May is for 10K

Having made my return to racing recently at the Midland and National Road Relays and not suffered any ill effects I’m now turning my attention to doing a couple of races to see how far away I am from a top 250 UK ranking.  I’m starting with a couple of 10Ks in early May at the Silverstone 10K on the 7th May and Bristol 10K on 11th May.  These are really just a test of my fitness but will give me a good idea of how far I’ve got to go to be back at my best.  It looks like it will be a busy week as I’m also running a flat out mile to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the great Roger Bannister first breaking the four minute mile.

So, let’s take a look at what it takes to achieve a top 250 UK ranking over 10K, how close I’ve gotten to this in the past…and subsequently panic.  My 10K PB seems like a good place to start.  In 2012, before being ravaged by injury, I was in decent shape and running well.  At the Northbrook 10K I ran 34:33 placing me 1,312th in the UK according to the Power of 10.  So just 1,062 people to overtake!  If that was in a race it’d be a pretty tall order!

Actually, looking at the improvement in performance I’ll need it is a pretty tall order.  Over the last few years it has taken a time well under 32 minutes to achieve a top 250 UK ranking over 10K.  In 2013 the 31:49 was 250th in the UK ranking and in 2012 31:43.  For my to achieve this I’ll need an 8% improvement on my PB.

But what does this look like in terms of pace per mile?  My PB of 34:33 is a pace of 5:34 per mile and, to achieve a top 250 UK ranking, I’ll need to drop that to around 5:08 per mile.  This pace is somewhere between my current 3K and 5K pace.  So I can run this fast, just not for long enough.  Which prompts an obvious question – what am I going to do to achieve the improvement in performance I need?  I haven’t yet got an answer to this question.  My focus for now is to see how my next 2 races go and build a strategy from there.

A Promising Debut

Two weeks on from the Virgin London Marathon I have been surprised there hasn’t been more written about Mo Farah’s debut.  The little reaction that I have read seems to suggest that Mo’s debut served only to prove he should stick to the track – something his coach, Alberto Salazar has recently recommended.  As you can probably tell from my title of the blog I have a slightly different opinion.

Many people have criticised Mo’s decision to make his debut in London against such a strong field citing Bekele’s debut in a much weaker field in Paris as a wiser move.  Maybe so, but Mo’s comments at the end of the marathon in London were, in my opinion, revealing and heart warming.  Mo grew up in London.  He is a gooner (an Arsenal fan).  He acknowledges the contribution the London crowd made to his Olympic success in 2012.  I think it was a courageous and touching decision for Mo to make his debut in London knowing that it may result in the British media and public viewing it as a glorious failure.  Or just a failure.  Sadly, this seems to be the case despite a more than creditable performance.

Mo Farah Marathon Debut

Mo Farah Marathon Debut

So let’s ignore the hype and hyperbole and look at some cold, hard facts.

The elite men’s field at the London marathon was arguably (although I doubt many would argue) the strongest and most competitive men’s field in the history of the marathon.  The field included the world record holder in Wilson Kipsang, the world’s fastest man in Geoffrey Mutai, and World and Olympic Champion in Stephen Kiprotich.  To highlight the strength of the field running legend Haile Gebreselaisse, albeit in the twilight of his glittering career, was a mere pacemaker and didn’t even make it to half way.

Mo’s stated intention was to run in the second pace group and go after Steve Jones’s British record of 2:07:13 and not to attempt to stick with the world record pace asked for by some of the elite Kenyan and Ethiopian runners.  Now, let’s look at how everyone finished up.  Ok, Mo was a long way back from winner Wilson Kipsang.  The deficit of nearly 4 minutes is equivalent to well over a kilometre but given Mo’s pre race intentions the deficit is hardly surprising.  He was never likely to catch and overtake the world’s best marathon runners having given them a lead in the first half of the race, especially when they were running close to world record pace.  It would have been foolish, if not fool hardy, for Mo to have tried to go with this pace in his debut marathon.  Mo’s time of 2:08:21 was just 2 seconds behind Emmanuel Mutai, 3 seconds behind Geoffrey Mutai, and over 3 minutes ahead of Olympic champion Stephen Kiprotich.

And let’s not forget the challenge that Mo faced during the race.  Unfortunately he was isolated early on as the pacemakers for the second group ran 50m ahead of him and the only other competitor, Ibrahim Jeilan, fell off the pace before half way.  The pacemakers here really failed to do their job.  Whilst they are paid to set a particular pace the reason for them being there is to lead runners through the first 13 – 20 miles of the marathon.  They should have eased off and waited for Mo.  We’ll never know, but I wonder if better support from the pacemakers could have helped Mo to a UK record. Interestingly this was Ibrahim Jeilan’s debut marathon too – Ibrahim Jeilan being the only man to have beaten Mo in a championship race on the track in recent years.  It is clear evidence showing just how well Mo has adapted to the marathon distance in comparison to another track runner looking to make the transition.

