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Andrea Lalli to Zurich 2014

Andrea Lalli

Andrea Lalli

It is a time of year when many athletes have their mind concentrated on the major indoor event of the winter, but Italian Andrea Lalli is a bit different.

Instead of focussing on Göteborg in 23 days’ time, Lalli is already counting down to Zurich in 551 days and the European Athletics Championships of 2014.

The reason is a new challenge which awaits a man who has been the sensational star of the cross country circuit during the past few months.

Lalli is plotting the course to his first major championship marathon, a step up in distance for a runner who is determined to follow in the footsteps of his great countryman Stefano Baldini, the 2004 Olympic champion.

It is probably fitting that his marathon debut will arrive in Rome on March 17 when he hopes to put all the pieces together of his early attempt to crack the distance.

Having just returned from warm-weather training in Kenya, Lalli triumphed instantly with victory in the European Champion Clubs Cup Cross Country in Castellón on Sunday having been crowned SPAR European Cross Country champion in December.

As for the gruelling challenge of 26.2 miles? Bring it on…

Lalli said: “I am born for marathon but my body must change.”

It is why he will carefully prepare over the next year and a half for the event in Zurich as the marathon returns to the European Athletics Championships after not being part of the programme in Helsinki last summer because of it being an Olympic year.

Lalli has a half-marathon best of 1:01:11 from 2012 and, speaking to, he said: “My next dream is Zurich 2014 and if I take the medal there, I am really happy. Baldini is fantastic. It is not easy to run like him and I must come into it, slowly by slowly.”

Baldini was one of the great Italian distance running heroes and one of the finest marathoners of all time.

He won gold at the European Athletics Championships in Budapest in 1998 before two successive bronze medals at the World Championships, in Edmonton in 2001 and Paris in 2003, before beating the heat of Athens in 2004 to win the Olympics in 2:10:55.

Two summers later, Baldini triumphed in Göteborg to regain his European crown.

Lalli has used his time well in Africa to prepare.

He said: “My training in Kenya has been good. I have been preparing for a marathon and it is not easy in Kenya, the road is not easy and the group was stronger than me.

“In Kenya, it is completely different than Europe. If I run 3:20 per kilometre, in Europe maybe it is 3:05 or 3:10.”

With it comes the different nuances between a race on a tough, snow-filled terrain over 10k to the road surface over 26.2 miles and the way it has to be approached, a need to revise a running style for an athlete such as Lalli, who has been accustomed to dominating from the front in cross country.

He added: “It is completely different…the socks, the water during the long run and then you must wait. I like to push from the beginning. But it is 42km, two hours and I must learn.”

How does he think he will fare in Rome? “Before the preparation, I think it was possible (to run) 2:11 or 2:10:30,” he said. “Rome is a tough course, now if I run 2:11, I am happy, but if I run 2:14, I am not happy. I do not know the time I can run (in Rome). I don’t know what to expect, I will try to prepare my best and when I am in Rome I will also try to run the best.”

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