Maybe Farah has cut off Mo than he can chew
Britain’s Mo Farah poses for photographers in front of Tower Bridge ahead of his the London Marathon, which takes place tomorrow. It will be Farah’s first competitive run at the distance. Photogrtaph: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA
I ran into John Treacy during the week, and straightaway asked him was Mo Farah going to win the London Marathon. He paused for a moment and then shook his head. “No,” he said. “I don’t think so, anyway.”
Few things are more unpredictable in sport than running 26.2 miles for the first time. Not just for those trying to win a big city marathon like London, but also those simply trying to finish. Treacy knows this better than most.
No one expected him to win anything when he ran his first marathon; some predicted he wouldn’t even finish.
That was the summer of ’84, in the evening heat of Los Angeles, and what is still regarded as the strongest Olympic marathon field ever assembled. All the greats were there, and Treacy was one of the very few starters who had never run a marathon before. Then, as most of the main contenders dropped off, Treacy moved into the silver medal position, and the rest is Irish distance running history.
Treacy’s 2:09.56 that day was also one of the fastest marathon debuts at the time, and many people still regard it as his best marathon, too.
He did improve on that time when finishing third in Boston in 1988, his 2:09:15 from that day still holding up as the Irish record, 26 years later – although nothing really topped what Treacy did in his first marathon.
Some runners save their best marathons until much later on. Paul Tergat didn’t win his first marathon until his sixth attempt, in Berlin in 2003, when the mighty Kenyan also improved the world record to 2:04:55.
The same with the great Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie, who like Treacy, knows better than most the unpredictability surrounding the debut marathon runner.
Everyone predicted Gebrselassie would win his first marathon, in London in 2002, but he only managed third, struggling badly at the finish. It would be five years later, in Berlin, that Gebrselassie got the marathon perfectly right, breaking Tergat’s world record with his 2:04:26.
No wonder so many runners are being cautious about predicting a winning outcome for Farah on the streets of London tomorrow - including most of his main rivals. Farah’s recent form has certainly been unpredictable, as just last month, at the New York Half Marathon, he was beaten by Geoffrey Mutai (the man I predict will win tomorrow). Farah briefly passed out at the finish of that race, and Mutai, speaking in London earlier this week, wondered if Farah would have been better to “prepare for another time”.
Another of tomorrow’s rivals, Stephen Kiprotich, the reigning Olympic and World champion, has also been wondering why Farah has even moved up to the marathon, when he’s “still good on the track” (although London’s appearance money explains that).
Course record holder
And Emmanuel Mutai, the London course record holder with his 2:04:40 from 2011, reckoned Farah would have been better off “to start with a small race, not so fast, or with such a strong field.”
One thing that is certain is tomorrow’s London field boasts all the greats – including the now 40 year-old Gebrselassie himself, even though he’s only acting as one of the pacemakers.
Farah’s undeniable track speed, including the astonishing 3:28.81 he ran for 1,500m last summer (the sixth fastest ever), doesn’t necessarily augur well for a more strength and endurance event such as the marathon, and crucial to his chances tomorrow will be how well he paces himself.
Indeed Farah has already conceded the 61:45 planned for halfway might be too hot to handle: that’s what the front-runners want, including Kenya’s Wilson Kipsang, who ran the current world record of 2:03:23 in Berlin last August. Farah’s coach, Alberto Salazar, reckons they’ll be targeting 62:15 at halfway, although neither Farah nor Salazar have sounded overly-confident of winning.
Farah is insisting his initial target is the 2:07:13 British record (which has stood to Steve Jones since 1985) and then “see what comes with that”.
That’s not saying Farah doesn’t have body and mind to win: “I’ve gone straight in the deep end, but that’s what champions do.”
By now, some readers may be wondering is there any Irish interest at the elite end of London tomorrow, and the answer, unfortunately, is no.
Truth is there hasn’t been any great Irish interest in London since Catherina McKiernan won the women’s race outright, in 1998. That was her second marathon, and she also won her first, in Berlin, in 1997, in what was then the fastest ever debut by a woman.
In the meantime there is the chance to reflect on one of the greatest ever Irish marathon performances of the past, next Friday, when Neil Cusack recounts his Boston victory of 40 years ago.
No one made any great predictions about Cusack, including himself, but after just six miles, he found himself in front. Surviving the infamous Heartbreak Hill, Cusack arrived home a comfortable winner in 2:13.39 – the second fastest time in the then 78th running of Boston.
Asked how he intended celebrating, Cusack replied “by drinking lashings of porter” and that gave the New York Daily News their headline for the following day: “Irishman wins Boston, trains on beer.” I don’t predict a marathon headline like that ever again.
n The Evening with Neil Cusack takes place next Friday, April 18th, at the Gibson Hotel in Dublin. Admission is free but advance booking recommended by contacting email@example.com