What we can learn from Mo Farah

I have previously made reference to this quote, by Lance Armstrong:

Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever.

I believe that there are not many people as well qualified as Lance Armstrong to make such statements, but it was obviously visible at the 2011 Athletics World Championships in Daegu. Mo Farah has been a good athlete for about a decade. He has taken a long time to make the step up to become the UK’s number one distance runner and subsequently progressed further and demonstrated that he can compete against some of the best.

But for all of the personal goals which athletics allows you to achieve, running fast times and winning championship races are two very different practices. Mo Farah went into the 10 000m last Sunday as the fastest UK distance runner in history, as well as having beaten all of his obvious close competitors in the earlier parts of the year. The race went predominantly according to plan for 23½ of the 25 laps and, with 600m to go, he accelerated exactly as he had done throughout the season with much success. This video shows the outcome.

He was tracked by a runner whom he hadn’t competed against previously and was beaten in the final 100m.

With tired legs, it would have been easy to go home with the silver medal, and prepare for next year’s Olympics. But Mo Farah demonstrated that he is not a quitter by trying to rectify the situation at the earliest possible opportunity – and fitness allowed him to run on Wednesday and successfully qualify for the 5000m final the following Sunday.

Again, he ran the race sensibly for the first 11 of the 12½ laps. This video shows the outcome.

Contrast the difference in the two final laps. The latter is a demonstration of the discipline, mental strength and intelligence required to successfully compete at such a level; it almost makes the first appear naive and immature. He made a mistake, learnt from it, put it into practice and reaped the benefits.

So, as we start a new academic year, what better message can be sent to students? Work hard, learn from your mistakes, and you will be rewarded. And as for teachers, we can follow the same advice. Good luck to all.

NB. Mo Farah gets my vote for BBC Sports Personality of the year.

NB2. This could also form the basis of another (teaching) blog about the necessity and quality of rewards, but that will have to wait for another day.

NB3. For those who want to see the race in more detail, check http://athletics.channel4.com/

Trouble Man

The Yorkshire Three Peaks of Pen-y-Ghent, Whernshide and Ingleborough, form the basis of many events, whose total distance covers approximately 25 miles. I blogged about the recent event organised by Heart Research UK here, however I felt one particular aspect deserved a blog entry of its own.

Most people taking part in the event were walking, and there were only a few runners, so we had to be aware that we were in the minority. A few hellos, good mornings and thank-yous were exchanged to be friendly en route, which also help to diffuse any potential unrest or upset.

On the approach to Whernside (from Pen-y-ghent), there is a small bridge across a stream. As our feet were already soaked due to the poor conditions, we ran straight through the stream, passing a walker on the bridge. I may have heard a comment, but I couldn’t be certain. Meanwhile, with one of our party falling behind our group, we wanted to wait to let them know that, due to the poor weather and visibility, we would next wait for them the far side of the summit. While we waited, the gentleman from the bridge walked past us, making small talk about us running the event as we held open a gate for him.

We were quite close to each other as we went over Whernside, but we had to help another one of our members attend to an injury as we descended. It transpired that she had to withdraw, but we encountered this particular walker again on the higher section of Ingleborough (which doubles back on itself); he was walking down as we were going up. It was particularly steep, so our run had become a walk, but he made another comment, suggesting that he thought we were supposed to be running. I thought his remark was peculiar, but thought little more of it. Until I saw him in the distance, about 2.5 miles from the finish.

As is often the case, I was determined to catch and pass him before we finished – which we did with relative ease. But he made yet another comment, this time suggesting that we were not running the whole event and that we were only running the downhill sections. This was true to a degree, but so what? I powered up the next hill on purpose, partly in anger, but also knowing that he would see me. While I thought his comments were rude, I still thought little more of them. Until the finish.

As we were catching our breath and recovering beyond the finish line, the gentleman finished a few minutes behind us. His first words to the officials were to say that we had cheated as we hadn’t run up each mountain and were only running down them.

Just think about that for a moment. It’s not even like the event was a race.

All I ask is why? What is the point?

Or, do I just care too much?

Here goes

I have been running for close to a decade and, in that time, have completed six marathons. It took much effort to finally dip below the three-hour mark. Chasing another ‘personal best’ didn’t seem appropriate (let alone motivate me) at this time so, despite being entered into the 2011 London Marathon, it wouldn’t be enough to entice me back into training. I needed something bigger to aim for. I also wanted to do something to raise money for my Grandparents – for which a marathon alone would ‘not do’.

I looked at the possibility of marathoning on consecutive weekends, but the big marathons were filling up fast, if they weren’t already full. And I wasn’t interested in a series of low key marathons. I started to think beyond a marathon. Meanwhile, the inspectors came to work and my training would have to remain on hold for another week.

I thought about the races I had withdrawn from in the autumn and focused quickly on marathons in the Swiss Alps. I soon discovered The Swiss Alpine Marathon in Davos at the end of July, coinciding with the start of the school holidays. At 50 miles, it would be the furthest I have run, on the most difficult of terrains in the most difficult conditions. It was just what I wanted.

