It’s all very well being able to run a 3.47 for the mile and 3.29.58 for 1500m in front of the packed crowds in Eugene and Monaco, but what about when nobody’s watching?
This Is when the real test comes; as you are forced to give everything, whilst racing in front of 500 so people in an eerie venue like the Grande Stade de Marrakech that should hold up to 40,000 people.
Besides, running those amazing times, whilst incredibly impressive, is often easier to do than win a slow race, especially if the end result is less important.
With the momentum of the big group drags you and eight or so athletes round together at a sub pace the reality is; once you’ve got your position sorted the rest will take care of its self; because after all, if one of the lead group is going to run a fast time, then you all are.
So as Ayanleh Souleiman sat at the head of the field with 300m to go in tonight’s Continental Cup 1500m, having just run 3 laps in a hugely pedestrian 3:12.12, he knew he was in for a race. Even if he could produce a 38 second last 300 meters, so more than likely, could the other athletes that had been tracking him throughout.
With world champion and teammate Asbel Kiprop, tentatively on his shoulder having finally made his move at 1100m of the race, many would have expected the Kenyan to sneak past and seal the victory, as he began to unroll into cruise control.
Yet that was not the case. Souleiman, perhaps buoyed by his numerous victories over the Kenyan this year, stretched his legs and responded like a true racer should, by producing a 36.78 second final 300m to ensure that the ante was well and truly upped.
Running neck and neck with 80 metres to go, you began to wonder which of these fine African athletes would snatch the season ending victory. Pushing and pushing, finally the resistance cracked, Souleiman found himself a gap and between him and the others and there was no way it would be relinquished. The victory was his; Africa had achieved their likely 1-2.
“Asbel helped me from the first time we were together he said I’ll help you and, he pushed me then, I started kicking hard.” Souleiman later told me.
“Diamond League races are different that’s why I ran the tactics I did, so with the last 300/400m (to go) I’m leading I then pushed at 300m I changed at 200m and then with 100m to go I was in full charge.” He added.
Coming home in 3:48.91, almost 20 seconds slower than his best this year, Souleiman cut the figure of a boxer who had just completed the warm up before a huge fight.
His particular battle involves overcoming the rest of his hugely talented African rivals as we head towards World Championships in Beijing and ultimately Rio 2016.
Unsurprisingly, it is a victory that Souleiman is already aiming for: “Next year my goal is to win a gold medal at the World Championships in the 1500m or the 800m,” he said “I would prefer to win in the 1500m”
With the World Championships in mind the man from Djibouti says he will be cutting down on his Diamond League competition next year: “Next year I will not run too many Diamond League races, so that’s my preparation for the worlds is very good.”
This is something that I’m sure saddens not just me but numerous other spectators, who have grown to love the athlete’s upbeat attitude and total desire for the sport.
After all it may be easier to run fast times, but it’s far more exciting when they do.