Mo Farah on loneliness of long-distance runner: I eat, sleep, train, rest, look at the walls.

Mo-Farah-2256825Five global titles make him Britain’s greatest ever athlete. But at what personal price to the 30-year-old husband and father of three? Mo Farah sits alone on a mountain peak totting up the cost of putting himself on top of the world. MORE PICTURES INSIDE

Five global titles make him, statistically at least, Britain’s greatest ever athlete. Ahead of Sebastian Coe, Jonathan Edwards, even Daley Thompson.

But at what personal price to the 30-year-old husband and father of three?

In Moscow last month he touched on the sacrifices required to become only the second man in history to complete the long distance “double-double”.

The time away from home that enabled him at those World Championships to repeat his London Olympic triumphs over both 5,000 and 10,000 metres and the training schedule so demanding that he had become almost a stranger to his one-year old twins Aisha and Amani.

Here, 6,000ft above sea level in the French Pyrenees, far from the spotlight and wife Tania, step-daughter Rihanna and his little girls, that reality is laid bare.

“It’s not easy,” he says. “I’m out here by myself, and not in some flashy hotel. There’s no Sky Sports News even.

“I’m in a little apartment, looking at the walls. I eat, I sleep, I train, I rest.”

Even allowing for the 17-mile daily training regime preparing him for the Bupa Great North Run a week tomorrow, mighty Mo has a lot of thinking time.

“I have photos of the family, of me playing with the twins, eating ice-cream with them – you know, little things like that,” he says.

“When I look through them it hits me how much I miss them up here on my own.

“I Skype or I call home, I try to kill time. I come down here (to the cafe on the corner), I try to take my mind off it.”


This is the price of being the best; the commitment he knows he cannot avoid if gold medal-winning nights in Berlin, London and Moscow are to be repeated.

You sense it weighs heavily on this gentle Somali-born superstar, who came to Britain aged eight to join his dad, speaking barely a word of English.

“It gets to you as a father when your kids don’t react to you in the way you imagine,” he says.

“I got emotional in Moscow about the sacrifice and the twins not recognising me.

“What I do, it’s part of my job, but you want to bring your kids up the right way and give them everything; to be there for them and have that connection.

“I want to be that good parent. But I know I have to be here. I’m the champion and to stay ahead I have to work harder.

“If I didn’t leave home, come out here and lock myself away I wouldn’t win. It’s as simple as that.”

It began in 2011 when he uprooted his family and moved them to America so he could train with renowned coach Alberto Salazar in Oregon.

That was just the start of the commitment. He now spends four to five months per year up in the clouds, high altitude training in Kenya, Utah, St Moritz and here, in France.

His results have made his sacrifice worthwhile.

Over distances which for years were “owned” by African runners, Farah has won five straight global championships and become both rich and famous.

His trademark hands-to-head Mobot gesture has become as well known around the world as Usain Bolt’s lightning pose.

After he struck 10,000m gold last month David Cameron tweeted: “@Mo_Farah is an Olympic legend and a true British hero. We can all be proud of his extraordinary achievement.”

That is the payback for the loneliness endured by this long distance runner – a man whose mantra is simply: “Don’t dream of winning – train for it”.


It wasn’t always this way. Farah started as an also-ran, albeit a cocky one.

When he finished nowhere in a junior race at the 2001 World Cross Country Championships, he went straight to the BBC for an interview.

Brendan Foster, Olympic medallist turned TV commentator and Great North Run founder recalled: “I said, ‘Mo, I can’t interview you.

“‘You were 59th. Come back when you win something.”

He did that all right and now the broadcasters are falling over themselves to get to him.

So dominant has Farah become, so powerful his aura that, like his pal Bolt, he is now expected to win every time.

“It’s really not that easy!” the 5ft 9in, 10-stone ace smiles. “If I didn’t come out here and lock myself away I wouldn’t win.

“I could sit at home, watch TV and go for the odd run. But to be the best you have to make this sacrifice, keep going away and doing blocks of training in the mountains.”

Farah insists his family are totally supportive and Tania – who went to the same school and athletics club in Hounslow as Mo – has never ordered him home to change the nappies.

Having known him since he was 12, she understands long periods apart come with the territory – though perhaps she did not anticipate it interrupting their honeymoon.

It was 2010. The volcanic ash cloud had grounded airlines. Stuck in transit in Nairobi, Farah dug out his running shoes and left her for the Kenyan mountains.


“This is what it takes,” Farah says, as the afternoon sun beats down on the mountain village of Font-Romeu, where Paula Radcliffe, Britain’s marathon world record holder, has a second home.

“We realise that without this hard work now, we won’t have the nice things in life. It’s a small window. I have to grasp the opportunity and make the most of it.

“Later I will spend time with my kids. A lot. And enjoy what normal people do. But an athlete’s career is short.

“You’ve got to take full advantage. That means sticking to what works for you – this works for me.”

So here he is, another day on his lonesome, more than 100 miles from Barcelona Airport and his escape route home.

Next weekend will be different. Rather than enviously watching young families wander by, he will be the focus of attention.

The Bupa Great North Run – the world’s biggest half marathon – attracts over 50,000.

Most are fun runners but the three headline acts most certainly are not.

Alongside Farah on the start line will be Ethiopian duo Kenenisa Bekele and Haile Gebrselassie, who between them boast 14 World Championship titles, 11 World cross country crowns and five Olympic golds.


For Mo, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance, as challenging as the World Championships.

“I could easily have ended my season after Moscow,” he said.

“But I’m back here training, because I know what it’s going to take to compete with those guys.”

This is the attitude that has taken him to the top and which may well lead to him becoming Sir Mo.

The PM says he would “warmly welcome” a knighthood for Farah, though now becoming Sports Personality of the Year just might mean more.

Despite his golden Olympic Stadium double, Farah picked up only 8% of the 2012 SPOTY vote.

That put him fourth behind winner Bradley Wiggins, runner-up Jessica Ennis-Hill and Andy Murray.

“I have no control over that!” laughs Farah. “What happens, happens. I just want to be able to do what I do.

“Nobody can take away what I’ve achieved. That’s what matters to me.”


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