Mo Farah: From tough of the track to marathon man

After his latest golden double, the distance runner relishes the idea of tackling 26.2 miles in London

Wind the clock back to the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and the second heat of the 5,000 metres. After 12-and-a-half laps in the humidity of the Bird's Nest, Mo Farah cut a dejected figure having finished sixth, missing out on the final, in a heat won by Kenya's Edwin Soi. From there, the remaking began.

Wind the clock forward to the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Oregon, on 1 June this year, and Soi was once more his vanquisher, an admittedly virus-stricken Farah having to make do with second.

Those two moments above all dictated events in Moscow during the past week. For all his happy-chappy exterior, Farah is mentally unforgiving when it comes to his defeats. Both memories still simmered away in the back of his mind, driving him forward in the 100-odd miles he trains each week and spurring him to the line with the might of Africa's runners chasing him down the home straight.

After that June defeat, Farah produced what his coach, Alberto Salazar, described as his best training session. The Londoner pounded round the track over six one-mile sessions – taking around 4min 5sec for each – his only recovery a 600m jog in between. It ended with him being sick, suffering from a combination of his virus and the lactic acid build-up, and lying stricken on the track.

"I killed myself, I was so angry, disappointed," he says the morning after he sealed his double double. "I think that has changed me. It was good to get beat, I don't want to get beat. I remember I was on the floor, literally on my back. I trained as hard as I could. I was there to prove a point."

When offered the excuse that he was ill, he repeats the same refrain: "But I didn't want to get beat".

As for Beijing, he describes as "unbelievable" the journey he has taken since then, achieving that rarest of athletics feats, the Olympic and world double. "I was knocked out of the final [in Beijing] and that was the change, the turning point in my career," he says.

In the intervening years, he has achieved greatness through his toil. How do you define greatness? Is it through Olympic and world medals, defending titles or world records, or a combination of them all? There are some who suggest Farah cannot lay claim to true greatness until he has a world record to his name. So far, that is a rare omission in a truly glittering CV.

Farah insists such remarks do not irk him. "My goal is to be able to collect as many medals in my career as I can," he says. "Yes, it would be nice to run faster, close to world records, but medals mean much more to me than any world record."

Next year the athletics calendar is of lesser importance. There is no Olympics or World Championships to aspire to, only the European Championships and the Commonwealth Games. For now, Farah does not know what he will tackle. But the calendar offers the prospect of focusing on a world record, and Farah believes the 10,000m is the most attainable.

"It's a great opportunity next year to train for it, focus on running faster," he says. "It is something that we can think about and plan, my coach and the rest of the team. We need to talk as a team and prepare for it and we'll just see how the body responds."

The more immediate goal is next month's Great North Run, his only remaining ambition this season before he and Salazar start preparing for a first onslaught on the London Marathon in April. Having such a different target ensures he will not be guilty of complacency, although such is his love of running and hatred of losing that he could never be accused of that. He likens heading into marathon territory to being at the base of a mountain once more, as he had been in Beijing in 2008 before climbing to such heady heights on the track.

"You've got to climb that," he adds. "It's a huge challenge. I'm sure I'll make a few mistakes and learn from that and build on it. You can't get it right first time.

"It's definitely a good challenge. As an athlete you need challenge, you need something to inspire you. The London Marathon is something I've always dreamed of. It's because I've watched it and it's happened in a city where I grew up. You imagine yourself doing it when you're young. That time has finally come."

There are suggestions he may slow on the track and potentially lose the kick that won him that double double, but Paula Radcliffe's times on the track improved after she made the switch to the marathon.

Success is by no means guaranteed over the longer distance. Farah says a stitch hampered him from lap eight in the Moscow 5,000m, and had the opposition "put the hammer down, 100 per cent definitely I would have been in trouble". It was, he says, the hardest of his four global golds in the past 12 months to win.

The memories of Beijing 2008 and Eugene 2013 are banished for now, but it is revisiting those defeats that will spur him on to further greatness.

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