It’s not often you get the opportunity to talk with someone at the cutting edge of our sport, so I was delighted to recently spend a few hours in the company of Dr. Barry Fudge, Head of Endurance at British Athletics.
We were both giving presentations at a Running the Highlands training weekend organised by Neil and Emma Stewart at Balmoral Castle. Runners from all over Britain signed up for the three-day get-together which proved to be incredibly motivational and thoroughly enjoyable.
In case you don’t know, Barry works very closely with Mo Farah and his coach Alberto Salazar, as well as a number of Britain’s other most talented endurance athletes. He has his finger very much on the pulse of world distance running and has many interesting comments and observations to make.
Barry is a sports scientist, specialising in physiology and is a former Scottish Schools rugby cap. He comes from Fort William, studied at Glasgow University and is now based at Loughborough.
So what does he actually do? Barry explained: “My role is to manage the athletes we have on the British athletics world class plan. There are about 15 athletes on the plan and these include quite a mixture, from Mo at the top, who is the currently the best in the world at what he does, to others who we believe have the potential to be podium athletes at major championships over the next four to six years.
“It’s a great job, but to be honest I don’t really know how I got involved. It was all a bit bizarre. I played rugby with guys like Chris Cusiter when I was younger but I kept dislocating my shoulder. I had a rugby scholarship at Glasgow University but on the academic side I was studying physiology. Gradually I began to fall in love with running and got involved working with some amazing runners.
“At British athletics I started off in a research capacity, looking at how science can help our athletes, but then went on a journey taking up different roles before landing where I am today.
“Our involvement with Mo is to discuss his overall training plan with him and Alberto and to offer support in whatever way we can. That might include discussing how the science, medicine and technology can help. We will also have a discussion about where he might want to go to train and we’ll look at his competition schedule. At major events, however, he and all the other athletes on the plan will come completely under our umbrella.”
Mo is obviously fully focussed on retaining his Olympic 5,000 metres and 10,000 metres titles in Rio this summer but Barry explained why Britain’s favourite distance runner is also tackling this weekend’s world half marathon championships in Cardiff (27th March).
He said:”Mo normally does a half marathon at this time of year and in the past has competed in places like New York. A big part of it for him this time is that he’ll be racing in front of a home crowd. He takes a huge amount from that. He feels he’s giving something back to the British public by giving them the chance to see him running on home soil and, of course, thousands of ordinary runners will also get the chance to run at Cardiff. From a competition point of view it gives him the race stimulus he wants at this stage of the season. It forces him to be in better shape than he might otherwise be at this time of year. And he’ll certainly have to be in great shape as he’ll be up against some amazing opponents.
“One thing that sets Mo aside from everyone else is his talent, but also his drive and determination. He commits 110% to his training and is prepared to do what others might not be prepared to do to achieve success including spending months away from his family.”
Everyone knows that Mo had a tough marathon baptism at London in 2014 where he finished eighth in 2hrs 8mins 21secs.Most people would, clearly,be delighted by that sort of marathon performance. After all, it’s an English record and the second fastest time recorded by a Briton behind Welsh hero Steve Jones who clocked 2:07: 13 in 1985. But for a man who is used to winning, that’s probably not enough. So, will Mo give it another go in the future?
Barry said: “We’ve held off talking about this until after Rio. I suspect he will run more marathons but I don’t think he’s a natural marathon runner. He’s really going to have to work at it. I think he’s going to have to do five or six of them to be confident.
His drive is such that he won’t want to do a marathon unless he’s 110% sure. At London last year he should have run 2:04, but he didn’t. He had one or two problems ahead of that race which weren’t publicised. He’s a 1500m runner with an engine. But it’s hard physiologically to see how you can get a guy to be equally good from 1500m through 5km and 10km to the marathon. I still think he can run 2-04. We did a lot of testing on him before the London marathon and it would suggest he’s a 2-04 to 2:05 runner. But it’s not his event. It’s a bit like asking Chris Hoy to ride a mountain bike.”