I discussed it with friends for a few days to test their reaction and to see if they would be interested in joining me. On 10th December, I entered the race and, almost instantly, my weekly mileage went from 5 to 25. I started telling people of my plans and immediately started to focus on my training. I went for 8 miles alone on the Saturday, and met The Emu and TFP the next day for what would prove to be a difficult 10.

The Emu had already picked up on my Swiss plans and started to tell me some plans he was hatching of his own. He was looking at running the Paris Marathon, the London Marathon the following weekend and running from Paris to London in the 6 days between. I informed him that I had already looked at doing the Paris Marathon in conjunction with London, but that Paris was full. He was aware of this fact – and was already working on how to overcome this hurdle.

I thought about it for a few strides, but it didn’t take long. The marathons being a week apart would reflect the time between my Grandparents deaths. The run from Paris to London would turn the event into a single worthwhile challenge. Suddenly, I was hooked. I wanted to join him. I told him straight away and thought about the prospect non-stop for the remainder of the run, save a brief debate on university tuition fees and the recent riots. In fact, I seemed to think about it non-stop for the following weeks. I had a few concerns, but definitely wanted to do it.

I discussed it with some friends but, aware of the scale of the challenge, I was worried that I couldn’t do it. I wanted some feedback and some opinion, but I didn’t want to appear to be wimping out at the first opportunity. I was scared of failure. It quickly became apparent that we had three hurdles to overcome as soon as possible to be sure that we at least had a chance of completing the task.

We both had entry into the London Marathon, but needed entry into the Paris Marathon. We would need somebody who would be prepared to support us while we were running outside of the two marathons. And we needed to be reasonably happy that we were capable of being sufficiently fit. We had our work cut out on all three counts.

2010 annual report

These images represent my year of running in 2010.

I have never used a Garmin, so they have both been produced from my training log. And as such, they were created using only Excel.

The graphics were formatted using Excel formulae, so that only the stars and the weekly mileage overlay were added manually.

The inclusion of the annual average speed allows each image to stand alone. However combining (and comparing) them gives the details of every single one of my runs in 2010.

It should be noted that the distances are often estimates based on judgement and the feeling in my legs.

Marathon training schedule

Having run a number of marathons, I was asked earlier in the year to devise a marathon training plan based on the Ryston Runners AC training sessions for Spring 2011. It was ready in August 2010 but, for one reason and another, I have not had time to upload it. With many people now talking about their spring marathons, now seems like an appropriate time to share it.

Feel free to use it, abuse it, adapt it, question it, criticise it, advise me how it could be better or simply ignore it. Either way, I take no responsibility for anyone’s failure to perform other than my own. Enjoy.


I will, however, leave you with one rule of thumb which was given to me before my first marathon: To get to the finish, first you must get to the start. Good luck.

Pain is temporary

Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever.

Lance Armstrong’s is my favourite take on an old quote, encapsulated by today’s New York City Marathon. Congratulations to Edison Peña who overcame adversity and completed it in less than 6 hours – a true inspiration to many.

Meanwhile, another running legend, Haile Gebrselassie, who said earlier this week “Why should I retire? Why should I say I will retire in three or four years? You retire the very moment you utter those words … I still think about doing more” appears to have spoken too soon.

Which brings me onto another quote: think before you speak.

Update 15th November 2010. Thankfully, Haile Gebrselassie appears to have changed his mind – opting to run the Tokyo Marathon in February 2011.

And I wonder, still I wonder…

I run marathons because they’re easy. There is lots of time to think about your strategy and make fine adjustments accordingly, and I often feel like I could go on forever at a steady pace. The distance doesn’t bother me.

So when a friend recently instigated an online discussion regarding the Wroxham 5k (the Norfolk County Championships), followed by some fighting talk from his rivals, I didn’t like the sound of it, but wanted a piece of the action. Despite maintaining a reasonable level of fitness, I hadn’t done any targeted training for a number of months but, when it became clear that some of the running club’s ‘new boys’ wanted a chance to put their recent training efforts into practice, I (reluctantly) figured I had to give it a go.

As race day approached, everyone was getting their excuses ready – with some even going so far as to spend time in hospital. The preparation for those involved was mixed, and evening races can be quite awkward to judge. What should I eat? When should I eat it? When should I stop eating? How much ‘work’ should I do during the day? Weekend races, on the other hand, are simple affairs where you just get up, have your breakfast and go; they utilise tried and tested regimes that have been perfected over time.

So as we were stuck in traffic en route to the race, the rainclouds started to gather, talking to us during our preparations and distracting us from our pre-race routine. We arrived at the race HQ soaked from the walk from the car, but had to get ready to race, so warmed up on the soggy grass track, while becoming wetter with every stride.

We were called to the start line, about 10 minutes before the start, as the rain continued, and as we became more cold and miserable, at least our minds were being taken off the task in hand. But eventually the race started. I executed my start plan perfectly – sprint to the sharp corner 30m from the line to avoid the hordes and settle in from there. That was the easy part.

