British Race Report: Farah becomes a marathon man with UK record
Sir Mo Farah learned the hard way about the trials and tribulations of his new life as a marathon runner as he broke the British record to finish third at the Virgin Money London Marathon today.
“It was do or die out there,” said Farah with a weary smile - and there were moments, he swore, when it felt like the former was the preferable option.
Yet after pushing himself through limits he never knew existed, and inspired by the cheers reverberating from the thousands of roadside fans, the greatest British runner of all-time reflected on his third-placed finish and UK record to declare: “I did good today!”
It was a morning that the quadruple Olympic track champion felt like he really belonged with the masters of endurance, headed by race victor Eliud Kipchoge. Greatness recognises greatness and Farah sounded a little awestruck as he conceded: “He just makes it look so easy.”
Maybe, it was also the day that Farah convinced himself that he still has it in him at 35 – he is two years older than Kipchoge, remember – to become a king of the road just as he has been a track phenomenon.
Erasing Steve Jones’s British record of 2 hours 7 minutes 13 seconds, which has stood for 33 years, was good enough reason to celebrate. As the Welsh former world record holder himself had predicted, it was not a question of whether he’d break it, but by how much. In the end, Farah’s time of 2:06:21 revised it by 52 seconds.
That was a handsome margin considering Farah had run the last eight kilometres under the noonday sun feeling absolutely “bolloxed”, as he told the post-race press conference.
It wasn’t just that, though. There were moments out there, particularly after two fumbling efforts to take on fluid in the first half of the race, when it looked as if he might be losing his cool. Farah first picked up the wrong bottle then, later, dropped another.
Yet it said much about his champion’s temperament that he didn’t let his drinking troubles faze him. Not only did he battle back onto Kipchoge’s shoulder after half-way when the Kenyan was still operating at world record pace, but he fought tigerishly to hold on when his body was feeling “more painful” than he could ever remember during a race.
“I'm knackered. These guys went for it, for the world record. It was do or die and I had to hold on as long as I could but I’m satisfied with the result. I can’t do any better than what I did,” he declared.
“I got a personal best, I fought as much as I could. You have to be a man, fight like a man, or start off in the back and regret later on. I fought as much as I could.”
What an experience it had been for him, he smiled, recalling the opening kilometres when the leaders were sweeping round madly in sub-two-hour pace.
“Everybody was going for it so basically I had no choice but to go with them,” he said. “At one point, I was looking at the clock, the first mile was ridiculously quick [4:22], I was looking at it thinking, ‘Oh my God’. Then it slowed down after halfway, and from there you pay the price. You can’t go off that fast and come away with 2:02.”
You do come away armed with valuable new knowledge, though. Asked if he felt the experience had persuaded him he could now become a marathon high achiever, he shrugged: “I believe so. It took me years to get it right on the track. It’s the same in the marathon. It’s not going to happen instantly but, over time, I hope to get it right.
“The aim is to keep working, trying to understand the event, keep learning and keep bringing that time down. With the performance I did today, I think I showed I'm capable of mixing with the guys. Kenenisa [Bekele] was behind me and so was the reigning champion [Daniel Wanjiru].
“So I’m pleased overall. Because if you looked at the field before we started that race, you would never put me in third place, ahead of so many of those other guys.”
Of course, he reckoned, he still had so much to learn in this event, not least, how to pick his way through the drinks minefield. “You never had to worry about that on the track,” he smiled ruefully.
So what happened with the case of the mistaken drink, which left him gesturing irritatedly afterwards and looking, momentarily, as if he might be becoming distracted?
“It was just a bit annoying,” he explained. “Me and the other athlete from Ethiopia had the exact same bottle and were on the same table too. So when I was trying to grab my drink, I was grabbing his drink and he was grabbing my drink.
“So I was telling the people ‘Can you please just tell us which one is our drink because it’s exactly the same bottle?’”
Farah, naturally, was the number one home-bred runner in the elite race but it was an important run for Liverpool Harrier Jonny Mellor, who was the second home, finishing 14th in 2:17:55. With the European Championship qualifying standard of 2:16 already secured, the 31-year-old can now start planning for Berlin in August.
In the women’s race, Lily Partridge was the top home performer, the Aldershot, Farnham and District runner battling home eighth in 2:29.24. Thames Valley Harrier Tracy Barlow was next finisher in 2:32:09, with the pair also guaranteeing their Berlin places.
Where Farah goes next, though, he still hasn’t decided, although an autumn marathon is on the cards. For the moment, though, he’s just looking forward to spending some well-deserved quality time with his children after his long training stint in Ethiopia.
“A tick for getting that new GB record,” he smiled. “It’s some payment for the fact that I haven’t seen my kids in three months.”
As is the knowledge that, in London today, he became a proper marathon man.