Now, what about comparing Mo’s debut to some of the best marathon runners in the World at the moment to see how he matches up.  The list makes for interesting reading and, in my opinion, clearly shows that Mo’s debut was not only promising, but world class, especially given he ran alone for such a long time.

Wilson Kipsang

Wilson Kipsang

Wilson Kipsang – 2:07:13

Kipsang’s debut marathon came in Paris in 2010 where he finished third.  Later that year he surprised the world by running 2:04:57 in Frankfurt – conclusive proof that your debut marathon should not be relied on too heavily as an indicator of future potential.


Stephen Kiprotich

Stephen Kiprotich

Stephen Kiprotich – 2:07:20

Kiprotich ran 2:07:20 in April 2011 at the Enschede Marathon but struggled in the World Championship race in Daegu later that year, finishing a distant 9th in 2:12:57.  His performances highlight the difficulty of the marathon distance that often results in inconsistent performances.

Geoffrey Mutai

Geoffrey Mutai

Geoffrey Mutai – 2:12:40

Geoffrey Mutai’s made his marathon debut in Monaco in 2008 winning the race in 2:12:40.  Later that year he ran 2:07:50 in Eindhoven.  His stand out performance came in the 2012 Boston Marathon where he ran the fastest time in history of 2:03:02.

Emmanuel Mutai

Emmanuel Mutai

Emmanuel Mutai – 2:13:06

Emmanuel Mutai’s debut came in Rotterdam in 2007.  In hot conditions he ran 2:13:06, finishing seventh.  Coincidentally Rotterdam was won that year in 2:08:21 – the same time Mo ran for his debut.  Later that year Emmanuel won the Amsterdam Marathon in 2:06:29.  With the exception of his stunning performance at the 2013 Boston Marathon where he ran 2:03:52 he has tended to run marathons between 2:06:00 and 2:08:00 since Amsterdam.

Two things stand out about each of these athletes and their marathon running:  they are all marathon specialists and, with the exception of Kiprotich, all ran their second marathon significantly faster than their debut and have continued to improve.  Mo’s debut is faster than 2 of these 4 athletes and compares favourably to the other 2.

These athletes have not raced extensively on the track and have, therefore, the advantage of years of training specifically for the rigours of both road running and the marathon distance.  In contrast Mo is making the transition from track athlete.  This transition takes time – it is almost inconceivable that any runner will run their fastest marathon on their debut, especially a track athlete.  We only need look at the debuts and subsequent progression of two legends of the track to see this:

Haile Gebreselaisse – 2:06:35

In his debut marathon Haile Gebreselaisse was convincingly beaten to 3rd place after falling off the pace.  He took another 5 years to go much faster than this, running 2:04:26 in the Berlin Marathon in 2008.  We shouldn’t forget that Haile, the emperor of long distance running, dominated the sport over many years setting many world records, before making the transition to the marathon.

Paul Tergat – 2:08:15

Haile’s great rival was Paul Tergat.  In making the transition from the track Paul Tergat, 5 time World Cross Country Champion, failed to win his first five marathons before eventually going on to break the world record.  Tergat’s debut marathon time of 2:08:15 is a mere 6 seconds quicker than Mo – that’s less than 0.1%.

Haile Gebreselaisse and Paul Tergat

Haile Gebreselaisse and Paul Tergat

On the flip side, those who believe Mo should return to the track, will tell you not every runner can make the transition from 10,000m to marathon and would probably give you the example of Zersenay Tadesse.  Tadesse is a class athlete having claimed bronze in the Olympic 10,000m in 2004 and silver in the World Championships in 2009.  He has also won the World Half Marathon Championship an amazing 5 times.  His debut over the marathon distance came in London in 2010 where he finished in 2:12:03.  Two years later he ran his PB of 2:10:41 again in London.  Clearly Mo’s debut outclasses Tadesse by some distance over the marathon.

Mo Farah is also a proven championship runner.  He has made his name by winning major championships, not running fast races.  We only need to look at his 5,000m and 10,000m performances to see this.  Surely this stands Mo in good stead if his target is the marathon in Rio 2016.  Looking at the winning times in Olympic Marathons reveal a compelling fact – Mo’s debut time of 2:08:21 would have placed him in the medals in every Olympic Marathon.  Ever.  In 2012 it would have placed him in third place, significantly around 1 minute ahead of Wilson Kipsang, whose exuberance and poor tactics cost probably him the Olympic title on the day.  Looking further back in history, with the exception of Sammy Wanjiru’s astounding performance in Beijing, Mo would have won gold with 2:08:21 in every other Olympic Marathon.

