Farah looks on the lighter side

One theory behind Mo Farah’s transformation this year from European Champion to world beater

Posted on August 28, 2011 by
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Mo Farah (Mark Shearman)

The world has gasped at Mo Farah’s transformation this year from one of the world’s best into favourite for tomorrow’s 10,000m at the IAAF World Championships. Along with the astonishment have come questions about how it has come about. Yet have most overlooked one basic factor?

For a start, I do not believe his improvement has been as sudden or extreme as it may first seem. Farah ran a British record of 12:57.94 this time last year in Zurich, but some have suggested he would have been capable of quicker with more racing of the right competitive opportunities.

He may be capable of around 10 seconds quicker than that at the moment, which at that level is enough to take you being from being just one of many to the best in the world. Improve from 13:20 by 10 seconds and few eyebrows are raised, but do it when you’re already running 12:57 and it seems more remarkable.

Further, the transformation may have appeared to have happened overnight, but all this of course has come about as a result of years of hard training, which have a long-term effect that can be heightened by further adaptations in training.

That said, his improvement time-wise this year has admittedly been significant when put in the context of elite level running. Explanations have been put forward for this, but none have convinced me.

The input of Alberto Salazar has been the theory most widely spouted, but Farah only moved to the United States to train under the top American coach in the spring. It is difficult to see how Salazar could effect such a change in the short period to when the Brit ran 26:46.57 in June.

However, what few appear to have picked up on is the fact that he is now wearing the lightest spikes in the world and that could make a huge difference.

According to his sponsors Nike, Farah wears Nike Zoom Matumbo for distances up to 5000m and the similar model Zoom Victory for 10,000m. Both are quoted at around 90-100g for a UK size 9 and to my knowledge are the lightest in the world. Last year, according to his previous sponsors Adidas, he wore Adidas Adizero Avanti, which are claimed to be 145g.

It is commonly accepted that lighter footwear generally leads to faster times. A rate of one second per ounces (27g) per mile is often quoted. I normally meet with unbelieving grins and huge scepticism when I use this argument, but I am a great believer in this concept. Using the one second per ounce per mile rule, you are around six seconds quicker over 5000m in the Matumbo or Zoom compared to the Avanti – a not inconsiderable amount at world-class level.

What this also illustrates is that if merely wearing shoes that are 50g lighter can make you six seconds quicker over 5000m, other seemingly small adjustments could also add up to a sizeable improvement.

So is there any way that anyone can beat Farah tomorrow? His performances this season that only a fully-fit Bekele would be able to do so.

My suggestion to any sub-27-minute 10km runner entered would be to consider taking off the spikes and racing barefoot! It would be a bold move which may backfire, but it could be the only way to beat Farah.

I am amazed that more elite athletes have not tried barefoot racing. Bruce Tulloh, the 1962 European 5000m champion, is a great believer in the barefoot approach and reckoned it gained him about four metres per lap. I tried it last weekend and ran 10 seconds quicker over 5000m than I would have predicted wearing my Matumbos – and having raced frequently of late, I was well aware of my fitness.

The hardness of tracks varies and not everyone could manage it. Indeed, six days after running on a comparatively soft track, my toes are still sore after they were cut in several places.

Of course, ditching spikes for the first time for a World Championships final is a desperate move and ill-advised under most circumstances – but it may be that such drastic measures are the only route to anyone beating Farah tomorrow.

Barefoot Paul (Jean King)

4 Responses to “Farah looks on the lighter side”

  1. Goat says:

    Is this an advert for Nike? 1 sec per 1oz (28.3g) per mile sounds like a placebo effect for the mentally weak, especially when bodyweight can fluctuate by several pounds (albeit not on the end of the legs). Barefoot running has been an increasing fad for a few years. Good luck with broken metatarsals, RSIs and damage to the spine, hips, knees and feet due to running with zero cushioning, usually given by a shoe’s sole.

    By all means, go as light as possible with your shoes, but your body needs cushioning. Going barefoot could ruin a runner’s career – unless they have hobbit feet.

  2. Far from the Goat. says:

    I'm not by any means a barefoot advocate but your point is a little weak Mr Goat. Racing spikes don't offer any cushioning. Protection of the feet from cuts, other competitors spikes etc is relevant as is the structural support offered by the shoe and the grip from the spikes, but not the cushioning.

    The article is pretty weak really, as you say, body-weight variance would matter more and also the potential six seconds over race distance is far less relevant than the ability to accelerate to a 53sec closing 400. I've not seen any of the guys/gals in the 1500 choosing to go barefoot lately so am not sure it's a good route to that kind of explosive closing lap…

  3. Coach65 says:

    The number of fads, fashions and vogue ideas that infiltrate the minds of those in sport never ceases to amaze me. We've had fluorescent physiotherapy tape, magnetic wrist bands, dietary supplements for joggers – the list is as endless as it is useless. And now we have a 50g lighter shoe yielding a 10 second improvement in a 10,000m race!
    This is just an advertising ploy and sadly it will be swallowed hook, line and sinker by the jogging fraternity.
    How about getting athletes to undertake TRAINING that is conducive to faster racing rather than encouraging reliance upon quick fixes/gimmicks.

    I DO however take your point about Salazar – it's easy to make yourself look good if you only ever work with already proven athletes. His set-up in the states looks fantastic, difficult not to improve if you're training there full time…

  4. Giles says:

    Ran a 5000m barefoot last night as an experiment. No broken bones, cuts, bruises or anything. Felt amazingly smooth and ran faster as a result.

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