I passed through 1k in 3.30 and felt surprisingly good. Doing the maths on the run would give me 17.30. I had only been expecting to sneak under 19, so I thought that I may as well continue and see how things unfolded. I went through 2k in 7.02, which was good, but when 3k approached in 10.38, I was hurting. I was now slowing and it was becoming difficult. I eyed up the runners further along the road and used them to help me. It was hard work, but I went through 4k in 14.18 and by now, my mind had focussed on sub-18. I couldn’t slow down any more, but it would have to be painful. This was worse than a marathon; much worse. There was no time to think about the effort, to be tired, or to crunch numbers. It was just a case of keeping going. And finally I crossed the line in 17.55, my third pb on the road on the bounce.

And my reward when I arrived home was to discover my cheque had been banked (confirming my entry) for the London Marathon. Roll on next Spring.

More than I can chew

It has long been suggested that my eyes are bigger than my tummy, although I have always considered it as merely a healthy appetite.

As a small child, my parents would force me to remain at the table until I had eaten every last spoonful of my dinner; this felt even more painful when I had specifically asked for more. My father would recite lines form Oliver, as my mother encouraged me to eat food that she knew I didn’t like. It’s no wonder that I was a fat toddler, but as I progressed through primary school, my metabolism increased and this has continued to the present day. While I was once a fussy eater, I have grown to enjoy all food, and always seek to try something new. With the exception of chopped liver; I know my limits.

My ‘healthy’ appetite is the one factor that has remained a constant, and I believe it stretches beyond the realms of food and dietary requirements into other aspects of life.

I have never done things ‘by halves’ and am rarely known to turn down an opportunity. If that opportunity involves good fun, challenge, achievement or food, then the chance of me turning down that opportunity reduces exponentially. I also have the advantage of being young and I sometimes feel that a limited life experience gives me a blissful ignorance of what I may be letting myself in for.

I blindly followed my brother into marathoning, entering my first marathon before I even liked running. Little did I know that I would still be running a decade later.

I wasn’t satisfied with my Bachelors degree, so followed it immediately with a Masters and passed with distinction.

And wanting to study teacher training at the local university, I applied to Oxford University because it was oversubscribed the previous year. Thinking that I wouldn’t even be interviewed, I ended up living there (and I even competed in varsity).

And so I arrive at my next quandary. Mountain marathons are multi-day off-road events where you have to navigate yourself and carry all of your own supplies and equipment. A very experienced runner whom I have run with on only a few occasions has entered the Original Mountain Marathon (OMM – www.theomm.com) and is looking for someone to join him. As soon as the opportunity arose, I was there. “I am interested”, I proclaimed. What was I thinking? What sort of mountain or navigational experience do I have? I don’t even have any kit. But it thrilled me. How could I possibly turn down this opportunity?

And once again, I recognise the signs. I feel like I am biting off more than I can chew. But the buzz is exhilarating. This is what is all about. I am petrified, but I love it.

Once a cheat, always a cheat

I’ve never cheated. Ever. Well, not since the time I played tennis with my brother as a 10 year old and I told him his shot was out when, in actual fact, I was just too tired to go chasing after the ball.

I’ve grown older and wiser since then and learned that there’s nothing to be gained from cheating – other than a hollow feeling of shame as I cover up the fact that I didn’t really win.

I’ve subsequently taken up running; the only person I can cheat is myself. I have been running for many years now and have never ever contemplated it. The sport is occasionally tarnished by drugs, but it is a sport that I enjoy tremendously and hate to think about the time that I am unable to do it. The thrill of continually pushing myself to my limits and subsequently stretching those limits further. The great feeling after a good run and the comfort it provides when I put my feet up later in the day and dive into a cake [note that I refer not to a piece of cake, but to an entire cake]. Running can be an addiction, and much like a drug itself.

This takes me to today’s run. The Beachamwell Half [marathon]. It is the highlight of the Beachamwell running calendar and attracts the best runners from Beachamwell and some very good runners from further afield. It is a mixed terrain route but, despite this, is frequently run in times under 70 minutes. It was my debut at the classic event and I felt the pressure when I was introduced to the course record holder on the start line.

I started steadily and soon found myself in second position. I was a long way ahead of third place so, in my mind, it had become a two horse race. As the race progressed, the leader was pulling away, but I was feeling strong. At a junction without a marshal, a race signpost pointed left along a route I was familiar with and I followed it. I questioned it in my mind, but I had been followed by a cyclist on the same route, so presumed it was right. There was nothing to indicate I had gone wrong, so I kept heading straight until I saw the next marshal.

Fifteen minutes later, I was at a crossroads without a marshal or a signpost. I now knew I had gone wrong, so I waited and conferred with the cyclist and we decided that we didn’t fancy an extra half hour, so forwards was best. We headed for the finish area and after a total run time of 67 minutes, I was cheered along the finishing straight and crossed the line in first place.

I couldn’t live with myself. That hollow feeling had returned. I owned up straight away. I had essentially cheated – albeit unwillingly. My first gold medal and I had cheated. I hung my head in shame. I may as well have taken EPO.

This didn’t stop me taking home the certificate that said I ran it in that time, but it certainly will not be placed above my mantelpiece. I will file it in this blog for history’s sake and no more. Technically the certificate only suggests “participation” and not “completion” but either way, I don’t deserve it.


%d bloggers like this: