27 Feb

Step Too Farah?

Mo Farah

British distance running is abuzz at the prospect of Mo Farah running the marathon. The Olympic 10,000m and 5000m champion recently announced his intention to run half of this year's Virgin London Marathon before tackling the full distance at the 2014 race. The news has most of the running community salivating at the prospect of the UK's endurance standard-bearer taking on the iconic distance.

It seems everyone has an opinion on the move, even women's record-holder Paula Radcliffe, who questioned the reasoning behind the move. Others, including long-time race director Dave Bedford have voiced their support.

Farah's participation in April's event will provide a teasing glimpse, but ultimately will reveal very little. We know he can run a very fast half marathon, so there's no doubt he can comfortably run with the leaders to the 13.1mile marker. But beyond that, who knows?

As anyone who has run a marathon will testify - be they elite athlete or fun runner - the real race doesn't start until around 18 miles in. Farah has proved himself to be the world's premier long-distance athlete on the track and a proven winner in road 10k and half marathon races, but can he produce it on 26.2miles of road?

It's very difficult to say. History shows that there are some athletes who stride through the distances comfortably such as Kenyan legend Paul Tergat or Czech icon Emil Zatopek. There are others who never quite make the transition from world-beating track athlete to marathon winning machine. Ireland's Sonia O'Sullivan and more recently Eritrea's Zersenay Tadese are two such examples. Tadese is the world record holder for the half marathon and a four-times winner of the world half marathon championships, but he is yet to run a marathon that comes close to matching his prowess at other distances.

There are also other athletes who demonstrate talent on the track, yet never look quite fast enough to win major titles and yet find their feet at the marathon distance. Welshman Steve Jones was a respected international on track and cross country, but it wasn't until he stepped up to the marathon in the mid-1980s that he went from also-ran to record-breaker. He is a former world-record holder with victories in London, Chicago and New York to his name. His best time of 2:07:13 remains the UK record.

So which way will it go for Mo? Olympic gold medals are no guarantee of success at marathon running. Either way, it will be fascinating to see it happen.