Rising star Jake Smith has cemented his breakthrough year by winning The Vitality Big Half 2021 in a time of 62:06, while Charlotte Purdue sealed a record third win at the race, as she set a new course record of 69:51.
The 23-year-old Smith quickly formed a leading pack of four along with Jack Rowe, Mohamud Aadan and Philip Sesemann in the early part of the race, before pulling away at nine miles to create a commanding lead.
Smith was already the third-fastest British man of all time over the half-marathon distance, with a PB of 60:31, and, back in April, won the Cheshire Elite Marathon in a time of 2:11:00 – after starting as a pacemaker in his debut over the distance.
He shared his race strategy afterwards: “I tried to make the first 5K quite quick, but a few of the boys came with me, so I threw in some surges throughout. In the last four miles I tried to get my head down and put in some hard miles as I know some of the guys have a quick finish.
“By the end I was hanging on for dear life!”
He’d clearly enjoyed his time tackling the course: “It’s incredible to be back on the streets of London. Over Tower Bridge I couldn’t hear myself breathe as the crowds were so loud, which was amazing.”
Jack Rowe was the strongest member of the remaining leading pack, finishing in 62:11, while Mohamud Aadan came in third in 62:28.
There was disappoint for pre-race favourite Jonny Mellor – the fastest Brit at the 2020 Virgin Money London Marathon (2:10:38) – who wasn’t able to keep up with the leading pack, eventually finishing in 11th place in a time of 64:44.
In the women’s race, Charlotte Purdue put her disappointment at not qualifying for this year’s Tokyo Olympics aside by winning the event for a record third time in a big course record of 69:51.
Purdue ran the early stages alongside eventual runner-up Samantha Harrison, who finished in 70:39, the pair breaking clear of the rest of the women’s field in the first couple of miles. Purdue made her move away from Harrison just after the mile seven marker and had an ever-increasing lead from then on. Natasha Cockram finished third in a time of 72:46.
Purdue said afterwards: “It was my first race in 17 months because I’ve been injured and had a few issues, so to get the win is more than I could have asked for. Samantha took off really hard, so I hung back a bit at the start and I’m glad I did because I felt quite tired by the end!
“I love running in London. The crowds are great and it felt like everyone was so happy to be on the streets supporting us. It feels like the excitement is building for the Virgin Money London Marathon in six weeks.”
In the wheelchair races, which were the first to set off on a cool morning in London, Polish-born, Liverpool-based Sam Kolek led the way by an impressive six minutes, coming home in 50:37, followed by Michael McCabe in 56:41 and Matthew Clarke in 58:00.
Kolek said of his win: “This is my first half marathon in two years and my first time at the race, but my position in the chair is pretty low so I managed the twists and turns on the course OK.
“It felt so great to be back racing, being cheered by Londoners. I love road racing and have really missed it.”
Reigning women’s wheelchair champion Shelly Woods dominated the first part of the race, before a puncture dashed her dreams of winning her second title at her second appearance at the event.
In the end Nikki Emerson was the first woman home in 67:38 – in what was her fourth time and first win in the race – followed by Martyna Snopek in 76:05 and Claudia Burrough not far behind in 78:51.
Speaking after her victory, Emerson said: “I really didn’t expect to win today, I’m so disappointed for Shelly as she’s a good friend of mine.
“You forget how good racing feels after two years without it. It felt so normal to be back out racing, there was such massive excitement, and seeing little kids cheering at the side of the road – actually that’s what this is all about.”
Behind the elite runners, thousands will complete The Vitality Big Half today, many using the race as a warm-up for the Virgin Money London Marathon in six weeks’ time. More than 3,500 runners are also taking part from local community groups, embracing the #WeRunAsOne theme being celebrated at this year’s event.
The day also features two other events: the New Balance Big Relay offers teams of four the opportunity to take on the 13.1-mile half marathon route in relay legs varying from one mile to 4.7 miles, while The Vitality Big Mile is a free family-friendly fun run in Greenwich town centre for all ages and abilities.