Mo Farah at the Birmingham Diamond League

Is your glass of Mo half full or half empty?

This weekend, whilst he was waiting for his 3000m race at the British Athletics Indoor GP, Mo Farah’s team announced to the press that he would be running the 2013 London Marathon – a surprising announcement as his marathon debut was widely expected to be next year; until you read on and discover Mo won’t be running the whole thing.

Mo Farah at the Birmingham Diamond League
Mo Farah at the Diamond League meeting in August 2012.

There’s not many of us that would take part in a race knowing we weren’t going to complete the distance. Despite this, I was surprised at some of the negative comments and confusion so I decided to take a closer look at the decision and some of the reactions (some of which I have no doubt are tongue in cheek) to see if I could make sense of it all.

Firstly lets look at some of the reactions:

Will he run the first half or the second?

Let’s start with the basics.  This person has obviously never tried to navigate London on marathon day.  Just getting Mo to the half way point would be a logistical nightmare, let alone questioning how and when he should start.  Just in case anyone isn’t sure: he’ll be running the first half.

What’s the point of only doing half?

There are many reasons – read on and I’ll go through some of them for you.

Why not just pick a half marathon?  There are plenty of decent ones around.

Absolutely!  There are many great half marathons to be found in the UK (and not just the “Great” ones!) let alone the rest of the world.  I’ve only experienced two half marathon courses (the Great North Run and the Oxford Half Marathon) but there are tons to be found on sites like Find A Race or the Running Bug’s Events pages if you’re looking for one.

Mo, however, is not looking for a half marathon.  He can already run a half marathon – and quickly.  He’s recorded the fastest ever half marathon time by a GB athlete in fact, 60:23 in New York back in 2011, so I’m not sure he’s too bothered about covering the distance.  I’m sure he’ll be doing that distance on some of his training runs and, as the BBC article states, he’s off to New Orleans to compete in a half next week.

Mo isn’t doing half of the London Marathon because he wants to run 13.1 miles – he can do that anytime.

It’s a shameless publicity stunt!

I’ve seen this criticism being directed at both the race organisers and the double Olympic gold medalist himself.

From Mo’s point of view, I’m pretty sure that he doesn’t need to worry about publicity, thanks to those two big, heavy, shiny medals he’s got hanging round his neck!  He’s the golden boy of the British athletic scene and stirs headlines around the world.  He doesn’t need to do half of a marathon to keep himself in the spotlight.  His results will do that for him.

As for the organisers, you have to be a little naive to criticise an organisation for wanting to ride on the aforementioned band wagon.  Why the hell not?!  They have sponsors to please which, given the continued recession, I’d imagine is getting harder and harder.  Events cost money to host so without sponsors it wouldn’t be possible to put on the vast event the London Marathon has become.

Equally, a lot of people with this criticism in mind won’t be aware of this, taken from the London Marathon Charitable Trust page of the London Marathon website:

The London Marathon Ltd is wholly owned by the London Marathon Charitable Trust and is responsible for organising the Virgin London Marathon, adidas Half Marathon, Bupa London 10000 and the Standard Chartered Great City Race. Its income comes from sponsorship, marketing, advertising, entry fees, TV etc. and after costs 100% of its surplus is handed to The London Marathon Charitable Trust which then awards grants to recreational projects mainly in London. The amount of the surplus handed over to the Charitable Trust in 2009/2010 was £4.6m which is more than any other Marathon makes anywhere in the world. We are proud of the fact that 100% of this surplus goes to charity.

In addition runners in the 2011 Marathon raised more than £51.8 million for charities of their own choice and this money went, as always, directly to those charities.

Since the race began £45m has been allocated by the London Marathon Charitable Trust in total to recreational projects and the runners themselves have raised over £557.8m which has gone directly to charities of their choosing.

So ultimately, why not do something to raise a bit of additional publicity?

If the organisers want publicity then why not pay Bolt to run the first 100m?

This questions answers itself i.e. perhaps it’s not just about publicity. Usain Bolt would professionally gain nothing from sprinting the first 100m of a half marathon. The organisers would get just 10 seconds of coverage of him on the course before he got trampled by the marauding masses as he tried to pull his lighting bolt!

