So going into the next World Championships cycle, are you going to keep doing the same things in your training or will you tweak anything?
I think as an athlete you have to change things. Look at all the things I’ve achieved this year. But I don’t want to stay on the same level. So you do have to tweak. It’s all good now, but there will come a point where you have to change things. You have to say, “What am I doing and how am I doing it?” That’s an important thing.
At one point in your career, you decided to live and train with Kenyans in Teddington (an area of London). Do you consider that move pivotal to your career?
Yeah it was. That opened my eyes as an athlete. I said, “Look, these guys are the best. What are they doing? What am I doing?” You have to question yourself sometimes. I asked myself, “Why am I not as good as them? What am I doing wrong?” I knew that I had talent, but didn’t know what was going wrong. It shows that the lifestyle I was living, what I was doing, wasn’t suitable. I wasn’t getting much recovery. I was going out with my mates. It wasn’t eat, sleep, and train. It definitely opened my eyes as an athlete. You always get told what can get you to the next level, but if you see it, if you experience it, it’s a different story.
So you’re saying you’re not jumping naked off the Kingston Bridge anymore? [In his youth, Farah, a partier and prankster, used to jump naked into the Thames River after a night on the town.]
[He laughs.] No I’m not. I’m past all that. I’m married now. Life is good. I’ve learned that if you want something, you have to work hard for it. I’m glad that I’ve worked hard for what I’ve achieved.
You’ve hinted that your partying and staying out late early in your career might have prevented you from becoming the best athlete you could have been. Would you advise young runners to take things more seriously in terms of off-the-track behavior if they want to run better?
Yeah. I’d definitely say so. It’s not just about running. It’s about a lot of things. You have to balance it. There will be a time to go out and relax with your mates, but you can’t mix in your priority with that. So I’ll say again that if you want something, you’ve got to work hard. It’s not about working hard for one month or two months. You have to stay with it the whole time. There are no shortcuts; that’s what I’m trying to say. You can’t have both lifestyles. You have to choose what you want.
Besides the lessons of eat, sleep, and run that the Kenyans taught you, what else have you learned from them?
Just like appreciation. Those guys work hard. They don’t have a nice house like where I live with my family about. They live up in there in the mountains and just run. And that’s why they are so strong.
Any thoughts about moving up to the marathon or half marathon?
Not yet. I’ve set a target with the 5K and want to take it as far as I can. And then I want to go as far as I can with the 10K. I want to move up slowly. I ran a 10-mile race last year in Portsmouth, which I won. Now that was a long way. I was asking myself then if I could go that far–up to the half marathon. Now that is a long way. You have to get your miles in to race that distance. You have to get your head around it. I’m just getting used to the 5K and 10K, so I don’t see myself moving up yet.
You mentioned having to move up in mileage if you wanted to go after the half marathon or marathon. What kind of mileage are you running to prepare for the 5,000 meters?
I’m doing about 90 to 100 miles a week. If I were to do the marathon, I think I’d have to put in 150 miles a week. I don’t know. I’m not an expert in the marathon. Or does it mean longer rests? I don’t have a clue. The marathon is a whole different game. It’s different training than the 5K or 10K.
As far as male distance runners go, the United Kingdom has struggled to keep up with the world in terms of quality. Do you look at yourself as a role model and inspiration for young British runners?
Yeah. I was successful as a Junior and have definitely kept improving. I do think that kids my age definitely see me as a role model. I think it’s nice to see that I’m an old-time kind of guy who just works hard. But we’ve had other people to look up to like Sebastian Coe, Steve Cram, and other guys who were out breaking world records and becoming Olympic champions. It’s hard to live up to that, but I believe we can. I see us improving over the last decade in athletics. I see us getting back again. After the European Championships, there was a sense of team atmosphere—the atmosphere was amazing with the people congratulating me when I came home, saying, “Well done.”
You talked about your time as a junior. As a young runner, Alan Watkinson talked you into running. At that time, you wanted to be a professional footballer [soccer player]. Had you not listened to him, had you stuck to football, do you think you’d be doing the equivalent in football with what you are doing with your running: playing for Arsenal or some other Premier League team?
Oh no. I was never as good in football. Alan having me pursue running was one of those decisions I can’t forget. And that’s what we need: people who will work alongside athletes—people who will support schools and kids. I will be doing that in any way that I can help.
Duncan Larkin is a freelance journalist who’s been covering the sport of running for over five years. He’s run 2:32 in the marathon and won the Himalayan 100-Mile Stage Race in 2007. His first book, Oxygen Debt, was recently released.