A miserable fortnight for Mo Farah took a sharp turn for the worse in Chicago on Sunday as he trudged home more than four minutes behind the leaders in his worst ever marathon time. While the Kenyan Lawrence Cherono bounded to victory in 2hr 5min 45sec, Farah had pain etched across his face as he crossed the line in eighth place in a modest 2:09:58.
Every time the Briton has run the marathon since retiring from the track in 2017, he has insisted that he is still learning how to best deal with going 26.2 miles.
But on an unseasonally bitter day in the midwest, Farah learned perhaps the biggest lesson of all: that for all his devastating prowess on the track, when it comes to the ultimate test of distance running his old powers do not work nearly as well.
Perhaps Farah’s poor performance can be partly attributed to outside factors. It cannot have been easy seeing his former coach Alberto Salazar banned for four years for doping offences – or UK Athletics dropping his personal physiotherapist and confidant, Neil Black, as performance director. Yet when Farah spoke to the press on Friday he promised he was in great form – and would not be distracted. But his increasingly punchy exchanges with the media, in which he appeared to be more critical of them than Salazar before accusing them of racism, can not have made for a smooth buildup.
Either way, it was evident from early on that this was not going to be Farah’s day when he began to slip off a moderate pace after just eight miles. By the time the leaders went through halfway in 1:02.14, he was 40 seconds back in seventh and in no man’s land with just his training partner Bashir Abdi for company.
True, Farah did at least perform better than the two Nike Oregon Project athletes still coached by Salazar – with his former friend Galen Rupp dropping out with a calf strain after 23 miles, and Jordan Hasay withdrawing after feeling a sharp pain in her hamstring after two miles.
Increasingly, however, Farah looked every one of his 36 years. With 20 miles he was two minutes off the pace and looking like he wanted the ground to swallow him up. And while he deserves credit for continuing, this will be a bitter blow to his increasingly faint hopes of winning a marathon medal at the Olympic Games in Tokyo next year.
While Farah did not speak after the race, he later tweeted that it had not been his day. “I just have to accept hard defeat and move on,” he added. “This is what sport is all about.”