He’s only doing it for the money

So it’s rumoured that Mo will be taking a six-figure fee for appearing at the London Marathon, even if he doesn’t complete the race.  Ok, so that sounds like an enormous amount of money doesn’t it?  But so what if it is?  Should we criticise him for accepting a nice pay cheque for running 13.1 miles?  Personally, if running were my career and someone asked me to run that far I’d sign on the dotted line quicker than I could tie my shoelaces!

Equally, lets not forget the lads up and down this country (and many others around the world) chasing an inflated ball round a field for a living; the world-class of whom are paid up to six figures EACH WEEK, whether they play are a sub or don’t even get to warm the bench.

As long as the organisers haven’t mortgaged their event, or future events, to pay the fee (and with the added publicity and corporate sponsorship that is likely I doubt they have) then why not?

Others have made noises about Mo being a tax exile – living in the US – and somehow questioning his true passion for Britain.  I don’t know enough about tax in general or Mo’s personal situation to make comment on the tax issues.  What I will say is that his passion for Britain is clearly not in question.

It will be an absolute disgrace if he is given a place.  I am a keen marathon runner and it is nigh on impossible to get a place, and this guy doesn’t even intend on finishing the race!

It’s not a disgrace, it’s a fact of running life.

If I secured one of the much-demanded places then it is up to me whether I choose to tackle the whole race or not.  The fact that “this guy” is Mo Farah shouldn’t make any difference.  Admittedly, due to the scarce nature of London Marathon places I’m not sure any regular runner would intentionally start it, knowing that they were going to stop at half way, but Mo is no regular runner.

Which leads me on to another point.  Every race will allow a certain number of places for “elite” or “VIP” runners.  Even your local races will invite people to run.  In a race the scale of the London Marathon, the number of elite places will be small in comparison to the entire field and will be a predetermined number.  Some of those invited may not even race, usually as a result of an unexpected injury so no regular places will be lost.

Also, let’s not forget the charities who buy places up front and then attempt to fill the places they’ve bought.  Not every charity will fill every place so if you want a place so desperately, why not contact one of the many charities listed and help someone else whilst satisfying your own goal of completing the race.

Normal people wouldn’t be allowed to start a race without finishing it

Ummm…yes, yes they are.  It happens all the time.  Races would be a whole different matter if, when signing up, you had to commit to completing the distance.  Let’s move on.

It’s cheating (like in the Olympic Badminton) – he should be banned!

It’s not.  There is nothing that states you have to finish a race.  The Olympic badminton story was different – it was a match within a tournament: one of the two teams had to win, the other had to lose.  Due to the ridiculous way the fixtures were known before the conclusion of the group stage, they both wanted to lose the match to get an easier game in the next round.  The organisers should have spotted the potential for this and should have removed the opportunity from the competitors.

Stopping part way through a race holds no advantage for the person who is intentionally “losing”; by stopping, they are withdrawing from the whole event. Either of the Olympic badminton teams in question could have conceded the game, thereby withdrawing from the entire competition, as frequently happens in tennis tournaments, however, they were trying to gain an advantage by purposely playing badly so that’s why they were thrown out for “cheating”.

Ridiculous – he’ll either have to jog or he’ll be a mile ahead

Now don’t get me wrong; Mo is quick.  I’ve seen him run in person at four races and his pace is unbelievable.  However, whilst being by far the quickest British distance runner at the moment (and arguably the quickest of all time) he is not the only quick distance runner in the world.

Let’s look at last year’s London Marathon which was won by Wilson Kipsang.  The Kenyan won in a time of 2 hours 4 minutes and 44 seconds.  He crossed the half way point with a time of 1 hour 2 minutes and 12 seconds, which is a pace of 2 minutes and 57.7 seconds per kilometre.  Compare this to Mo’s fastest ever half marathon time, which calculates at an average pace of 2 minutes and 52.5 seconds per kilometre – just 5 seconds per kilometre quicker.

So whilst Mo may not opt to go hell-for-leather, he certainly won’t be jogging.  And even if he does go for it, the other world-class guys aren’t going to be far behind him.

