Teddington turned my life around, says Farah ahead of London Marathon debut


The Olympic champion has a lot to thank the town for if he wins the race on Sunday.


By Jack Miller

It’s 6am on a cool Teddington morning in 2005, and a 22-year-old man staggers out of bed. He shakes his groggy head clear of the previous evening’s activities, and wearily joins his new housemates for an early morning jog, having moved into the house the day before. 

At the end of the session the man trudges back into his room. He’s exhausted, and wishes he’d been in bed at half past eight the night before like his housemates who had politely, yet firmly, declined his offer to join him on a night out.

That man was Mo Farah. His housemates were some of the most talented Kenyan distance runners in the world, including the then world number one over 10,000m, Micah Kogo.

The decision to move in with the Kenyans in Teddington by the Somali-born Farah turned out to be a life-changing one.

Struggling with his performance on the track, he learned how seriously he needed to take his training in order to win. There they lived an almost monk-like existence, where they ate, trained and rested with no form of social life whatsoever.

Speaking last year, Farah spoke about how important the move to Teddington was for his career.

“It hit me just how little I knew about running compared to these guys. Running was their life,” he said.

“A switch had been turned on inside my head. Like that, I knew what I had to do to win. No more late-night trips to the cinema or dancing at Oceana. I couldn’t be doing with any of that. 

“From that day on my attitude changed completely. I went to bed early. I trained hard. I ate more healthily.”

All Farah’s success can arguably be traced back to that day in Teddington, and now, nine years later, the double Olympic and world champion is preparing to take on his toughest challenge yet. 

Farah makes his debut appearance at the London marathon on Sunday, and South West Londoners are backing their local hero to deliver.

Despite relocating from Teddington to Portland in the USA, the people of the town remember him with extreme fondness.

Fay Behta, manager at Cafe Mimmo, one of Farah’s old haunts, remembers him coming in regularly when he was turning pro, bringing his colleagues and eventually his family along with him.

“I first met Mo eight or nine years ago,” she said. “He still does come here from time to time when he is in the area.

“I hope all the best for him. He’s just a normal person – a very humble guy with a kind heart and is very friendly. 

“He hasn’t lost the kind attitude towards other people that he had before he was famous, so I hope he does well in the marathon.”

Teddington is home to one of Farah’s gold postboxes, painted in honour of his victory in the 5,000m at the 2012 Olympics.

It sits opposite the Fara charity shop, which raises funds for mistreated children in Romania, and briefly changed it’s sign to read ‘Mo Fara’ after the athlete’s success during the games.

Denisa Hudakova has worked at the store for two years, and remembers the many donations famously philanthropic Farah has made.

She said: “He has come in and donated clothes, especially a lot of girls clothes after his babies were born.

“He is very much a local – everyone in Teddington knew him as a nice person who you could chat to. 

She recalls Farah once jumping in for a photo in front of the charity shop with a fan, after noticing him posing with the post box as he was passing. 

“After the Olympics everyone was looking out to try and spot him but he didn’t mind the attention – photos like these are an example of how friendly he is and willing to communicate with everyone,” said Ms. Hudakova.

She added: “People around here love him. The guy you see on TV is what he is like in real life.

“Of course I want to see him win on Sunday, more success is what he deserves.”

Staff at The Sweatshop, where Mo used to not only shop for running gear but also worked for a short period, said they too would be supporting him on Sunday.

“Everybody in Teddington thinks he is a great guy and wants him to do well. Anyone you speak to in the town wouldn’t have a bad word to say about him,” one employee said.

“Hopefully he’ll do really well. He can definitely win it – he’s Mo Farah!”

It is certainly a tough ask for Farah to notch up a victory on his first ever appearance in the London marathon. 

Perhaps setting a new British record would be a more realistic target. The current record of two hours, seven minutes and 13 seconds was set in 1985 by Steve Jones.

After collapsing and needing treatment at the end of the New York half marathon on March 16, several experts and rivals all but wrote him off for the race.

He will come up against current Olympic and world marathon champion, Stephen Kiprotich, as well as London Marathon record holder, Emmanuel Mutai, last year’s winner, Tsegaye Kebede, and current world-record holder Wilson Kipsang.

If that weren’t enough for Farah to deal with, Ethiopian running legend Haile Gebrselassie is set to pace the field to 18 miles at world-record schedule.

But Farah has shown in the past he can defy the odds to win, and if the double olympic and world champion can pull off the impossible, he will surely go down in history as Britain’s greatest ever athlete.

Photo courtesy of Tab59, with thanks.

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