Olympics Gold Silver Bronze
Sydney 2000 Abera – 2:10:11 Wainaina – 2:10:31 Tola – 2:11:10
Athens 2004 Baldini – 2:10:55 Keflezighi – 2:11:29 De Lima – 2:12:11
Beijing 2008 Wanjiru – 2:06:32 Gharib – 2:07:16 Kebede – 2:10:00
London 2012 Kiprotich – 2:08:01 Kirui – 2:08:27 Kipsang – 2:09:37

This is perhaps a little misleading, however.  It is a well known fact that championship marathons tend to be won in slower times than the marathon majors – perhaps because the field is limited to  3 athletes per Country, in recent years resulting in the exclusion of some of the best Kenyan and Ethiopian runners.  For example in 2012 Patrick Makau, then world record holder, was not selected for the Kenyan Olympic team.

It should also be noted that the standard of marathon running for men at the elite level has rocketed in recent years, probably since Sammy Wanjiru’s Beijin performance.  There is phenomenal strength in-depth, especially from Kenya and Ethiopia, as mentioned above.  But the fact that elite marathon runner is as strong as it has even been is surely a reason to compete over the distance for a world class athlete like Mo Farah?  Doesn’t every athlete want to challenge themselves against the very best in the world?  Put in these terms Mo’s decision is actually quite simple.

Mo is double World and Olympic Champion over 5,000m and 10,000m.  He has little left to prove over these distances, except maybe a fast time – but the world records of Kenenise Bekele really are exceptional and seem a little out of reach.  Mo has little to gain by turning out for another World Championship 5,000m or 10,000m but everything to lose – retaining his titles would be great, but without meaning too sound blasé, so what?  Mo’s already been there, done that, and got the t-shirt.

Like the rest of us, Mo isn’t getting any younger.  His success is based on his incredible speed over the last 600m of a race, but as we all know, speed doesn’t last forever.  I’m not suggesting that he hasn’t got that speed anymore, but it will fade over time.  Bernard Lagat may be the one exception to this rule, but he’s exactly that – the exception to the rule.  More importantly is what we’ve learnt from looking at other athletes who have made the transition from the track to the marathon – it takes time to make that transition.  To run your best marathon you need years of specific training to build your strength and endurance, which means Mo needs to focus now on marathon training to prepare for Rio 2016.  It may seem like a long way off, but to prepare for a marathon at the elite level you need a long time!  It took Gebreselaisse 5 years to get close to his best over the marathon.  Mo is 30 years old.  If he delays his transition to the marathon until after Rio 2016 has he got enough time to reach his marathon peak?

In Alberto Salazar Mo has a coach that understand what it takes to prepare for a marathon and uses a science based approach to optimise his athletes performances.  This surely gives Mo a great platform to make the transition from world class track athlete to world class marathon runner.  As I said in my introduction Salazar is clearly focussed on Mo running the 10,000m in Rio.   So Mo’s greatest challenge may not be making the transition to the marathon to compete against the best in the world, but convincing his coach that he can!

Mo is already a legend.  He is a member of a very elite group of men as a double World and Olympic Champion, but the group of men who have also won the Olympic marathon is even smaller.  I haven’t checked  but Emil Zatopek is the only runner I can think of who has achieved this.  This is a fact that surely can’t have passed either Mo, or his coach Alberto, by.

A Modern Day Tale of David and Goliath

Yep, this is genuinely a modern day tale of David and Goliath…set in the unlikely surroundings of Sutton Park in a leafy suburb of the vast metropolis that is Birmingham.  Yes, that’s right, I called Birmingham a metropolis.  But then again Birmingham is my home town so I might be a little biased.  Anyway, back to our story.  Our tale is one of intrigue, mystery, and heroes.  Well, maybe a little intrigue, but certainly no mystery, and as for heroes, I’ll leave that to you to decide!  It began a month ago when my running club competed at the Midland Road Relays and, to our surprise, managed to secure qualification to the National Road Relays.

So it was on Saturday 5th April in the year of our Lord 2014 that 12 brave souls from Knowle and Dorridge Running Club ventured into the unknown….well, we returned to Sutton Park.  On arrival I think most of the team felt a little out of their depth.  We stood in the park surrounded by some of the biggest and best running clubs in the Country, some with a long and rich tradition, of producing world-class athletes.  The difference between our small club and the ‘big boys’ was highlighted when we looked in envy at the ‘entourage’ of the bigger clubs, including tents the size of a big top, rows of flags, and lean athletes clad head to toe in sponsored club gear.  But that’s just running bling and we came to race! Read More

March Training

In summary March has been a good month.  There have certainly been some encouraging signs that my fitness is returning as I’ve slowly increased my weekly mileage and started a routine to strengthen my core.  I’ve also really enjoyed my running with a few runs ‘just for fun’.  I’m sure the warmer weather has helped my running too.  Spring is in the air and I’ve dusted off the sunglasses and short shorts!

