A year ago when Mo Farah finished third in the Virgin Money London Marathon in his first year as a full-time marathoner, he broke the British record in front of his home crowd in a city where he had become accustomed to victory.
In some of the hottest conditions the race had ever been staged in, his time of 2:06:21 saw him finish behind Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge, who won the title for a third time, and Ethiopian newcomer Shura Kitata.
Now Farah is back to challenge for glory again this Sunday (28), and this time with a difference. Six months on from that fine London performance, Farah took to the streets of the Chicago Marathon last October and not only achieved his first win at the distance but his time of 2:05:11 also tore apart the European record.
It was another incredible achievement for one of the greatest and most versatile distance runners of all-time, a man whose brilliance on the track had brought him double Olympic gold in London in 2012 over 5000m and 10,000m, titles he successfully defended in Rio four years later.
Now it is only 16 months until Tokyo stages the Olympics Games and Farah has even talked about returning to the track with an eye on the 10,000m at the IAAF World Championships in Doha later this season.
But the marathon remains his priority and this weekend comes the seemingly insuperable task of trying to beat the fastest of them all. Since his win in London last year, Kipchoge progressed to rewrite history by breaking the world record in Berlin in September with a stunning 2:01:39, shaving more than a minute off the previous mark which belonged to Dennis Kimetto.
It was a remarkable performance and one that leaves Farah – and the rest of the field – knowing they have a mighty battle on their hands to deny the Kenyan becoming the first man to win the London Marathon four times.
But it is such a test of endurance that Farah has always thrived upon – his four Olympic golds, six world golds (one of those coming in London over 10,000m in 2017) and his five European outdoor golds are testament to that.
Farah and Kipchoge posed for pictures together overlooking the River Thames, shadow-boxing and sparring with each other in anticipation of Sunday’s clash.
— Virgin Money London Marathon (@LondonMarathon) April 24, 2019
Light in stature, this will be a heavyweight duel on the roads if it becomes a two-man race which is unlikely such is the overall quality of the field. The line-up also has the presence of last year’s runner-up Kitata, world half marathon record-holder Abraham Kiptum from Kenya and former London Marathon champion and world record-holder Wilson Kipsang among others.
"My aim is to win the London Marathon one day,” said Farah today. "But you can't take it for granted because Eliud is a great athlete and a world record holder - but I believe I can win more major marathons. If I do beat him it would be an amazing achievement.
"Sometimes you are beaten by a better man and you have to accept that and you go home and think about what you need to do to beat him.”
As he showed in Chicago by running 70 seconds faster than he had in London, he has all the ingredients to become a force at the distance. He said: “I don’t go out there to try and finish third or fourth. The rivalry is great for the sport, it’s one the sport needs.
“I am excited to be back. I am learning as I go along, marathons are completely different to track. The crowd always help me in London, they lift me. I can’t wait to get out on the street. My aim is just to go out there and see what I can do.”
Fresh from a stint at high altitude in Ethiopia, Farah will go into the race in good shape and in good form, having won the Vitality Big Half last month ahead of a field including 2017 London Marathon winner Daniel Wanjiru from Kenya.
It is five years since Farah first tackled the marathon distance seriously when he was eighth in London in a respectable 2:08:21.
Then, of course, he was still a track runner but he showed signs of what was to follow. If he beats Kipchoge, it would rank alongside his greatest achievements.