking to provide the sternest possible challenge. Throw in the fact that Farah is now 38 and the main storyline of this European 10,000m Cup has the potential to provide some fantastic sporting theatre.
It’s the classic tale of the champion returning for one more shot at the title and chief among the compatriot challengers will be Marc Scott, who ran 27:10.41 in February, a time which moved him to No.2 on the UK all-time rankings behind Farah’s national record of 26:46.57. Then there’s the in-form Jake Smith, who also looks set to make his presence felt.
It says much for Farah that he is putting himself out there to be targeted again but, as the man himself admits, having left the track for a new relationship with the marathon, he is returning to his first love.
“I ran against Marc at the Larne Half Marathon [Farah won in 60:27, 12 seconds ahead of Scott] last September, and that was a tough race. I know he has been working hard since,” he says. “Then everyone else will be going there to run their best so it’s going to be a great event.”
Of the 10,000m, he adds: “I missed it a lot. When you do the marathon you do a lot of training for very few races. On the track I like that I can race, see where I need to improve, then race again a few weeks later, and so on until I hit the Championships. The 10,000m on the track has been very good to me so I am excited to get back out there and see what I can do.”
“The 10,000m on the track has been very good to me so I am excited to get back out there and see what I can do”
Should he get the job done in Birmingham, then Farah will be able to turn his attention fully to what is a fearsome prospect in Tokyo. A quick scan of the global landscape identifies numerous potent threats. The first who spring to mind are the Ugandan pairing of Joshua Cheptegei and Jacob Kiplimo. The former, second to Farah in 2017, not only went on to claim the world crown in 2019 but also now holds the world records for 5000m (12:35.36) and 10,000m (26:11.00). The 20-year-old Kiplimo, meanwhile, underlined his talent at the recent Continental Tour meeting in Ostrava by clocking the seventh-fastest 10,000m in history – a run of 26:33.93.
Does this, therefore, represent the toughest test of Farah’s career? “Yes! I’m 38 years old now and I know it’s not going to be easy but I’m going to give it my best shot.”
Cheptegei’s records have been at the heart of the discussions around the super spikes footwear technology which has helped to send track times tumbling. Farah, however, believes he will be stepping on to a level playing field in Japan this summer.
“Everyone seems to be running faster at the moment, so I hope when I come to race I can run faster, too,” he adds. “Come the championships, though, I’m sure everyone will have new shoes and so it is still about who runs fastest on the day.
“My goal is to prepare myself so that I can give my best performance on the day and I hope that will be good enough to win.”
There will, of course, be plenty of attention coming Farah’s way as the summer progresses. With the mental health of athletes coming into increasingly sharp focus and the life of a long distance runner a particularly lonely one at times, how does he continue to cope with being in the spotlight while also being away from his family for long periods of time?
“I just try to keep things simple,” he says. “Often there is a lot going on, but if I spent time thinking about every little thing it would all become too much and I would get bogged down. I just try to focus my attention on my family, and what I have to do that day. That, for me, is enough.
“Being away for long periods is hard but I am very fortunate to have the support of my wife who understands it is something I have to do and by surrounding myself with a good team and training partners I’m not really able to get lonely.”
Sir Mo Farah training Q + A
What are the little things you do day to day which have brought big benefits to you and your running?
To all runners I would say to take care of the little things before the little things become the big things. Listen to your body. Don’t ignore pain. Eat the right things. Make sure you are recovering. On their own these are small things, but do them well all together and you can make big progress.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given about your running?
Very simple, just to enjoy it! If I didn’t enjoy what I do I would find something else.
What can you put your lack of serious injuries down to?
Good habits and good routines. People always see me running but what not so many people see is the work I do away from the track. Weights sessions, core workouts, stretching, getting treatment – they are all key parts of what I do. Now, with the support of Therabody I am recovering better than I ever have and that is crucial for me.
I use the Theragun predominantly before training. It is a great way to fire my muscles up and, if I do feel a certain part of my body is particularly tight, it has the tools to be able to get right into the area I want.
» Sir Mo Farah is a Therabody athlete. Therabody is a world-leading tech wellness brand, creator of Theragun Percussive Therapy and provider of an extensive range of wellness solutions
» A full version of this feature appears in the June issue of AW, which can be purchased here