The inaugural Vitality Big Half was won by Sir Mo Farah today in a thrilling sprint for the line. The four-time Olympic champion worked hard in the closing mile of the race to win in 61:40, holding off Kenya’s Daniel Wanjiru, who finished several metres behind Farah in 61:43, with Great Britain’s Callum Hawkins third in 61:45.
After days of snow in London, the race started in glorious weather, with the runners enjoying bright sunshine and blue skies as they set off east along The Highway towards Canary Wharf.
The group of Farah, Wanjiru and Hawkins led from the start, with Hawkins putting in most of the front running as they made their way around the twists and turns of Canary Wharf, averaging 4:40 miles on the testing course.
Farah looked happy to let Hawkins set the pace for the first few miles but once the leading three men had passed the five-mile mark on Narrow Street, the 34-year-old gave a shake of his head – as if to indicate he’d had enough of the pace – and surged forward to create a five-metre gap ahead of Wanjiru with Hawkins looking uncomfortable several paces behind the 24-year-old Kenyan.
As the three athletes turned south onto Tower Bridge, Farah waved to the crowds, urging them to cheer louder. The 34-year-old Farah also succeeded in spurring on Hawkins, who used the gentle downhill off the bridge to his advantage, once again coming to the front of the group. Wanjiru and Farah were happy to tuck in behind, letting the 25-year-old Scot bear the brunt of a slight headwind as the course turned east onto the streets of Southwark for the second half of the race.
After matching each other stride for stride for the next three miles, Farah finally chose to unleash his famous finishing kick in the last mile of the race to open up a lead of several metres over Wanjiru, which he carried all the way to the Finish Line.
“I felt confident out there as I know I’m in great shape,” Farah said after his win. “I looked as good as Wanjiru today and both of us have to go 26.2 in April. I know I’m strong at the half marathon but it’s completely different when you try to run 26.2.
After flying in from his high-altitude training camp in Ethiopia on Friday, Farah had little time to acclimatise to the cool conditions. “I knew it was going to be cold but the conditions were ok in the end. It’s 25C every day in Ethiopia but you have to make it work and run the race no matter what the conditions. The sun was out so it wasn’t too bad.
“It was good to race Callum today; he’s a great athlete who works hard. I think anything is possible if you train well and work hard, and Callum proves that.”
Hawkins felt he could have gone faster though, acknowledging that he found it hard to gauge how fast to run on the new course.
“With my preparation I felt like I was in better shape time-wise,” he said after the race, “but I think everyone was a little bit slower so it was still good to go out there and compete.
“When we were coming back past the start [by Tower Bridge] I couldn’t even hear myself think. It was ridiculous; most of it was for Mo but I channelled it for myself.”
After a nightmare journey to get to the race, which saw Hawkins’s father drive him down to London from Glasgow after all flights were cancelled, the Scot was positive about his performance as he prepares to compete in the Commonwealth Games marathon next month.
“It was good to be up there with such high calibre athletes,” Hawkins said. “I think Mo was just doing enough, to be honest. He seems in pretty good shape. It’s an honour just to be mentioned in the same light as these kind of athletes.”
Wanjiru was also pleased with his race, saying afterwards that the undulating course offered a great way to prepare for his defence of his Virgin Money London Marathon title next month.
“I was feeling like I could win against Mo but to come second was a good experience,” said the Kenyan. “I am in good condition to run my personal best in London and won’t run any more races now until the London Marathon. I want to be at my best and sharp enough for the race. I am very happy to have been able to run the first Big Half; it’s good to make history here in London.”
The elite men were followed across the Finish Line by more than 11,000 runners, many of whom are from community groups in the four host boroughs of Tower Hamlets, Southwark, Lewisham and Greenwich. After the race the runners enjoyed a variety of free activities at The Vitality Big Festival in Greenwich Park.
The Vitality Big Half is part of a new one-day festival centred around the half marathon distance, which aims to be truly global and uniquely local in a celebration of the wonderful cultural diversity of the great city of London.