Marathon man Mo Farah should halt British decline, says Radcliffe

 

National Indoor Arena

Paula Radcliffe might be baffled by Mo Farah's "half measure" approach to this year's London Marathon – he plans to drop out at the midpoint – but the fastest female marathon runner of all-time believes the double Olympic champion will take British men's marathon running back to the future when he tackles the full 26.2 mile distance for the first time next year. The British men's record has been stuck at 2 hours 07 minutes 13 seconds, the time achieved by Welshman Steve Jones, since October 1985. In Radcliffe's estimation, Farah is "well capable of running a 2hr 04min marathon".

While Radcliffe has taken women's marathon running to a new dimension – obliterating Véronique Marot's ancient British record on her debut in London in 2002 and putting the world record out of touch with her stunning 2hr 15min 25sec run in the English capital a year later – British men's marathon running has been in steep decline since the glory days of the mid -980s, when Jones held the world record and Gateshead's Charlie Spedding won Olympic bronze. Jon Brown did come tantalisingly close to making the Olympic rostrum, finishing fourth in Sydney in 2000 and in Athens in 2004, but the fastest Briton last year was Lee Merrien with 2hr 13min 41sec.

Farah, then, will be on a British revival mission when he makes his debut in the 2014 Virgin London Marathon – after first testing himself to the halfway mark against a field including the present world record holder Patrick Makau (whose global mark stands at 2:03:38) in this year's London race on 21 April. The announcement of the London Olympic hero's graduated step up in distance came after his first race of the year, a comfortable 3,000m victory in the British Athletics Grand Prix in Birmingham on Saturday.

"He's just got to do it first," Radcliffe said, when asked for her opinion on Farah's marathon potential. "The marathon is the sort of event you can't predict, because you might not like it or you might not be suited to it. I would say that he's well capable of running a 2hr 04min marathon but we'll just have to see what he does.

"I think he will run very, very well, but the depth on the men's side is scary at the moment. He could run a 2hr 04min marathon and there could be 10 people still around him.

"But definitely, talent-wise, from the long runs I've seen him do out in Kenya, I can think he can definitely do it."

Radcliffe turned to the marathon at the age of 28 and found that the training for the extra distance helped her to her best ever season on the track, when she won the Commonwealth 5,000m and European 10,000m titles in the summer of 2002. She confesses to surprise that Farah is only testing the waters this year, preferring to concentrate of preparations for the 5,000m and 10,000m at the World Championships in Moscow in August. "I wouldn't have necessarily done what he's doing in London, this year, because you're going in against people you're going to be racing against next year and I almost think you should go in when you're ready. Just go in and do a marathon, race it hard."

As it happens, Farah has a half-marathon race in New Orleans next Sunday. As for Radcliffe, she fears her own marathon days might be over, having suffered another setback in the wake of surgery to the foot problem that forced her to miss the London Olympics. A screw has come loose in her foot and she needs another operation. "I just want to be able to run and play with my kids," she said. "I'm not even thinking about getting back to running a marathon again."

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