When Mo Farah sealed his historic ‘double double’ at Rio 2016, he confirmed himself as the preeminent distance runner of his age. But what is it about the Briton that makes him so quick?
Mo’s favourite meal is a burger – but he only allows himself to have one a year. Instead, his staple dish is rice, grilled chicken and vegetables. Not exactly a Whopper meal, but such are the sacrifices elite athletes have to make. Mo does, at least, allow himself one little luxury: the occasional piece of dark chocolate.
Mo’s chosen events may be only 5K and 10K in length, but that doesn’t mean he can lay off the mileage in training. Routinely, he’ll run in excess of 100 miles a week, consisting of a mix of steady running, tempo work and intervals.
While many successful long distance runners strike the ground first with their heels, this can cause a large impact force to run up their knees and hips. Mo, on the other hand, is a midfoot striker. This reduces the forces acting at the knee and hip while optimising where his foot strikes the ground – below his centre of mass rather than out in front.
Everybody knows Mo’s preferred racing tactic: sit at the back to start with and then blast away from the competition on the final lamp. Simply no one can live with the Briton’s lightning pace over the final 400m. In the recent 5,000m at Rio, he ran the last lap in an astonishing 52.83 seconds.
Mo’s mental strength is another key element of his success. As anyone who’s raced a 5K or 10K will know, it’s a true test of both physical and mental grit. Teeth clenched, eyes bulging, Mo’s effort is writ large on his face. He gives races 100% effort. Anything less, he knows, will end in silver not gold. “You’re talking about a man who had more heart, more guts and more soul than any athlete I’ve ever seen,” coach Alberto Salazar has remarked.
When Mo Farah’s coach, Alberto Salazar, began working with the British athlete he was mightily unimpressed with Mo’s measly upper-body strength. Salazar immediately ordered his charge to begin some arm-strengthening exercises, such as press-ups, alongside some weight workouts, such as weighted dumbbell sprints.
For someone covering the ground at such alarming speed, Mo sure gives the impression of being rather relaxed. His hands are open, his jaw is relaxed and his shoulders are not hunched. By focusing on reducing the tension throughout the body, Mo wastes minimal energy and is able to run more efficiently.
When Mo first went to Salazar, he was something of a weakling. “He was a skinny distance runner with a great engine but no upper body,” Salazar has said. “The number one that has helped Mo is not the 100 miles a week he puts in on the road, but the seven hours a fortnight in the gym.” Lesson: getting quick means getting strong, so get lifting and squatting.
Want to replicate Mo’s fast finish? Then you’ll have to practise your sprinting. Short, intense intervals such as 10 x 400m will help with your top-end speed, as will some concerted hill work. Try 8 x 1 minute effort, working hard on the uphills and recovering on the downhills. It will all help to boost your explosive power.
Being quick isn’t all about power; being flexible is just as important. Mo’s long, flowing stride is made possible only by his flexible hips and hamstrings. Incorporate some regular stretching or yoga into your weekly routine and reap the benefits.