Following Sunday’s 2014 Virgin Money London Marathon, BBC commentator and former Olympian Brendan Foster went on air and gave a less-than-glowing review of British track star Mo Farah’s 26.2-mile debut.
“I hope Mo stays on the track and defends his titles in Rio,” Foster said, according to Runner’s World. “I just think this is too much of an unknown territory for him.”
Foster isn’t alone in thinking that Farah—who finished eighth with a time of 2:08:21—should give the marathon a rest and focus on preparing for the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where he would defend his titles in the 5000 and 10,000 meters.
Before the London race, many questioned why Farah would want to branch out from the track, where the 31-year-old has enjoyed such tremendous success. His eighth-place finish has led to even more criticism, but in a piece for Runner’s World, writer and longtime elite runner Roger Robinson argues that Farah’s London performance wasn’t as disappointing as some make it out to be.
“Farah's not the first to feel wrung out after their first marathon experience; even some who became great marathoners weren't pleased with their debut effort,” Robinson writes, citing 1978 New York City Marathon champ Grete Waitz and Ethiopian legend Haile Gebrselassie—pacemaker for the first group of elites at this year’s London Marathon—as runners who felt discouraged their first time out. Waitz, despite having just set a women’s world record in her 1978 debut in New York, famously threw her shoes at her husband, who had convinced her to enter the race, and shouted “I’m never doing that again!” (She went on to win New York a record nine times, including two more world records.) In 2002, Gebrselassie lost his first marathon to rival Paul Tergat—and to Khalid Khannouchi, who beat them both in London. Gebrselassie later lowered the world record twice in Berlin.
Robinson goes on to outline four key things he believes went wrong during Farah’s race, positing that the 2012 double gold medalist would have fared better had circumstances been different. First off, he says, Farah should have gone out with the lead pack rather than opt for a pacemaker scheduled to take his group through the halfway point at 62:15—40 seconds back.
As it happened, neither Farah’s pacemaker nor Gebrselassie stayed on target, and as a result, Robinson writes, Mo took himself out of contention early.
Next, says Robinson, Farah tried to make up for lost time in miles eight through 12, and in doing so, he was “trying to close a gap too fast.” The poor strategy left him running in isolation between the first two groups for long periods, and lastly, since no one from the lead group drifted back, there was no one Farah could “reel in” and overtake.
Robinson admits that the marathon has become a specialist’s game, and that track stars like Farah will have a difficult time crossing over and competing with “men and women from Ethiopia and Kenya who go as it were straight from ninth grade to the marathon.”
“But in the final analysis, some things in Farah’s favor deserve to be said,” Robinson writes. “Farah did not fall apart, he did not quit, he did not cry, he did not truly fail.”