My running has included a mixture of steady runs, tempo runs, hill work, and some interval sessions on the track – so basically a bit of everything.  I have been pleased with a few runs in particular:

1. I cruised a 15 mile long run with club mates at an average pace of 6 minutes 50 seconds per mile and generally felt like I was running on clouds.  Ok, maybe I wasn’t quite cruising at that pace, but it definitely felt good

2. A brutal 45 minute cross country hill session where I didn’t feel like I was running on clouds.  Probably because I was running through mud.  This was a really tough session of 8 hilly loops in Cofton Park.  I needed a nap after this one. Read More

Soft Centred

Like most runners I tend to ignore working on my core strength in favour of running.  I know strengthening my core is important and I know why but I generally find it a chore and try to ignore it or get it over with as quickly as possible.

So why is core strength so important?  The answer is actually really simple.  A strong core will improve your running efficiency and reduce your risk of injury, especially as your training load – either intensity or volume – increases.  You’ll be able to run faster and further.  There are many articles scattered across the Internet about the benefits of core strength written by people far more qualified than I am (let’s call them experts), so I won’t go into any more detail.  You’ll just have to trust me, read this, or find yourself an expert.

My core strength work to date has been sporadic at best, with brief periods of enthusiasm and long periods of sofa surfing.  Generally this has been accompanied by the consumption of an industrial quantity of chocolate.  A practice, I’m reliably informed by those aforementioned experts, that does not go hand in hand with a strong core.  This has resulted in me having a high aerobic fitness, strong legs and a comparatively weak core.  If I were a chocolate I’d have a soft centre.  Like a caramel.

Read More

Midland Road Relays

My return to running fitness took another huge step forward last weekend as, after what felt like a very long absence, I toed the start line of an actual race.  I was competing for my club at the 12 stage Midland Road Relays in Sutton Park on Sunday and using it as an opportunity to test out how well my hamstring has recovered.

I absolutely love the Road Relays.  This event is certainly my favourite on the club race calendar.  It is one of those very rare opportunities where you feel a part of a running team. The Road Relays are a great chance for club mates to watch each other race and cheer each other on rather than being spread out along the course in the same race.  It is a running club only event so you need to be a member of a club to take part…and if you’re not a member of a running club you should read this compelling article from ukrunchat.

Read More

If Carlsberg Did Job Interviews…

It was with equal measures of excitement and trepidation that I set out last Saturday morning to make my way to the Hertfordshire countryside to meet with the guys at Ashmei Running having been shortlisted as a potential brand ambassador.  Yes, you read that right.  Me, a brand ambassador!  I admit the closest thing I’ve ever done that could be described as ambassadorial is wearing a suit to work but by some miracle (or possible administrative error) the good people at Ashmei had read my application and shortlisted me for their programme. Read More

February Training

Having spent most of January out of action due to a hamstring injury I was hopeful that February would see me return to running.  After 2 weeks of complete rest I started my rehabilitation with some strengthening exercises for my hamstring and core.  The cause of my hamstring injury was not, as I first thought, purely my over exuberance during a track session on New Years Eve, but actually caused partly by a mechanical issue linked to a weakness in my lower back and right hip, which in turn was most likely the result of poor rehabilitation after surgery in 2013. Read More

January Training

January was a tough month for me.  I picked up a hamstring injury whilst training on New Years Eve and struggled over the following weeks.  Foolishly I continued to run, convincing myself the injury was just a niggle that would sort itself out.  Running a league cross country race for my club was probably the worst thing I could have done.  I knew this but did it anyway.  I’m not sure if this was pure stupidity (what me, stupid?), blind optimism, or the staunch stubbornness of a distance runner.  Whatever it was, the result was the same as the injury got worse and I was forced to stop running and pay a visit to my physio. Read More

What is Target 250?

I’ve been sat staring at my computer screen for hours now.  Trying to find the right words for my first blog.  But where to start?  I guess I’m suffering from writers block, which isn’t a particularly encouraging sign when I’m trying to write my first blog!

I shouldn’t be surprised by this, though.  I’m generally a private person.  I tend to keep my thoughts to myself and quietly reflect on things so sharing my experiences, thoughts, and feelings publically through a blog was always going to feel a little uncomfortable for me. This reminds me of a quote from famous running coach Percy Cerutty (more on him later):

“You only ever grow as a human being if you’re outside your comfort zone” Read More

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