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Will mountains be the making of Mayock

Jonny Wootton Editor, onrunning.com

7 February 2001 - AT the ripe old age of 30 John Mayock realises that he doesn’t have a great deal of time left in the sport and owing to this made two crucial decisions in the past couple of months that will either make him or break him.

Following his ninth place finish in the 1500m final in Sydney, the Yorkshireman made the decision that many hoped and expected him to make earlier in his career - to move up distances to 5000m.

A couple of hours later, while having a disco boogie with a deflated Hicham El Guerrouj, who was amazingly beaten in a sprint finish by Kenyan Noah Ngeny, Mayock graciously accepted the Moroccan’s offer to spend a month training with him at altitude in north Africa’s Atlas mountains.

Fast forward a couple of months and Mayock once again finds himself under the keen stewardship of coach Peter Watson, banging out 400m repetitions on the track at a typically chilly Dorothy Hyman Stadium in Cudworth, Barsnley.

It is less than a year that I last watched Mayock train on the same track, but this time I cannot help feeling that a lot has changed both mentally and physically to the strawberry-blond speedster.

First impressions are he looks both leaner and more focused, an hour later I come to the conclusion that he’s in pretty good shape as well.

Shortly before he boarded the plane for a three and a half hour journey to Casablanca, Mayock was convincingly beaten in the Great North Cross Country in Consett, County Durham, but his mind was clearly elsewhere.

On his return Mayock is as friendly as ever but wants me to be clear of a couple of things first.

He is still overwhelmed at being the first non-Moroccan to be invited to train with the country’s best athletes and was stunned just how well he was treated.

"Hicham asked me every day if I was sure there was nothing I needed - I was treated like a king," said Mayock, who was joined in Morocco by promising youngster Johnny Stewart of Halifax Harriers.

Mayock and Stewart were picked up at the airport by El Guerrouj’s farther and brother Fethi, the younger member of the family already running 3.42ish for 1500m at just 20 years of age.

While Stewart (20) was introduced to the junior group, Mayock spent a week getting used to training at altitude before joining the world 1500m champion and record holder in what he describes as "the hardest I have ever trained."

When Mayock finally became comfortable with training 1500-2000 metres above sea level - he then had to content with morning 10 mile outings in around 52 minute pace.

The afternoon/evening session was packed with quality whether it be circuits through the dense woodland or a session on the track.

Mayock describes a typical track session as 8 x 1000 metre repetitions with two minutes recovery in the region of two minutes and 35 seconds and is quick to point out that he did stay close to the Moroccan great in these sessions.

Training on the track surrounded by high fencing and military security was also a new experience for Mayock, who failed to realise, until he saw it with his own eyes, just how famous his great friend really is in his own country.

He says: "I am not kidding, Hicham is the equivalent of David Beckham or the Spice Girls over there - at least."

Despite his massive fame, however, El Guerrouj remains as humble as the day he started in the sport, largely due to his religious beliefs.

El Guerrouj’s daily schedule leaves little time to lay idle, when he is not training he can usually be found praying in the mosque (five times every day).

Whether he included Mayock in his prayers remains to be seen. The first inclination we will get will be over a mile in Stockholm a week on Thursday but his performance over two miles in Birmingham in a couple of weeks against Olympic 5000m champion Million Wolde is eagerly awaited.

The Barnsley man has never had a confidence problem but is reluctant to reveal the kind of shape he believes he is in.

Running 10 x 400m, averaging less than a minute, with a smile on his face in his first session since returning to England tells me that he could finally achieve what he believes he can over 5000m this year or the next.