From Kenya to London: Mo Farah’s hardest race

Matt Majendie, up in the hills of Iten, talks to the double Olympic champion as he puts in the miles for his marathon debut

The road to Iten, Mo Farah’s Kenyan training base for the next 10 weeks, is a bumpy one. Large potholes eventually make way for a dusty track up to the High Altitude Training Centre, which Farah first visited in 2008.

Either side of the track are wooden huts with corrugated-iron roofs; a stray cow crosses the road at a snail’s pace, Farah himself emerging moments later at the side of the road alongside a group of runners. At what is known as the home of champions, as a double Olympic and world champion Farah slots in comfortably.

For Farah the motto here is simple: “Switch off, eat, train.” It is a simplicity that the Londoner, bedecked in an Arsenal shirt on transfer-deadline day, revels in. It is here in this vast expanse, where paragliders overhead share the vista with long-distance runners on the ground, that he insists he works twice as hard as anywhere else in the world.

It is a day off, which in Farah’s world means a mere 10-mile run, during which local children excitedly shout his name as they run alongside. In an average week, though, he clocks up 130-plus miles on his route into the unknown: a first stab at the London Marathon.

The 30-year-old argues that running the marathon is like learning to walk again. “It’s just like driving a car. You could drive it at 50mph and you would get there quicker but you are just driving at 25 and holding the steering wheel on some bumpy road. Your legs and your body feel like that.”

And he adds: “It’s going to be harder than London [2012], harder than Moscow [the World Championships], it’s going to be one of the hardest races of my life. The London Marathon is not about taking on a few guys, they get the best of the best.”

He lives and breathes training, the commitment to this latest challenge highlighted by the family sacrifices. He has already been in Kenya for two weeks, and when he is eventually reunited with his wife and three children he will not have seen them for three months.

The marathon is not quite an obsession, more a dream, but a dream he has had for as long as he can remember. He first raced in a mini-marathon aged 14, coming second.

Last year, he ran half the London distance, but in April there will be no half-measures. It is a race that director Hugh Brasher, without overstating matters, described as the “most long-awaited marathon debut of all time”. Farah will take on, among others, the world-record holder Wilson Kipsang and Olympic and world champion Stephen Kiprotich. In fact, the only big name missing is Kenenisa Bekele, who pipped Farah to the Great North Run victory in a thrilling race last year.

A year on from Farah’s first major foray on to the streets of London, he insists he will not be as nervous but, despite his inexperience, is well aware of the expectation. “If I don’t [win],” he says, “it will be like, ‘What’s happened to Mo?’”

But otherwise he wants the local public to help him against the more experienced marathon runners. “I’m hoping if my rivals are going to intimidate me, the crowd can do their bit and intimidate them,” he says. “Having the crowd is amazing and that’s what carries me to the line. Imagine if 75,000 people in the stadium [as in London 2012] are just shouting your name, what would it be like if you’re on the street, where people don’t have to pay anything, they’ve just come to watch you?”

The minimum requirement is Steve Jones’ British record of 2hr 7min 13sec, but the expectation is significantly greater. If he were to take Jones’ 29-year national record, Farah would hold the British record at every Olympic distance from 1500m to the marathon.

“It’s hard but I have to do it. It’s London,” he explains. “I could easily sit back and say, ‘Dave [Bedford, one of the race organisers], I’m going to stay at home and train.’ But it’s something I must do. I believe I can run 2.07 but the next level is how do you get close to 2.03 [world-record pace]? It will take time but it’s about learning. Every race on the track I learnt something – it will be the same for the marathon.”

His training has undergone a complete overhaul – more miles, longer workouts, fewer speed sessions, even adapting his running style, currently seen as too bouncy for the rigours of the marathon.

Also, he wants to learn from everyone he can. “I’m asking a lot of people, ‘How does it feel, what’s the hardest part?’ and just trying to understand,” he says. “It’s about being sensible but you have to have the confidence. As an athlete you never think about defeat. If you think that, you will never be champion.”

Even so, it promises to be a bumpy road ahead.

News
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised
people
Life and Style
tech

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

Sport
football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
News
Brian Harvey turned up at Downing Street today demanding to speak to the Prime Minister
news

Met Police confirm there was a 'minor disturbance' and that no-one was arrested

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010
films

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Voices
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'
voices

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Life and Style
The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK
lifeEleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, yet no one speaks about this silent tragedy
News
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)
news

Parties threaten resort's image as a family destination

Life and Style
Northern soul mecca the Wigan Casino
fashionGone are the punks, casuals, new romantics, ravers, skaters, crusties. Now all kids look the same
Life and Style
gaming

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

News
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 5 Teacher

£80 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Year 5 Teacher KS2 teaching job...

Software Developer

£35000 - £45000 Per Annum Pensions Scheme After 6 Months: Clearwater People So...

Systems Analyst / Business Analyst - Central London

£35000 - £37000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Busines...

Senior Change Engineer (Network, Cisco, Juniper) £30k

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Senior Change ...

Day In a Page

Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past