Mo Farah won't go with early pace at London marathon

• Briton believes steadier start will give him best chance of a win
• Race strategy will put him 30 seconds behind at halfway point

Mo Farah plans to run more slowly than his rivals for the first half of Sunday's London Marathon in the hope of picking them off when they tire.

While the Ethiopian legend Haile Gebrselassie will take six elite athletes to the 13.1 mile mark at close to world record pace, Farah has chosen to go with a slower, as yet unnamed, pacemaker who will take him and six others through halfway at 62min 15sec – 30 seconds behind.

The decision is understood to have been taken by Farah's coach, Alberto Salazar, who believes that a steadier start will give the Londoner the best chance of victory. Assuming he maintains that pace, Farah would finish in around 2hr 04min 30sec – a time that would smash Steve Jones' British record of 2:07.13 by nearly three minutes.

Farah's plan was confirmed by Dave Bedford, London Marathon's head of international relations, who told the Guardian: "We ask the athletes what they want. We then come up with bands where we can put pacemakers. Mo is running 62.15min."

But Bedford denied suggestions that Farah had requested his own pacemaker. "None of the pacemakers have been asked for by Mo or put there by Mo," he said. "We have never done that. And in reality, the small gap between the two groups means they may come together. But nonetheless, that is what we have been asked to do."

The decision may prove very smart. Last year the leading men came through halfway in 61min 34sec – and while Farah bailed out at that stage, the field went from world record pace at 20 miles to blowing up. The Ethiopian Tsegaye Kebede picked off his rivals to win in 2:06.04, but even his time for the second half of the race was almost three minutes slower than the first. However, Bedford believes it would be "daft" for Farah to base his plans solely on last year's race. "They were on world record pace with six miles to go, then the wind turned," he said. "If that wind hadn't come up I don't believe Kebede would have won it."

Gebrselassie was sanguine when asked about Farah's decision to ignore his pacemaking. "Ah, as he likes," he said. "For me it doesn't matter. I'm telling you, I just keep what's important for the athlete. I don't want to bring them very fast, not too slow. I just want to keep them at a steady pace."

Steady is not the way most people would describe it. Gebrselassie says he will run 58 minutes for the first 20km (12.4 miles). That is seriously quick – 20 seconds faster, in fact, than at the same stage during Wilson Kipsang's world marathon record of 2:03.23 in Berlin last year.

But as Gebrselassie is prepared to concede, Farah's strategy to play the waiting game could prove to be a prudent one."At the beginning Farah has to be patient and just wait," he said. "When I ran my first marathon, at the beginning, at 10 or 15 kilometres, my body was saying to me: 'Why is this so slow? I have to go faster'. But the price is paid after 35 kilometres. After 35km the body starts to react. That's the hard part. Any marathon race always starts after 30km."

Yet while Farah is making his first attempt at 26.2 miles, Gebrselassie believes that he is a major contender in Sunday's race, which he believes is "the best marathon ever".

"I've never seen such big names in one race, both men and women," he said. "According to what I've heard about his preparations, the east Africans are facing a big challenge from Mo. Look at what happened last week with Kenenisa Bekele winning in Paris. Athletes like Mo and Kenenisa, who come from the track, are used to speed. Two minutes, 55 seconds for each kilometre is not difficult. Athletes like Mo and Kenenisa are used to running 2.20 or 2.30 per kilometre, so for them to run 2.55 is just jogging. If they allow Farah to be with them for the last five kilometres, he can win easily. His kick is so amazing."

However, Farah's rivals are not overly concerned, despite Gebrselassie's warning. Most say they don't fear him. The 18-year-old Ethiopian Tsegaye Mekonnen, who ran 2:04.32 in Dubai in January, went further by saying he did not expect Farah to win.

Asked to explain his view, Mekonnen said: "Farah's best time for the half-marathon is just over 60 minutes. Others in the field have run around 59 minutes. He can make it in the marathon if he has prepared properly, but he is mainly a middle-distance runner."

Meanwhile Kebede, who has won this race twice, displayed the easy confidence of a champion. "I am in shape," he claimed. "There is no way I am not winning again."


Sean Ingle

The GuardianTramp

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