Mo’s potential was spotted when he was 11 years-old by his PE teacher, Alan Watkinson, at Isleworth and Syon School in the London Borough of Hounslow. After seeing him run he knew immediately that Mo had the potential to compete at the highest level. This meeting changed Mo’s life. Before he was encouraged to focus on athletics he was always getting into trouble at school. Mo Farrah is a Somali refugee and when he arrived in the UK at the age of 8 years old, he spoke very little English. He was always in fights in and out of school, until he found something to focus his energy on.
“I don’t know what would have happened if he had not found athletics” ~ Alan Watkinson
When Mo was 13 year old he came 9th in the English schools cross country. In 2001, when he was 14 years old, he won the European Junior Championships. By the time Mo Farrah was 18 years old he was competing at a junior athlete level. He has since gone on to be British Champion, European Champion and World Champion over the 10,000 m. Today he hopes to win Olympic Gold in the 10,000m final at the London 2012 Games.
“I feel blessed to have him land on my doorstep” ~ Alan Watkinson
Their relationship went beyond that of a games teacher and pupil, Mr. Watkinson was best man at Mo’s wedding.
Born to Run
Mo says that he was “born to run”. Running is natural to him, he was easily winning races at school without really making an effort. However, running was not something he aspired to do as a career.
He was not only good at running though, he won most athletic events at school including the javelin. However, running is what he really excelled at.
Mr. Watkinson spotted raw talent in Mo, plus the physcial attributes to make him a champion. Mo has a long stride length which makes him a more powerful runner – just in the same way that Usain Bolt’s longer stride makes him a faster sprinter.
Endurance Performance Centre
When he left school he won a place at the Endurance Performance Centre St Mary’s University College in Twickenham where he started to hone is raw talent into a professional skill. Mo still trains at St Mary’s when he is back in the UK.
Incidentally, St Mary’s University College is proud to announce that 8 athletes from its Endurance Performance and Coaching Centre are competing in the London 2012 Games.
Living With The Kenyans
Mo’s biggest breakthrough really came when he started living with a group of Kenyan’s long distance runners in 2006. While Mo was making excellent progress, he still viewed the Kenyans as untouchable. However, after living with them for a while he realised that his lifestyle was holding him back.
Mo used to stay up late, usually until 2am, and then rise late in the morning. His Kenyan house mates would go to bed at 9pm and be up by 6am to start training. He decided to adopt this approach too and soon started to discover new levels of energy and focus. This was when he started to believe in himself and knew that he could be more than just British Champion – he could compete internationally and win.
100 Miles a Week and Altitude Training
He started high altitude training around this time, going to Kenya. He would clock up 100 miles a week in training – averaging 14 miles a day. The result was that by 2012 his 5,000m and 10,000m times had improved significantly – he won both the 5,000m and 10,000m in the 2010 European Championships, and then broke David Moorcroft’s 28 year British record for the 5,000m, running it in 12:57.94 (Moorcroft ran it in 13:00.41 in 1982).
Mo has a few other little tricks up his sleeve too. Like the Brownlee brothers he also runs on an underwater treadmill. This helps to reduce impact damage while increasing resistance. He also uses a cryogenic chamber to aid muscle recovery. These are very similar to taking ice baths, but you can stay within the chamber for longer at colder temperatures. Cryogenic chambers can drop to minus 120 degrees Celsius. The goal is to reduce post-exercise inflammation so that the healing process can be more efficient.
Mo Farah’s Diet
Mo eats a lot of carbohydrates to fuel the muscles and also ensures that he gets a lot of protein straight after a workout. Endurance athletes need sugar and fast release sugar is also taken after a long workout as this prevents muscle wastage.
Staples carbohydrates are pasta, rice, potatoes and bread. Mo prefers pasta for fuel. It is still vital to get portion size correct though – too much can still lead to fat accumulation and this slows downs distance runners considerably.
For protein Mo likes to eat grilled chicken. Protein shakes are really not needed for distance runners as they get plenty of protein from a balanced diet. The key really is to eat very nutritious food all the time. After the London Games Closing Ceremony Mo Farah treated himself to one burger – the first he had eaten in months, maybe over a year. And, just one. Then it was straight back to the healthy diet, as he has more competitions planned for the year.
Like all of today’s great athletes, Mo Farrah’s skill comes from a combination of natural talent, passion, focus, excellent coaching, a lot of training and simply making the right choices at the right time. Many people have the potential to be Olympic athletes, sometimes the biggest challenge is in spotting the raw talent and honing it into a world class skill.
Interested in running for fitness? Read our article on the Health Benefits of Jogging and Running.
Mo Farah’s former PE teacher remembers young athlete – BBC News. Accessed 4 Aug 2012
Mo Farah: Young man in a hurry - Independent. Accessed 4 Aug 2012
SimmarianOnline - Olympic Edition (pdf) Summer 2012, Edition 5
Photo by Erik van Leeuwen.