4 Reasons Mo Farah Won 2018 Chicago Marathon

Mo Farah won the 41st Chicago Marathon earlier this month. The field was full of top elite athletes, but the Brit’s triumph wasn’t all that unexpected when you consider the context of his career to date.

#1 He Never Panicked

For the first half of the race, the lead pack contained no less than 13 runners. They sensibly spread out when they arrived at the water stations to avoid any drama over hydrating. But they soon rejoined, changing leaders only when necessary. However, for many of these early miles, Mo was content to stay at the back of the pack.

He appeared to take no interest in his competitors’ moves. He was instead focusing on conserving energy and sticking to his race plan.

#2 His Strong Finish

As the race developed, the lead pack dwindled to nine, six, then four, until Mo was competing against only Mosinet Geremew of Ethiopia. But unlike the rest of the field, Mo could make the very most of his track pedigree. He waited until as late as he could before leaving the young Ethiopian behind to sprint across the line.

As the commentators revealed during the race, Mo’s coach had made him focus more on his ‘long tempo runs’ near or at race pace. These strength-building workouts undoubtedly ensured that Mo could use his famous fast finish to great effect.

#3 His Hunger to Win

Mo’s desire to win is well documented. He so infrequently loses races that the marathon distance would have come to him as a relative surprise. His two other London Marathons (eighth in 2014 and third in 2018) were not acceptable to a man with the highest standards.

His wife’s delight shortly after Mo completed his 13-second victory captured the moment perfectly; for an incredible athlete, there are still more astonishing race stories to live.

#4 Winning a recent Half Marathon

A month before the Chicago Marathon, Mo won one of the largest half marathons in the world, the Great North Run, for a fifth consecutive year. In his familiar style he stayed relaxed throughout and powered his way passed any competitors brave enough to stay with him for over 90% of the race distance.

Although his victory was a likely outcome, it must have given him a lot of confidence going into the marathon. His performance was only 4 seconds off his personal best time on the course.


Mo Farah deserved to win his first marathon, and break the European marathon record, because of his extensive (and specific) training, and gutsy race strategy. The biggest surprise was that pre-race I wasn’t confident he would beat a rather fast field of athletes.

Mo demonstrated yet again why he is still the greatest British male runner, with his ability to continually reign supreme.



Windy Seaside Race Success

19 August 2018
I stopped myself running hard from the start line.
Instead I let runners pass me.
I wanted to keep to the pace of my current personal best and only later speed up.
After one and a half miles I headed down a slope to the Lower Promenade.
The strong winds hit me straight away and quickly reduced my pace, and expectations.
I stayed at the back of a pack of seven runners, shielded slightly from the blustery conditions.
I passed clusters of noisy spectators until I headed up a short but steep slope to the Upper Promenade.
After one lap the group split, some of whom finished the 10k race (which started at the same time).
The second and final lap was longer, and I knew I could overtake the runners I could see in the distance.
I just had to be patient and not let the wind slow me down.
Despite runners behind me I knew I could stay strong and consistent. I had to run my own race.
I saw my family halfway along the Lower Promenade. I hoped I was lying in third position. But my mum shouted that I was ninth.
It wasn’t what I wanted to hear, but every position mattered to me.
I used random checkpoints to time the seconds I was behind the runner in front of me.
24. 22. 18. 12. 8.
I kept sipping my homemade sports drink, as others used the water stations.
I ran on the balls of my feet as I tackled the final slope.
2 miles left and the sun was starting to overheat me.
Still, I improved my pace by 5 to 10 seconds per mile.
Neither of the runners I had been chasing could respond to my surge.
But another runner quickly passed me, and I couldn’t stay with him.
Instead I worked hard to keep a 6:30 per mile pace along the final stretch.
I sprinted across the grass to the finish line with no one close behind me.

I chose this race because for the past three years the winning times had been only a few minutes faster than my previous personal record performance.
Last year I had been injured.

This year I had hoped to improve both my best time at the half marathon distance and my highest race position.

