NEW YORK — A man with one million Twitter followers (twice as many as New York’s mayor), 119 Wikipedia footnotes and two Olympic gold medals went unrecognized in the Big Apple this week. Perhaps unsurprisingly so.
One group of New Yorkers made him feel welcome though. Mo Farah‘s grand arrival before Sunday’s NYC Half marathon came at P.S. 1 in lower Manhattan on Thursday.
Farah, the British distance great, the first man ever to sweep the 5,000m and 10,000m at the Olympics and World Championships in back-to-back years, jogged with about 50 elementary school students inside a gymnasium.
He’s not in London anymore. Heck, he’s not even in Portland, Ore., his training base in a state where so many U.S. runners are groomed.
At P.S. 1, Farah held a question-and-answer session with the kids. He spoke of smart choices, finding one’s talents and the epic 2000 Olympic 10,000m final between Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie and Kenyan Paul Tergat.
He then sat a table in the middle of the gym, dressed in Nike from head to toe (including a Mobot logo) and in front of posters the kids made for the occasion.
Farah answered questions from a few reporters in a row of chairs as the kids, sitting on the gym floor, looked on with varying attention spans.
What’s it like being in New York with your family?
“I can chill out,” said Farah, who could have been referencing the city’s sub-freezing, never-ending winter. “We can go to restaurants, we can push the kids, take some photos, Times Square, relax. Nobody recognizes you. If that was Piccadilly Circus in London, Leicester Square, I don’t think I could have done that.”
It’s a different experience for Farah, even from his previous visit for the 2011 NYC Half, which he won.
That victory was before he became double Olympic champion in London in 2012, repeated the feat at the 2013 World Championships and switched to marathon training this year.
Farah’s track-to-road conversion is set to be the biggest storyline in the sport before Usain Bolt and Co. herald the outdoor track season later this spring. Can the world’s greatest distance runner convert to a race four times longer than the 10,000m?
The NYC Half is a step toward Farah’s 26.2-mile debut at the London Marathon on April 13.
“From running 5K/10K to going to a marathon is completely different,” Farah said. “I”m here, on the weekend, to test myself.”
Farah, 30, trained the last two months in Kenya, home of six of the seven fastest marathoners of all time.
The training has been hard, but it’s gone well, Farah said. He’s worked not only on getting comfortable at a proper pace but also making sure he doesn’t miss drink stations — as he did in running half of last year’s London Marathon — and getting used to the specific drink he will take. Farah wouldn’t reveal its ingredients.
“When you’ve never done a marathon before, you don’t know what it’s like,” Farah said. “I don’t know what to expect.
“Am I going to be good at marathons as I was good at track? I guess we’re going to find out.”
What did he learn from training with Kenyans? That training is the hardest thing about marathon running. He’s also picked up a thing or two from his coach, the scrutinized, Havana-born Alberto Salazar. Salazar won the New York City Marathon three straight times from 1980-82.
“He’s been there, done it,” Farah said. “I believe in him. We are doing the right training. … I’m confident.”
Farah will face an accomplished field over 13.1 miles on Sunday, including two-time reigning New York City Marathon winner Geoffrey Mutai (of Kenya) and top American Meb Keflezighi.
He will confer with Salazar after Sunday’s race and make adjustments — small changes, if anything, he hopes — over the next month before London. The London Marathon is one of six World Marathon Majors and hasn’t been won by a British man in 21 years.
What’s his future after the London Marathon?
Farah won’t say for sure, but he’s already committed to one post-marathon track meet, a Diamond League competition in Glasgow, Scotland, on July 11-12. The Commonwealth Games are also in Glasgow later in the summer, but Farah hasn’t decided on that yet.
“See if I’ve lost any speed, lost any strength in terms of the track,” Farah said of entering the Diamond League meet. “It would have been a whole year I had not been on the track.”
What’s bigger is 2015, a World Championships year, and 2016, an Olympic year. Could he stick to marathon running?
“If I’m good in London, then I’ll do it a couple more times,” Farah said, according to the BBC. “If not, I’ll come back to the track.”
He seemed confident he will return to a shorter distance to race Usain Bolt, a topic that’s been talked about since the London Olympics as a possible charity event.
“It will happen at some point soon,” Farah said, narrowing the distance to 500m or 600m. “I don’t know where it’s going to happen. Probably one of the big cities, but, yeah, it will hopefully happen some point.”