Mo Farah and the silent revolution in distance running

  • Navneet Singh, Hindustan Times, New Delhi:
  • Updated: Aug 20, 2016 13:13 IST
Mo Farah (second from left ) defended his 10,000m crown last week and he would be looking for an encore in the 5000m event on Saturday. (AFP)

Come Saturday, Great Britain’s long-distance runner, Mo Farah, will be out defending his 5,000m title in Rio. Last weekend, Farah had successfully defended his 10,000m title and is gunning for a back-to-back distance double, a feat only achieved by one runner before.

Farah is the foremost distance runner in the world at the moment. What makes him special?

The British runner’s coaching staff has revolutionised distance running by improving Farah’s biomechanics, an area where sprinters focus a lot. Besides possessing a powerful finishing kick, the British runner has made use of biomechanics to fine-tune his running action.

Till 2008, Farah was also one of the “also rans” in the events dominated by Kenyans and Ethiopians. But science has helped him evolve into an unbeatable champion.

The Science

After a disappointing 2008 season, including a poor Beijing Olympics where he finished down the field, he shifted his training base to Oregon, USA, to work with the famous distance-running coach, Alberto Salazar.

The coach not only changed Farah’s training regimen but his technique and stride. Farah has adopted a mid-foot strike pattern and his cadence or stride frequency is close to 208 steps per minute. Farah’s ability to maintain his stride length while increasing speed in the last lap was also improved.

Farah’s stride length is between 2.18m to 2.24m. It is just marginal longer than other runners, but that’s enough to give him an edge. It has helped him overpower his opponents in the final moments of a race. This was evident in the London Olympics as well as the 10k race in Rio.

He also trains at higher altitudes to improve his oxygen carrying capacity. A weekly mileage of close to 135 miles (two sessions a day) is maintained in the build-up months to major events. His weekly long run is between 22 to 25 miles, at a steady pace of 5:40 minutes per mile.

Turning point

Farah’s running career took a turn for the good in 2010. From winning European titles in 5,000m and 10,000m, he went on to win gold in the 5,000m race and silver in the 25-lap race at the World Championships in Daegu. It was the start of the Mo Farah era.

A year later, on home turf, he won the 5,000m and 10,000m races at the London Olympics. Farah’s outstanding feat elevated his stature and he is now mentioned in the same breath as legends such as Czech Republic’s Emil Zatopek.

This weekend, the British runner is set for another landmark. If he wins the 5,000m race, he would join Finnish distance runner Lasse Viren as the first to record distance double in consecutive Olympics. Viren had won a double at the Munich Games in 1972. Four years later, he successfully defended his titles in Montreal.

Hard questions

After Farah won the 10,000m gold in Rio, fresh rounds of questions were raised about doping. The British runner was associated with the Somalian coach, Jama Aden, who was arrested in Spain over doping allegations in June. But Farah had distanced himself from the controversial coach. Even Salazar is under the scanner and investigations are being conducted by US Anti-doping Agency on the coach.

Way back when Viren dominated distance running, he too had faced questions about blood doping. The allegations, however, weren’t proved.

But such issues will always creep up. What Farah has demonstrated is his will to remain focused despite all the controversies and questions raised outside the track. His priority is to cross the finish line first.

By making sure that he is prepared to do so, Farah has pushed the envelope and taken distance running to a new era.

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