The marathon and Mo Farah

British transplant and 5K/10K king is contemplating going the distance in 2016

Updated: March 11, 2013, 10:47 AM ET
By Brian Metzler | Competitor.com

Mohamed Farah Clive Brunskill/Getty ImagesMo Farah celebrates with daughter Rihanna and wife Tania after winning Olympic gold in the 5,000.

Mo Farah isn't hesitant when asked about what he misses most about living away from London. It's not the only thing the double Olympic gold medalist can't get now that he's living nearly 5,000 miles way in Portland, Ore., but it's the one most dear to his heart.

"It's football, for sure," he says. And by football, of course, he's referring to what his American neighbors would call "soccer."

Farah, a Somali-born British long-distance runner, is a huge fan of Arsenal Football Club, one of the English Premier League's most successful teams. He's adjusted well to different foods, driving on the "other side of the road" and various bits of American pop culture, but he can't quite get his soccer fix.

"I used to see a lot of Arsenal games when I was living there, but now I can only see a game if it fits in when I'm over there," he says. "Life has gotten busier in a lot of ways."

That's to be expected when you solidify your status as a British national treasure after winning Olympic gold in both the 5,000 and 10,000 meters in front of your home crowd.

"I'll always miss being there, but my situation is good now," says Farah, who was recently anointed the honorary ranking of Commander of the Order of the British Empire. "I can go to store or a restaurant without people knowing who I am."

Still, everything else has been coming up roses for Farah while living in near anonymity in his newly adopted home in the City of Roses. Since moving stateside two years ago and joining Alberto Salazar's training group at Nike's world headquarters, Farah has been nearly untouchable at any distance from 3,000 meters to the half marathon.

Farah is the world's best distance runner at the moment, a subjective title to be sure, but one that holds plenty of water based on his double gold medal showing at last summer's Olympic Games. He also owns a world championship gold in the 5,000 from 2011 and his street cred -- namely, that he's won both half-marathons he's entered -- is growing, too.

Now, despite openly shooting for two more golds in the same events at this summer's world championships in Moscow, Farah is considering a move up to the marathon. If all goes well, he'll make his debut at the 26.2-mile distance in April 2014 in London and then be able to determine if he'll try to repeat his 5,000/10,000 double at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro or try his hand (and legs) at the 10,000 and the marathon.

"There are no guarantees if he moves up to the marathon," says Rod Dixon, who went from being the 1972 Olympic bronze medalist in the 1,500 to the 1983 New York City Marathon champion. "But he's hugely talented and he's a fiery competitor who's shown he can win at a wide range of distances."

I think he'll be a really good marathoner, but will he be the best marathoner in the world? I don't know. He's the best distance runner in the world on the track right now, but to go to the marathon, there are no guarantees.

-- Alberto Salazar, three-time NYC Marathon winner and Mo Farah's coach
Farah spent two months this past winter training with elite marathoners in Kenya, but talent and training aside, he concedes he's still learning, just as he has with his new American surroundings.

"It's not going to be easy. You really have to train for it," he says. "I've trained hard for what I have accomplished on the track, but some things you have to learn out there on the road. I think it's a completely different ballgame, that's for sure."

While he's run world-class times over shorter distances on the track, he's yet to run exceedingly fast on the roads. The 1:00:59 effort he posted while winning Rock 'n' Roll New Orleans Half-Marathon on Feb. 24 officially surpassed the British national record, but it's still more than two and half minutes off the 58:23 world record of Eritrea's Zersenay Tadese. He won the NYC Half-Marathon two years ago in 1:00:23 on a course that wasn't eligible for records.

Salazar, a three-time New York City Marathon champion, was good on the track but excelled on the roads. So far, it's been the opposite with Farah.

"I think he'll be a really good marathoner, but will he be the best marathoner in the world? I don't know," Salazar says. "I'm sure he'll be good and I'm sure he could be a top-five guy in the world. He's the best distance runner in the world on the track right now, but to go to the marathon, there are no guarantees."

Farah won't officially race again until May, when the international track season gets underway, but he will run the first half of the London Marathon on April 21 as a means of getting more experience on the roads. That he accepted a huge appearance fee to run 13.1 miles -- it has been reported to be more than $1 million, although Farah says it's much less -- and then drop out has rankled some in the sport, but when you're the top guy in the sport, that's your right.

Farah is expected to run the full London Marathon next year as a trial of sorts, partially because there is no world championship on the track in 2014.

"By the time Rio is coming up, he'll have to decide if he wants to run the 5,000 and 10,000 or the 10,000 and marathon," Salazar says. "So he'll just have to make a choice at that point of where he think his chances of winning two races or winning two medals is best. Ultimately, it's up to the athlete. I advise him and I'm his coach, but in the end, it's his choice. It's got to be something he believes in himself and then I'll train him for those two events."

Farah, who turns 30 later this month, developed later than most world-class distance runners. But he admits part of it was his relative lack of focus. In his early 20s, while going to school at St. Mary's University College, he started training with a group of Kenyan distance runners based in the London suburb of Teddington.

At the time, Farah says he was living the "student life," going to pubs, staying out late and drinking a bit.

[+] EnlargeFarah and Rupp
Quinn Rooney/Getty ImagesFarah and Galen Rupp are training partners in Oregon and have become close friends off the track.
"I saw the Kenyans and how seriously they trained and how they lived, and I said to myself, 'If I'm going to have any chance at being the best and competing against these guys, I must do exactly what they do.' And at [that] point, it seemed to be that all they did was eat, sleep and train. They were going to bed at 8 o'clock and I was going out at 8.

While he progressed since the time he was a schoolboy champion in London, Farah's first big breakthrough didn't come until 2010, when he won the 5,000 and 10,000 at the European Championships in Barcelona.

Farah isn't ready to shed his British citizenship, but he says Portland is his home now. If nothing else, living and training in Portland has helped Farah avoid the spotlight of his ever-increasing glory and fame in the UK. Plus, his 7-year-old daughter, Rihanna, has settled into school and made friends, he says, while his wife, Tania, has found the anonymity and small-town atmosphere to be an ideal place to care for their 7-month-old twin girls.

He's also gained a good friend in Galen Rupp, who has not only been a dutiful training partner, but also used Farah's competitive presence to raise his own game. In the past two years, Rupp, a former All-American at the University of Oregon, has lowered several U.S. records on the track and last summer became the first American man to earn an Olympic medal in the 10,000 since Billy Mills famously won gold in 1964.

Rupp is also a big soccer fan and has taken Farah to a handful of Portland Timbers games. Certainly Major League Soccer isn't up to par with the English Premier League, but it is still soccer, er, uh, football.

"Without Galen Rupp, Mo Farah doesn't win two gold medals. Without Mo Farah, Galen Rupp doesn't win a silver medal," Salazar says. "They're great training partners and best of friends who really push and support each other. In distance running right now, there are probably not two partners who are that good anywhere. It's a positive all around."

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