What a fantastic night that was: the Olympic 10,000m final in London.
For us Brits it was all about Mo Farah, but for runners in general there was an even more important statement made by the runner in 2nd place, the American, Galen Rupp.
For a very long time it’s been suggested that unless you were born and bred in Kenya or Ethiopia you’d be starting with a massive disadvantage in a distance running event.
Does Mo’s victory conflict with this view? Of course it does.
There will be those who say that his origin still gives him a head start — Somalia borders both Kenya and Ethiopia! But, he shares little of the nature and nurture that are often cited as reasons for East African dominance in distance running.
But, it will be Galen Rupp’s silver medal that will underline the fact that you do not have to be of East African origin to compete amongst — and beat — the very best.
It is often results like these that set new trends in athletic performance. One of the greatest being of course when Sir Roger Bannister finally ran under 4 minutes for the mile; knowing something is possible shifts the target.
Likewise when Kelly Holmes achieved Olympic Gold double in the 800m & 1500m, she became an instant role-model and fueled belief amongst young British female runners that they too could compete at the top. Some would argue the fact that limiting beliefs and negative thinking does not hold athletes back: some would say that the 4-minute mile was due for breaking anyway and that no notional barrier existed. Nevertheless, these historical occurrences do change they way people think, and also — importantly — their performance targets and accordingly their training.
So what has all this to do with Mo Farah’s and Galen Rupp’s training? What is it about their training that will alter many people’s ideas about what is possible? It really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that they have shown what can be done and proved that there is a way. Of course, their way mightn’t be the only way, and again it doesn’t matter; the result and the knock-on effects of their achievement are what will change the attitude of runners the world over.
I’ve never really bought into the idea of the invincibility of the East Africans. We only have to look at another great British runner for confirmation. In 1981 Sebastian Coe ran 1.41.73 to claim the 800m world record. That record stood for over 16 years and has only been bettered by less than a second (even including David Rudisha’s astonishing run last night in London). If Coe were competing at that standard now, he’d still be capable of winning almost any top-level 800m race. Mo Farah and Galen Rupp’s coach, Alberto Salazar has said that there has existed a defeatist, ‘what’s the point’ attitude amongst many runners. They feel that they cannot compete against East Africans because they are at a disadvantage. What Mo Farah and Galen Rupp have shown is that there is a point. There is a point to addressing every single aspect in both training and lifestyle in order to become the best you can be — whoever you are. Do not be limited by notional beliefs, this is as true to the recreational runner looking to break the one hour 10k as it is to the very best of the elite.
And, what of Mo Farah’s training? Before he moved to the US to train under Alberto Salazar, he was already I highly accomplished athlete. He’d broken David Moorcroft’s British 5000m record to become the first Brit to run under 13 minutes. He was also double European Champion at 5000m & 10000m. But, he knew he’d need to move up a step to compete against the very best in the world. Alberto Salazar’s training ideas have much in common with the British Cycling Team: attention to detail. If you can make even very small improvements in lots of areas, then the improvement (and performance advantage) will be great. Mo has said in interviews that his training with Salazar is not that much different to how it was before. There has been more focus on running technique and strength conditioning, and the widely reported use of the underwater treadmill, which allows runners to train at high volumes without the damaging effects of impact on the body. Salazar has also said that he has upped Mo’s training pace, so that the bulk of his training is run significantly faster than before.
Regardless of all this, the key is hard work. The East African runners seem to do this naturally, it’s their way of life. Time will tell whether Mo Farah and Galen Rupp’s success will open the door to the possibilities that exist for others with more comfortable lives.
For the rest of us the lesson is to challenge what we think is impossible and then decide how hard we are going to work to achieve our new goals.