He’s stealing the spotlight from other athletes who deserve it

This is a tough one – are you saying that Mo doesn’t deserve it?  Or perhaps that the other world-class, world-famous athletes will come to London unnoticed and disappear without trace?  Think it through – there is plenty of spotlight to be had, no less than whoever eventually goes on to win the race.

He may ruin the chances of some of the best in the World (as they will be suspicious that he won’t actually drop out and therefore be tempted to go too hard too soon)

As mentioned above, Mo’s half marathon pace isn’t that different from the winning pace last year.  Equally, “the best in the World” will no doubt be used to racing against “the best in the World” and will be adept at knowing and controlling their own pace.

However, the question over whether there is any chance of a single, double or triple bluff from Mo is interesting.  I’m sure that Mo and his coach, Alberto Salazar, have a detailed plan for 2013 with certain goals (as I’ll explain shortly, I’m sure that there are bigger fish to fry for Mo this year!) but what if….? 😉

Ultimately, amidst the clouds of conspiracy and cynicism there are some valid reasons why Mo may want to give the London Marathon a try without having to commit to the whole thing:

Publicity? The fee?

In what is sure to be a relatively short career (compared to us normal 9-5 folks) why not take whatever publicity and fees you can get?  The truth is, this is a bonus and not the reason for doing it.

Pace the other Brits?

This is a valid point.  Many athletics races employ pacemakers – and I use the term employ purposefully: people can be paid to run at a certain pace for the benefit of the race and its other participants.  You’ll often see pacemakers for us regular runners at larger events.  Mo’s appearance in the indoor 3000m at the Birmingham NIA at the weekend almost certainly benefited others in the race to achieve a quicker time.  In fact 5 other British runners ran between 5 and 12 seconds quicker in Birmingham than they did at Sheffield the week previously, when Farah wasn’t competing.

I’m sure that Scott Overall, among others, would be happy to benefit from being dragged along by Mo’s pace.

What about his goals for this year?

One of the biggest reasons why Mo won’t be running the full marathon this year is that he still has some unfinished business.  August sees the IAAF World Championships being held in Moscow.  Mo is set to attempt to repeat his 5 and 10 thousand metre double that so many doubted he was capable of doing in London at the Olympics.  At the last World Championships he had to settle for silver in the 10,000m to go with his gold in the 5,000m.  He’s not going to want to come away disappointed in August so why compromise that prize by over-exerting himself?  If he completed the marathon in April and then failed to come away with two golds he’d forever be thinking he shouldn’t have run the marathon.  This way, he gets a clean run at double gold!

Preparation for 2014

The final reason for having a bash at London this year is simple.  As the scouts say: be prepared!  In the same way that we all make sure we don’t do something new, interesting or different on the evening and morning leading up to a race, Mo wants to have a dress rehearsal to give himself as much chance as possible when he takes on the race for real in 2014.

Many will feel that it’ just another race but for an elite runner there is more to it.  There are increased press and sponsor obligations.  Travelling to the start is a mission in itself.  Also, as a track runner, he’s used to racing later in the day so his whole breakfast routine will need to be replanned.  All these things have a potential to conspire against the best possible performance so having a dry run seems like a sensible idea.

And who wouldn’t want our best chance of a male marathon winner for years to have the best preparation he can?  Except for us cynical Brits of course!


6 thoughts on “Is your glass of Mo half full or half empty?”

  1. Great blog, I for one can’t really see the downside for any of the parties involved. No doubt some people will do as some people always do. But good luck to Mo and the other 35,000 people competing. I will be there supporting of course!

  2. I’m not sure Mo really need “morning prep'” does he…? After all,most Half Marathons (including New York) are fairly early starts and I suspect many of his training sessions are in the morning.
    You could quite easily get a handle on the logistics simply by being present- never mind by utilizing the experiences of many a GB marathon runner in London.
    The pacing issue for the other runners in interesting- It may well present a problem for the other runners if Mo decides to “cane” it- potentially being a couple of minutes or so ahead at the half way point.
    If you were an elite runner,would you let him go- or try to hang on in there,potentially damaging your own chances of success..?
    I suspect he wants a pretty fast “half”,without the attentions of other runners,getting plenty of support/flag waving and getting a handsome cheque for it also- and why not… after all,I think he’s earned it…!

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