Mo Farah will return to London next year to make his marathon debut proper but beyond that it is the extraordinary exploits of the flying Finn Lasse Viren, the greatest distance runner in Olympic history, that offer a clue to the possible long-term ambition of the Briton.
Viren did the double distance double, winning the 5,000 metres and 10,000m at both the Munich and Montreal Olympics, and in the latter went out 24 hours after taking gold in the 5,000m to compete in the marathon as well. Farah, 30, intends to compete at the Rio Games but has yet to decide in which events.
There have been suggestions that if his marathon debut in London goes well that will be the distance he concentrates on, while matching up the 5,000m and the marathon is another possible avenue. But yesterday, as he discussed his first experience of the London Marathon – of which he ran half on Sunday – before flying back to his adopted home in Portland, Oregon today, Farah brought up Viren.
"It would be nice to do like Lasse Viren; he did track and from there went to a marathon – that's a challenge," he said. It will remain only a possibility until Farah crosses the marathon finish line next year – a disastrous run might end the experiment there and then, but if all goes to plan it raises the intriguing prospect of Farah taking on the treble.
To attempt such a feat would also need the luck of the draw, although whatever schedule the organisers come up with it will remain a daunting challenge. By the time Viren lined up for the start of what was his first-ever marathon in Montreal in 1976, he had already run 30,000m in the space of a week. The competitiveness of the marathon field today makes it an even tougher task and the realities of preparing adequately for three events may yet limit Farah's ambition.
First comes his attempt to double up at the World Championships in Moscow in August before focus returns to the marathon – a distance Farah is clearly fascinated by.
"I'm now the champion and the hunted," said Farah of what awaits in Russia. "The worlds will be as hard – but not harder [than London] – because I'm a marked man now and everyone will know my tactics."
He believes, though, that he is in a good place at the moment and looked fresh and fit in keeping up with a frantic pace during the first half of Sunday's race. "I'm in probably slightly better shape than I was last year," he said.
Farah will take a short break after the worlds before beginning his marathon preparations in earnest. The first target next spring will be the British record of 2hr 7min 13sec, which has stood for 28 years since Steve Jones – the last Briton to win the London event – recorded that mark in Chicago.
"I'd like get close to the British record," said Farah after being given a special half-medal from the race organisers following his 13 miles on Sunday. "My training partner [Galen Rupp] has run 2:07 and he is doing similar things to what I'm doing.
"If you've won medals on the track, what's next? It would be great to be able to run the distances and then win medals in the marathon – work your way through."
Lasse faire: Flying Finn's exploits
The enigmatic Finnish policeman who liked to train in the woods – "the tranquillity of nature creates mental strength" – became the fourth man to win the Olympic 5,000m and 10,000m double in 1972 and repeated the feat in 1976, as well as coming fifth in the marathon. Competed in 1980 but finished outside the medals – some blamed over-training for the marathon as the reason for his failure.
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