British stars set for action in the inaugural Vitality Big Half
One has just jetted in from altitude training in Addis Ababa, the other headed for London from Scotland by car after the so-called Beast from the East put paid to his original flight plans.
Yet even though Mo Farah and Callum Hawkins may have had very different routes to the start line, they will have a shared purpose when racing the inaugural Vitality Big Half in London this weekend – tuning up to excel at the marathon.
For Farah, his second attempt at racing over 26.2 miles will come on April 22 in what is also his second London Marathon. Hawkins’ main target, which comes a little earlier that month and on the other side of the world, is a medal at the Commonwealth Games in Australia.
First, however, the British pair will tackle each other and an elite men’s field which contains last year’s London Marathon winner Daniel Wanjiru over half of that distance on Sunday.
From supping tea in an Ethiopian garden in 25-degree heat one day to experiencing the Siberian blast which has crippled so much of Britain the next, Farah admits he has a little acclimatising to do but is not in the least bit concerned. For Hawkins, the current conditions are almost identical to those in which he finished second during the New York half-marathon 12 months ago.
“I’m not worried at all,” says Farah. “Coming down from 10,000ft, I should have an advantage. I’ll wear some good layers – it should be alright. Competition is competition, you can’t pull out because of bad weather. I’m going to race, no matter what.”
Farah insists he no longer has any concerns about the Achilles niggle which caused his withdrawal from the Doha half-marathon earlier this year and says preparations have been going well under the guidance of new coach Gary Lough following the split from Alberto Salazar.
“Gary is a great coach,” says the 10-time global track gold medallist. “The last six weeks we have got to know each other. There’s been some good training and things are going well.
“We’ve spent quite a lot of time in Africa. It’s our second time out there and it was nice to have that time to ourselves.
“For me, to finish the track and go and do the roads, it is exciting. It’s a new chance for me. I’ve done many half-marathons before but the key is the London Marathon in April. We’ll see when we come to it. But I respect the guys: Callum, Wanjiru, the rest of the guys.”
Have there been any big changes to training under Lough?
“I’m not going to give away secrets,” he says of the new regime working with Paula Radcliffe’s husband. “But training for 10,000m and 5000m is different to marathon so he has brought different stuff. But I’m happy with what we’ve done – it’s exciting.
“I’ve finished on the track and I wanted to start anew with Gary and it’s going well. He’s a great coach and what he has achieved over the years with Paula is incredible.”
As for coping with the change of training circumstances Farah, who has not been in touch with his former coach, added: “I didn’t start running yesterday. I started running when I was 12 years old. I’ve spent time with different coaches.”
Farah admits his confidence levels are far higher about the marathon challenge in comparison to when he ran 2:08:21 to finish eighth in London. He is enjoying getting to know his new chosen event and will have higher expectations of what he can produce this time around.
“I’m definitely more confident,” says Farah, who won’t rule out a tilt at the Olympics of Tokyo 2020 on the roads if he all goes to his liking. “I ran 2:08 in 2014 and the aim is to improve on that. We’ll see how it goes. London is a big one.
“Over the next couple of years the aim is to learn about the marathon and get better at it. On the track, I started building and coming up with tactics and ways to win. For the marathon, you have to work on your weaknesses and get stronger. I want to learn about the marathon and see what I can achieve.”
When it comes to any targets for the Vitality Big Half, with this being a brand new event on a brand new course and at the mercy of the weather, aiming for a time becomes almost irrelevant. Instead, Farah is looking forward to getting his competitive juices flowing again.
“I wouldn’t be competing if I didn’t still enjoy it,” says the man with a half-marathon personal best of 59:22. “I’ll set a target and get through it.”
As for Hawkins, his determination to reach the start line – being driven by his father and coach Robert – echoes that of his fellow Scot Laura Muir.
The new IAAF World Indoor Championships 3000m bronze medallist braved the elements and undertook what became an epic – not to mention expensive – taxi journey to Birmingham.
“She still managed to perform after that journey and she definitely set an example,” says Hawkins, Scottish record-holder for the half-marathon with a personal best of exactly an hour.
Asked how good it would be to get the better of Farah, the 2017 World Championships marathon fourth placer adds: “It would be a great honour. He’s a world-class athlete and the best in the world on the track at the 5000m and 10,000m. Even at the half-marathon, he’s pretty swift at that as well. I’m just going to go into the race and do everything I can and see where it goes from there.”