The wiry Southampton AC athlete has come a long way in more ways than one to clinch victory at both the National and the Inter-Counties cross country championships this season.
Mahamed Mahamed may have made his Inter Counties victory look easy in some of the toughest conditions ever seen at the prestigious cross country championships, but he reveals his preparations for the mud bath were somewhat lacking.
“I don’t train off road very much, apart from my long run,” he explains. “I didn’t really specifically prepare for the conditions we had at the Inter-Counties as I’ve just been either competing, recovering from races or doing track sessions over the last couple of months.”
Mahamed’s racing schedule has certainly been a hectic and demanding one of late, with five races in February alone entailing trips to Spain, Northern Ireland, Sheffield and London.
Perhaps it was fortunate, then, that the final British Athletics Cross Challenge fixture of the season at Loughborough’s Prestwold Hall was not only a mere 150 mile journey from his Hampshire home, but it also allowed him a two week window between races following his dominant win at the U20 English National championships at London’s Parliament Hill.
The 20-year-old Southampton Solent University undergraduate was understandably happy with his emphatic victory at such a tender age, which also earned him the overall cross challenge title.
“It was an amazing race, I never thought I would win,” he says. “Adam Hickey is a really good runner who won the National two weeks ago, Sam Stabler is an outstanding athlete who has really improved in the last couple of months, while Andy Vernon was also up there with us in the race.
“We ran as a group – running on their shoulder is something that I’ll never forget. The course was muddy even before the races started. By the time the senior men set off, every age group had run on the course which made the conditions very tough.
“However, as we are strong men we went through it very well, but it was definitely the toughest course of the year for me.”
Races and more races
Mahamed’s title at the U20 English National was similarly impressive, beating Leeds City’s Emile Cairess by 57 seconds, albeit on a much drier course at Parliament Hill.
His rich vein of form seems to have been aided by his back to back racing schedule, which saw him take the British University Championships (BUCS) indoor 3000m title six days before the national cross in 8:18.53.
That time represented a significant eight second PB, which in itself followed just three days after running 14:07 at the Armagh International 5k, a mark which places him third on the U20 all-time rankings.
Mahamed had kicked off February with a fourth-place finish at the BUCS cross country championships at a very muddy Hillingdon – an event won by his biggest competitor in the U20 age group, the indomitable Alex Yee from Kent AC, who ended up in hospital after running much of the race with a severely cut foot.
The previous month the Peter Haynes-coached athlete had competed in the Seville International cross country and had also enjoyed a fine outing at the Great Edinburgh cross international, claiming the fourth British counter position, less than a minute behind the winning American and former Kenyan athlete, Leonard Korir on the 8km course.
At home in the UK
The Sports Foundation student’s life could not be more different since he moved to the UK eight years ago from Ethiopia, which may go some way to explain why he seems to glide over whatever terrain is thrown at him in races.
“When I moved to England in 2010 I found it hard for a couple of years to get used to everything that was new, such as the language, the food and especially the weather,” he explains. “However, coming to England was a blessing, it’s been a great journey so far.”
Mahamed grew up in the Ethiopian hills, where he looked after a menagerie of cows, sheep and goats, herding them out to the fields in the mornings before trekking out to bring them back in again at night.
However, he is keen to point out that although “all the jobs were hard, you get used to it”, and clearly the daily hard labour has reaped dividends for him in his increasing dominance of the domestic cross country scene.
The doggedly determined attitude he applied to his stock work was then applied to his running in England, after being introduced to the sport by his teacher, Miss Dodds, at Cantell School in Southampton.
Southampton AC and training
From there, he and his brother Zakariya (also a talented athlete) joined Southampton AC and were taken under Peter Haynes’ wing.
Of his longstanding coach, Mahamed says: “Peter has helped me with everything I’ve ever needed, not just with my training but my lifestyle as well.
“He has developed me into a complete athlete. I also have a strength and conditioning coach at the university now. These things help ensure my training and university work is manageable, it’s quite easy for me to train.”
The former footballer runs just four days a week with an average total of just 35 miles – seemingly the magic number for some successful runners recently featured on Fast Running.
Mahamed explains: “I rest on Monday, do a track session on Tuesday, Wednesday is gym work, Thursday I do a grass session, I rest on Friday, Saturday I race and Sunday I do a long run off road at 6.30 pace listening to music. My favourite session is Tuesday’s, where I’ll do mixed reps.”
He has a simple but effective nutrition plan: “It’s important for me to eat carbohydrate-rich foods the night before races and during training – other than that I just eat anything I like.
“My favourite food the day before a race is pasta and rice, and just before the race I eat bananas or any light bread. I refuel with a milkshake.”
Track season and future goals
It seems clear that his simplistic attitude to training and nutrition is paying off, as he reflects on a near-perfect cross country season before looking ahead to track competition.
“My season has been amazing! I have achieved everything I was aiming for,” he jubilantly says. “The English National was my favourite victory, because I know I have raced at a higher level than that, so it was a bit easier for me and I could enjoy it more.
“I’m now aiming to get some good times on the track, which I’ve never had, so hopefully this will go well.”
A modest statement considering his 8:18.93 and 14:36.41 3000m and 5000m best marks to date!
However, it is the bronze medal he earned at the 2016 U20 European cross country championships and a superb 49:05 clocking at last year’s Great South Run that stand out as his competitive highlights so far. This along with his “call up to the GB squad for the Great Edinburgh International cross country in January 2017, alongside Mo Farah”.
Farah is an idol of Mahamed’s, showing the young athlete how no matter how hard it is to move from Africa to England as a young boy with almost no grasp of the language, it is possible to excel and become one of – if not the greatest – athletes of our generation.
Mahamed agrees, adding: “I would love to compete for GB more – I want to travel around the world much more.”
If his consistency in victory is anything to go by – he won the Southern, National and Inter Counties cross country championships back in 2015 and hasn’t looked back – there’s no doubting Mahamed is going to see a lot more of the world wearing the red, white and blue of the GB athletics vest.