Although I don’t ever excuse my performances, two factors affected my race:

  1. I discovered on the morning that the conditions were very windy, weather I had not considered (or trained in).
  2. My block of training leading to the race was also far from ideal. I had a minor injury throughout June, which prevented me from running. Although cross-training in a local gym was productive, it could never replicate the sport I love. I therefore only had approximately five weeks of quality running workouts, culminating in 11 miles at an easy pace two weeks from race day.

Despite not achieving my two primary aims, I finished eighth, which was the third top ten performance of my career. I also represented my running club well, as the only male runner, and fastest finisher in barefoot shoes.
The race was a special experience for me, located in a seaside town of which I have very fond memories. My family could also see me a few times throughout, encouraging me and offering vital race information.

Aiming to Win a Race

For over a year I have wanted to win a road race.

I earmarked the Clacton Half Marathon, a flat coastal race, as my best chance of finishing first.
Since the first year of the race in 2014 the winning times have been 1:17:151, 1:15:492, 1:21:273 and 1:19:284.
Although all the winning times are faster than my current personal best, set in the summer of 2016, I believe I have the potential to run sub 6:00 miles for 13.1 miles.
Last year I was sidelined with a hip injury due to overtraining for my fourth Chelmsford Marathon.
But this August I aim to win.
My training will commence tomorrow after a fortnight of recovery from my first 10 mile race.

I have thirteen weeks to improve my fitness and mindset.

Although I will focus primarily on tempo intervals and continuous runs at target race pace I know I need to change my routine compared to previous training periods. I must place more intense and varied stresses on my body in order to stimulate the necessary physiological responses.

I will use many techniques to ensure I recovery adequately and prime myself as a future champion. These include:

If I am to take my race finishes from the top ten (once in 2016 and again in 2018) to the ‘podium’ I must believe I am a champion. I intend to demonstrate my best at the Clacton Half Marathon and leave nothing to chance. Previous race results are so tantalising that it may be the greatest opportunity to realise my ultimate ambition.


1 Equivalent to 5:53 per mile average pace.
2 Equivalent to 5:47 per mile average pace.
Equivalent to 6:12 per mile average pace.
Equivalent to 6:03 per mile average pace.



Running 10 Miles Home

7 May 2018
A runner in front of me pulled up just after two miles.
Two other runners passed me early.
I stayed composed, focusing on forefoot striking and taking water from the aid stations.
Before five miles, a fellow club runner who was marshalling told me I was in twelfth position.
I now had greater motivation to work hard.
On one of the steeper inclines, I passed one runner.
I told him he was running great, and he returned the compliment.
My pace remained consistent. I was encouraged that the runner in front was getting slightly closer.
I knew I could chase him down if I patient enough.
I picked up the pace, confident that he wouldn’t respond.
As I passed him I again congratulated him on his running.
His heavy breathing boosted my chances.
I was now in tenth position.
As the temperature appeared to rise I kept drinking water and pouring it over my head and back.
I kept glancing at my sports watch over the last two miles.
I knew the route back. It was the same as the one- and two-mile time-trial I had run in late March and early April.
I looked behind and found I hadn’t extended my lead.
I asked myself how much did I want a top ten finish.
I responded by executing a couple of surges around the 6:00 per mile pace, and knew I had succeeded as I sprinted the last 100m over the grass of the rugby fields where I had started the race.

I had four aims prior to the race.
First, I wanted a top twenty finish.
Second, I wanted to be the first runner from my club to cross the line.
Third, I wanted to run my club’s gold standard of 1:01:58 for the 10 mile distance.
Fourth, I wanted to run under 1:00:00, equivalent to 6:00 per mile pacing.
I accomplished the first two aims, finishing in the top ten for only the second time. The first time was almost two years ago.

I ran 1:03:25, which was a respectable time when considering the heat. I was pleased to have represented my club admirably, and after volunteering pre-race. I assisted in directing vehicles to park. This meant an early start, but none of my pre-race warm-up, hydration and nutrition were negatively affected. I was thankful that I could help my running club organise a well-received race.

On reflection, my race performance was predictable. My training since my One Mile Challenge had been limited, especially miles at my intended race pace.

Still, I feel I earnt my finisher’s t-shirt, and enjoyed a distance I had never raced before, relying on my mental strength to guide me home.

