Athletics: A step at a time for the man of the Mo-ment

For someone whose career has been about clockwork precision and shaving off precious seconds, Mohamed Farah has got a lot of time for people. This past week in Qatar, where the Ooredoo Doha Marathon was held on Friday (Jan 12), everyone wanted a Mo-ment. Chances were, they got it.

He obliged when someone asked him for a video message to the Muslim community, and he paused to give serious thought when another asked him about his birth time for a spot of astrology.

He knelt on the floor at the Mall of Qatar to sign autographs for kids, and shared his struggles juggling his sporting ambitions and raising four children.

He said with so much sincerity that while he has not been to Singapore - "it's definitely on my list" - that you believe him.

The Somalia-born athlete, who was knighted last November and won the BBC Sports Personality of the Year a month later, is one of the most recognisable runners on the planet. But despite his larger-than-life achievements, Mo (as he is commonly known) in person is decidedly ordinary and down-to-earth.

He is almost scrawny, his 1.75m, 58kg frame lacking the muscular build one would normally associate with a world-class athlete. He admits to having a weakness for jam doughnuts, and gamely participates in an impromptu football game during a sponsor's event.

But make no mistake, this is no conventional man.

"I lovvveee pain," exclaimed Mo in his urban London accent. He may have pulled out of the half-marathon in Doha due to an Achilles concern, but still spent half an hour running on a grass patch by the Museum of Islamic Art.

The 42.195km marathon is a exercise in suffering but Mo's past training regimen for the 5,000m and 10,000m events was nothing to sneer at. He clocked 190km a week, with no rest days and two sessions every day except Sunday, when he would limit himself to running about 40km. That was for roughly 10 or 12 races every year.

There are no shortcuts to success. Or as Mo told The Sunday Times: "When my opposition thinks that I'm never going to do something, when people say that I'm never going to achieve that or have doubts - that drives me more."

It has been a winning formula. Besides his four Olympic golds, Mo has won six world championships titles over the 5,000m and 10,000m.

With the accolades also arrived scepticism and scrutiny. His former coach Alberto Salazar has been repeatedly linked to doping offences and in 2015, Mo vented his frustrations that his name was "being dragged through mud".

He accepted the constant need to prove his innocence: "Every athlete you are competing against, every country should be testing their athletes... I'm probably one of the most tested athletes in the world."

His next examination could prove his toughest. Since last August's world championships in London, he has switched from track events to the marathon and increased his weekly training load to 225km. All this from a man who turns 35 in 10 weeks.

"How much more time can I carry on to be in world championships, how much more can I win?" he said.

"And the next Olympics is coming up, what do I have the best chance in terms of competing and trying to win? So the best is to go for the marathon, to make as many mistakes as I can now, and to get it right there."

The greatest athletes are also the most insatiable.

Mo said: "Most people thought I'll be easing down, 'Mo's done with the track, he's going to take it easy'. Oh Lord, marathon?"

Yet even he sometimes struggles for motivation. He said: "It's very exciting, my (new) coach Gary Lough is very hands-on, he's always wanting to know what I'm doing, which is a little bit hard sometimes.

"He'll tell me to do a run in the morning and I will go, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah, I'm going to do it'. And then he'll call back in a few hours and think I've done the run when I'm actually just going out the doors."

If he qualifies for the Tokyo 2020 Games, Mo will then attempt to be the first man to win the 5,000m, 10,000m and marathon events since Czech legend Emil Zatopek at the 1952 Helsinki Games.

It would be unwise to dismiss Mo's chances. In his only competitive marathon outing, he clocked 2hr 8min 21sec to finish eighth at the 2014 London Marathon.

While variables such as terrain and weather can affect marathon times, as a rough reference, the winning times at the last two Olympics were 2:08:44 (Rio 2016) and 2:08:01 (London 2012).

Mo plans to compete in April's London Marathon and said he needed to improve on his 2:08 time to be competitive ahead of the 2019 world championships in Doha and the 2020 Olympics.

"Even in my career in athletics, everything I did, I never win straight away," he said. "I get beaten, I make a mistake tactically, mentally. It took me a long time to learn and to win races, and I think that's what it takes for marathon too."

Few would argue against him. After all, Mo always finds a way to prevail. And in his own time.