Runner's World Heroes 2011

Meet this year's Heroes of Running, as named by the Runner's World UK team.

Posted: 10 May 2011

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The Champion: Mo Farah

Britain in the 1980s: the Thatcher government, yuppies, strikes, shoulder pads, power ballads and three skinny white guys dominating distance running. Born in 1983, Mo Farah is too young to remember the golden trio of Steve Cram, Seb Coe and Steve Ovett - though he cites them all as his heroes, having since watched their races obsessively on YouTube. And he's proud to have been anointed by Cram as Britain's best distance runner in a generation. "For Steve Cram to say that about me, it's such an honour," says Farah. "I look up to him, Coe and Ovett so much and just hope I can follow in their footsteps."

Farah, 28, is well on the way to doing just that after the incredible year he's just had. Last July, he became the first British athlete - and only the fifth man ever - to win gold in both the 5000m and 10,000m at the European Championships in Barcelona. The following month, he became the first Brit to break the 13-minute barrier for the 5,000m, running 12:57.94 in Zurich and breaking David Moorcroft's long-standing record in the process. Farah now holds five British records: 10K road, 5K road, 5000m indoors, 5000m outdoors and 3000m indoors.

Farah was born in Somalia but moved to the UK when he was eight to live with his father, who was working here as an IT consultant. Little Mohammed didn't speak a word of English and initially struggled to settle in. But his PE teacher Alan Watkinson spotted in him a natural talent for running - one that he has personally nurtured for the last 15 years. When Farah got married in April last year to long-term partner Tania Nell, a former athlete and college classmate, Watkinson was his best man. Cram and mentor Paula Radcliffe were among the guests.

The couple managed to fit a honeymoon in Zanzibar around his training - but the return home didn't go according to plan. "We couldn't fly back because of the volcano ash cloud," Farah explains. "We were stranded in Nairobi for four days, and I was losing fitness and worrying about the European Championships. So I went up to the mountains to train. I ended up sending my wife home on her own, which wasn't easy. Winning the 5000m and 10,000m made the sacrifice worth it."

Training at altitude in the Rift Valley with Kenyan runners took Farah's running literally and figuratively to a higher level. "It took time to adjust to their way of thinking and training," he says. "The Kenyan runners are so humble and hardworking. They run, sleep, train and that's it. I'm living my life in that manner now. That's what you have to do to be among the best in the world."

As a Muslim, Farah has self-discipline, dedication and faith in abundance. The medals and records he's won in the last year are evidence of the lengths he has gone to in order to compete with the world's best. In March he moved to Oregon, US, with his wife and six-year-old daughter to work with new coach Alberto Salazar in preparation for London 2012. "I just need to stay focused and injury-free," he says. "It might be tough, settling into a new country. My mantra is: 'Train hard; win easy.' The Olympics is all I'm thinking about now. I can definitely win a medal. I know it's possible."

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