Portland, Oregon: home of the world’s biggest sports brand – Nike. And since 2011 the base for Olympic and world champion Mo Farah. But what is it about Mo’s training camp that has made him Britain’s most successful all-time track and field star?
It’s hard to remember Mo Farah as the also-ran athlete who failed to make the 5000 metres final at the Beijing Olympics. But in moving from Britain to work with the best long distance coach in the world, Alberto Salazar, Farah has catapulted himself into the athletics history books. When he moved to Nike’s headquarters, Farah gained himself a coach as renowned for gaining results with runners as Sir Dave Brailsford has been with British Cycling over the last decade.
Racking up 120 miles a week is the norm for Mo, but this alone doesn’t set him apart from the competition. Of course, he has bags of natural talent and an outstanding work ethic. But before Salazar got his hands on Mo, there was a lot wrong with the way he went about racing. Here are the five keys to distance running success:
- 1. Strength and conditioning
Mo might never look like a bodybuilder but he is much more sculpted than he was when he first came onto the international scene. In previous generations the idea of doing weights would have been frowned upon by distance runners, but today strength and conditioning is understood to be integral to achieving the most efficient running style possible. Mo squats up to 90kg, works kettlebells, does boxing padwork and performs tough core exercises as part of his regime.
Salazar summarises Mo’s transition: “Now he is not just a skinny guy, he’s a strong, wiry guy . . . And he’s not gained more than a pound or two in the process.”
- 2. Sprint training
It’s not just incredible endurance that Mo possesses. He is able to kick and break his opponents with a blistering final 100 metres, 200 metres or even 400 metres if a race calls for it. This is down to dedicated work he has done with sprint coach John Smith.
- 3. Recovery
Ice baths are now a familiar site within the athletics world, but Mo’s coach has had his charges using space-age cryosaunas as well. In a cryosauna cold nitrogen gas is used to lower the lower surface temperature of the skin and avoid inflammation from over-exercising.
Mo also has constant access to a support team able to provide physiotherapy, massage, chiropractic treatments and any other medical intervention necessary.
- 4. Off road running
Salazar’s advice is, “Don’t run on the road. It pounds the body and kills speed.” Instead, Mo and his training partner Galen Rupp run at least 12 miles on grass every day before taking to the track for interval work. To top this up they also run on the treadmill before they will consider racing on tarmac.
- 5. Biomechanical assessment
Not only does Mo perform two runs barefoot per week to enhance his alignment, he is also regularly monitored using state-of-the-art foot sensor software so that any imperfections in his alignment can be corrected through training and orthotics. This enables him to not only avoid unnecessary strain on his muscles, joints and ligaments, but transfer power more efficiently through his foot and improve his performance.
One very clear shift that has been made in distance running in recent years is that attention to detail has overtaken the run-till-you-vomit approach. Salazar has Mo training smart all year round, using sports injury treatments and carefully managed exercise programmes to keep him fit to train.
Mo missed just one week of training through injury in 2012, meaning that he could train continually and build on his fitness without fear of setbacks or long rehabilitation periods.
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image copyright © Al King