In the past, I have made no secret of some of my sporting heroes and sources of inspiration; I have written about footballer Stuart Pearce, runners Paula Radcliffe and Michael Johnson, and today is another day I am writing about a sporting and athletic hero of mine; the very popular Mo Farah.
This weekend, Mo Farah will run London Marathon. It is his first time at running a competitive marathon. He is going to be racing against some pretty fierce competition; World Record holder Wilson Kipsang, London marathon record holder Emmanuel Mutai, New York Marathon champion Geoffrey Mutai, last year’s London marathon winner Tsegaye Kebede as well as Ayele Abshero (Dubai marathon champion) and Feyisa Lilesa who join the others in all being sub 2hrs 5mins marathon runners!
As much as I would enjoy talking and writing about his training plans, running technique, competition and a whole host of other aspects of what makes Mo Farah so great, as is the nature of this blog, I wanted to offer up what my observations of his mental attitude and psychology are, which in my opinion contribute massively to how great he really is. Having read his autobiography, all his interviews, following his social media accounts and watching what he does from afar, there are some traits that really stand out and make him the supreme athlete he is.
1. General Attitude:
Mo Farah came from what some might deem humble and challenging beginnings. He was born in Somalia and came to England as a boy who struggled initially at school as he learnt the language here. He was separated from his twin brother.
He trains very hard and diligently. He absolutely dedicates himself to his training regimen, often meaning spending periods of time away from his wife and children.
He states openly that he was not nervous (as he used to get earlier in his career) during the final stages of the Olympic final races as he knew he had done the training and knew what he was capable of. He was assured because he had dedicated himself, adhered to his coach’s advice, and applied himself 100% to his preparation.
A lot of runners use a similar notion to help motivate themselves for training – that you can’t run faster than you have trained, and that races are really won on the roads when training. Farah extolls this notion beautifully and shows the value of it.
Farah’s attitude is not one of knowing everything, but instead concedes that he has made mistakes or could have done certain things differently. He is humble and was flexible enough to learn from others – including the Kenyan runners he lived with in his younger days, who had a different approach to him at that time in his life. Farah adapted, learned and benefited greatly from his flexibility, willingness to learn and humility.
He spent parts of his career just missing out on major honours, yet he carried on and broke records and eventually became the first British long distance Olympic gold medal winner – getting TWO gold medals at the 2012 Olympic games.
Farah has been subjected to some personal issues too – the English Defence League attacked Farah verbally and criticised his charity work (some being overseas projects) and questioned his dedication to the country he represents as he is based overseas for much of the year.
Last year, the Daily Mail accused him of ‘cashing in’ by running half of London marathon. In a recent interview in Runners World magazine he refers to this; “I thought I was doing a good thing checking out the course. I needed to practise getting up and eating early as my races are usually in the evening. I needed to experience grabbing a drink from the drinks tables. It sounds like a tiny thing, but the first time I grabbed someone else’s drink and the second time I dropped it altogether – so it was a good learning curve.”
He adds “I wasn’t physically ready to run more than 13.1 miles so I did what I could. It was a useful day. But no, they say I’m greedy for getting an appearance fee and that I’m cashing in on my success. In their minds, I was getting paid for that day only. I wasn’t. I was getting paid for all the years I spent training in the rain or heat killing myself in training to reach the top.”
This attention to preparation, taking control of as much as possible and being diligent is a strength. I spoke about this on Marathon Talk last week – that you prepare and familiarise yourself as much as you are able to when it comes to training, events and races. It certainly helps alleviate pre-race nerves if you have done so.
Farah continues to be upbeat, defiant and positive in the face of these matters and other challenges – he is a fighter. His determination in his running is obvious to see, but it is there in everything he does. It is not an innate thing that people magically have or are born with, oh no. It takes positivity, discipline and self-encouragement to remain upbeat and motivated as he does.
3. Goal Focused:
At London marathon this Sunday, Farah is aiming to ‘get close’ to the British marathon record, but I suspect he is more determined to break that record than he lets on in this interview:
His focus on winning and breaking records are specific and measured and heck, I’ve written greatly on this blog about how to be effective with goal-setting as a runner.
4. He has positivity and Personality:
Mo if famous for his “Mobot” signature pose, and that big infectious smile. But for me, when I read his autobiography, I was more taken with his sense of humour, his zest for life and some of the antics he confesses to getting up to before he really got himself together for his assault on the world of running.
I’ve mentioned it already, he is straight-talking and honest. He broke the African dominance of long distance running, which is a daunting task in and of itself, but his attitude and steely nerves were not going to falter or wither in the shadows of the African greats.
Heck, Mo Farah is mainly text book perfect material for being a running star, yet he bucks trends with regards to what some of the research suggests. Elite marathon runners are usually psychologically profiled as being typically stoic and unemotional. Despite this, there is a little bit of research to show that extroverts can often endure pain better, so maybe that is the case with Farah. He runs with assuredness but also with a determination that I swear I can feel when I watch him.
I’ll be cheering Mo Farah on with the rest of the country this Sunday as he competes in London Marathon. However he does, there is so much we can learn and benefit from seeing how he approaches his running and how his attitude and mental strength contribute to his success.