The 10-time global gold medallist shares insight into his life in lockdown as he refocuses on an Olympic 10,000m title defence in 2021
As Sir Mo Farah turns up the treadmill and settles into yet another home session, the memorabilia which surrounds him, decorating the walls of his ‘man cave’, provides a visual reminder of his significant success in athletics.
Not that Farah needs reminding. He can still feel it. The emotions experienced as he runs laps of the track, the thrill of competition and tactics, of being a racer, of storming over the finish line first.
Training might look a little different right now and the target may have moved but his goal remains the same: to defend his Olympic 10,000m title in Tokyo. Should all go to plan at the rescheduled Games in 2021, the 10-time global gold medallist will have another major honour to hang in his home, which has become the venue for all of his training following the coronavirus lockdown.
MO FARAH’S GLOBAL GOLD MEDAL WINS
2017 World Championships, London – 10,000m
2016 Olympic Games, Rio de Janeiro – 5000m & 10,000m
2015 World Championships, Beijing – 5000m & 10,000m
2013 World Championships, Moscow – 5000m & 10,000m
2012 Olympic Games, London – 5000m & 10,000m
2011 World Championships, Daegu – 5000m
With the Covid-19 pandemic causing so much uncertainty, the current aim – under the guidance of his coach Gary Lough – is to keep things ticking over.
“I’ve been talking to my coach Gary and obviously he has a lot of plans for me,” says Farah, speaking exclusively to AW from his Surrey home. “I think the important thing for all of us is just to keep ticking away because we’re not even sure what’s going on.
“If I were, for example, to have time off now, complete time off, when I start training back up again, it’s going to be difficult. Later on, you can build on that, because you already have the foundation and the base.
“It’s not like I’m saying I’m going to run 100-plus miles a week,” he adds. “It’s just doing what you can. Some days I’ll do a run in the evening, some days if I feel okay I’ll run in the morning, 10 miles or 12 miles.”
For many runners, spending time on the treadmill is a bit of a chore, but Farah is a huge fan. Taking the lockdown in his speedy stride, the 37-year-old has hardly left home.
“I’m one of these people, I’m weird,” he says. “Most people like to go outside and they can’t stand the treadmill. But for me, I love the treadmill.
“When I am at a training camp, obviously I’m training with my friends and it’s a good atmosphere, you’re having a laugh, you go for a run and it makes it easier. But sometimes it’s easier for me to just run on the treadmill.
“So all of my runs, pretty much, have been on the treadmill. I have been going on (virtual training platform) Zwift. If your mates are on at the same time as you, you can do a session together.
“So it has been all right for me, I haven’t found it that difficult at all.”
His home set-up includes the treadmill and a rowing machine and pool as well as some strength and conditioning equipment such as a squat bar, dumbbells, Swiss ball and medicine ball.
“I call it the man cave!” Farah says, describing his workout space. “The reason why is when I lived in the US I had a room full of my things and I’d call it the man cave.
“Before (his son) Hussein, it used to be the three girls and my wife. If I wanted to watch the football I’d go to my room and watch it and it had a treadmill in there. So, I’ve got a similar thing here. The kids are always in here now, sometimes hanging upside down from the treadmill!”
Sharing insight into some of his sessions when the treadmill is child-free, the four-time Olympic gold medallist says: “I’ve done a six-mile tempo on the treadmill, that has been my hardest session. I did a six-mile run and then a hill session on there too. I did 45 seconds on, then it was supposed to be jog a minute but I couldn’t jog a minute because by the time you have turned the treadmill down you’ve had the minute. So I get off the side, rest up for a minute, and back on it 10 times.
“I’ve done a long run on there, 15 miles,” he adds. “The longest I’ve ever done is 22 miles on the treadmill.”
Having announced his retirement from the track in 2017 to focus on marathon running, Farah reversed that decision last year when his passion for track action became too hard to ignore.
Although he broke the then European record with his 2:05:11 major marathon win in Chicago in 2018 and secured third and fifth-place finishes in London, the 26.2-mile event just didn’t give Farah that same buzz.
“To be honest, sometimes they say you always think ‘the grass is greener on the other side’,” says the six-time world champion, as he discusses his switch from track to road.
“For me, you know when you’re used to winning, the motivation wasn’t quite there at times, because you’ve done it so many times. When you step away from it, then you realise, I do miss that.
“Just knowing how to win (track) races, I think that was the key for me,” he adds. “I wasn’t someone who would come out and smash out times, world records. I was more of a racer.
“Going to the marathon, it was difficult to get that. I did a few marathons and I was happy with it, broke the British record, broke the European record, and the best marathon for me was winning Chicago, but at the same time, it’s just different.
“It’s something I had been used to – knowing how to deal with the race, knowing when to go. That’s the thing I miss. I miss racing. I miss having a laugh, messing around, looking at the camera, joking, you’re in good shape, you’re playing mind games.
“In the marathon, it doesn’t happen – you might hit the wall, you might not!”
Although the current coronavirus situation is challenging in so many ways, Farah says the year delay it has caused to the Olympic Games may actually work in his favour as it gives him more time to transition from the marathon back to the track.
“It is probably, in my honest opinion, not a bad thing for me,” he admits, “because it gives you a bit more time to train for it, to do more races, because I would have gone from the marathon and then the following year straight to the track.”
He recognises that he will be 38 should the Games take place as planned next summer, but adds: “As an athlete, you can never take it for granted – you’ve got to look after yourself, stay injury free, stay focused.
“Obviously, I’m not a spring chicken any more. You take what you can from it.”
The lockdown also gives him precious time to spend with his family – his wife Tania, their three daughters Rhianna, Aisha and Amani and son Hussein.
“I haven’t really spent that kind of time with them and now I’m with them every day. It’s just nice to have that time, all of us,” says Farah, who returned home early from a training camp in Ethiopia as the coronavirus crisis worsened.
“It’s not nice, obviously, with the situation that is going on, but we have been having a good laugh.
“You’re often away so much. We have been doing loads of activities and doing some crazy challenges where we row, swim, do the monkey bars. Getting them active is important.
“We have been doing the garden more,” he adds. “We bought some vegetables for the kids to try and get them involved in growing stuff.
“We’re lucky that we have space in our back yard so we can do stuff with the kids.”
Farah’s original plan for 2020 had been to race The Vitality Big Half in London in March and spend a bit of time at home in the UK after his training camp in Ethiopia (pictured, below) before another training block in the US to get ready for the Prefontaine Classic Diamond League meeting in Eugene and an Olympic summer.
An Achilles injury dashed his Big Half hopes and now he is open minded when it comes to resuming his racing, with autumn road events a possibility.
“Maybe the Great North Run, it depends what half-marathons are going on,” says Farah, who won the Great North Run for the sixth time last September. “You’ll definitely see me doing a similar thing to what you’ve seen before. Do a few races and get strong and get fit and then from there go on to the track and use the track leading up to the Tokyo Olympics, a combination of different races.”
Could he be tempted by an autumn marathon? “No. I’m not thinking about marathons, to be honest with you,” he replies. “I’m just thinking, Tokyo.”
With that, Farah returns to tidying the garden before an evening run, back on the treadmill in his man cave, of course.