Avoid Over-Racing

In Alex Teuten’s article for this week’s Athletics Weekly1, the BUCS cross country champion cautions against racing too often. The article, entitled Losing the Love, details Teuten’s recent struggles to maintain mental sharpness for races.

It’s apparent that racing calendars can become too packed even for international athletes.

I’ve noticed even runners at my running club race too frequently. I was surprised as a runner, and concerned as a coach, to find this to be so prevalent. I’m extremely doubtful that racing often, sometimes every week, is a beneficial strategy for long-term success. It simply requires so much mental and physical energy. That’s why I’ve never done it myself.

Listening to certain runners’ upcoming schedules has made me more stoic. I can’t rid myself of rational questions like “How can you get the most out of yourself if you don’t allow enough time to recover from peak performances?” and “Can running at a sub-optimal level for too many races ever truly satisfy an ambitious runner?”.

I remember reading that renowned professor Tim Noakes2 advises runners should limit their racing to a maximum of 100 miles per year. If runners exceed this, and in my opinion get close, there is a real risk that the enthusiasm for the sport will lead to either two outcomes. Injury or mental exhaustion. Most likely both.

It’s true that I’ve never been an incessant racer. The most races I’ve competed during a calendar year is five, back in 2016. Although it was a breakthrough year for my running I found that by the end I needed rest. I had only accumulated 70.5 racing miles. On reflection I feel I was fortunate that my performances reflected my high ambitions at the time, and that I suffered no notable injuries.

But don’t mistake my focusing on only a few races per year as a sign of weakness or lack of love for the sport. As a competitor I can relate to many of the runners in my club. I would love to race more if I knew it could help my running. On a purely emotional level, I would certainly try. But a subconscious fear of over-racing has always been a factor in my choices as to when to give my best efforts.

Spending more time experimenting in training and pursuing two or three important race goals during the year has been a far more effective method for my improvement in the sport, both mentally and physically.

As a coach I know that sustainable, incremental progress best avoids long-term lay-offs, which should be the overriding aim of all runners. It’s this knowledge that prevents me from joining other highly motivated runners on the start line most weekends.


 

Published on 26th April 2018.
2 Lore of Running (2003, 4th ed.) published by Human Kinetics.

Mitigating the Challenges of Ultramarathons

Never Wipe Your Ass with a Squirrel (2013) by Jason Robillard


This guide to ultrarunning is down-to-earth and unique. Robillard offers a fresh perspective on running factors such as distance and cut-off times, terrain and weather, and pacing and strategy. It is the purposeful physical advice and experimental mental training that stands out.

Calorie Consumption

Robillard urges runners not to be reliant on eating food during long runs as this can be a distraction and also dictate a certain pace range. Instead he advises eating as little as possible before and during training runs so runners can better utilise their fat stores to cope with extremely long distances.

However, when deciding to eat he explains that personal cravings should not be ignored, and that chia seeds can be a nutritious option on the go, as is adopted by the famous Tarahumaras.

Practice Every Aspect of Racing

Robillard encourages runners to take a systematic approach to replicating every running situation. For example, he advises runners to fall, on purpose, whilst running slowly in order to practice breaking the impact by rolling with arms out and elbows bent.

Enthusiasm to experiment is essential for runners if they are to understand what aspects help, and hinder, during an endurance event. Enjoyment and performance should both be enhanced as a result of understanding one’s individual responses to training stimuli.

His race strategies for ultramarathons also include walking, advocating that runners should become fast walkers. Walking enables runners to better survive harsh race conditions, by continuing to move forward.

Managing Pain

Robillard also outlines a no-nonsense attitude to pain.

Runners should accept, embrace and learn to enjoy the aches that occur during a race. His positivity originates from his belief that most pain is temporary and can be dealt with before it flares up. Writing a list of the regions that may hurt and a race strategy of fixing problems, long before setting off from the start line, can really help.

An effective technique is to train in every mood, especially when you do not feel like running, either through tiredness or hunger. Another is to speed up when in pain, if for no other reason than to respond differently to natural instincts, this breaks the monotony of running.


Although unconventional Robillard offers invaluable advice on how to view and tackle ultramarathons. Ultimately, he believes endurance challenges are akin to difficult life events; the sharper you react the more empowered you are to succeed.