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Sir Mo Farah wins inaugural Vitality Big Half

The inaugural Vitality Big Half was won by Sir Mo Farah today in 61:40 in a thrilling sprint for the line. The four-time Olympic champion worked hard in the closing mile of the race to hold off Kenya’s Daniel Wanjiru, who finished several metres behind Farah in 61:43, with Great Britain’s Callum Hawkins third in 61:45.

The three men ran together, stride for stride, until Farah broke away, using his famous kick to cross the Finish Line by the Cutty Sark in first place, to the delight of the London crowds.

Farah, who was using the race to test his fitness ahead of the Virgin Money London Marathon in seven weeks’ time, was thrilled to win the first edition of The Vitality Big Half, saying after the race: “It was great to be back in London in front of these crowds; I’m in decent shape so it was good to have a hard race here today.”

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 the group averaged 4:40 miles.

A surge by Farah after the five-mile mark failed to shake Wanjiru and Hawkins, but as the miles ticked past it looked like it was only a matter of time before Farah made another attack.

After discarding first his hat and then his gloves, Farah finally unleashed his famous finishing kick in the last mile 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.

“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. 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.”

The Vitality Big Half women’s title was taken by Great Britain’s Charlotte Purdue, who won in 70:29, with fellow Britons Lily Partridge and Charlotte Arter finishing second and third in 71:06 and 71:35 respectively to make it a British one-two-three.

Purdue said after the race: “I felt good for the first 15K and didn’t want to slow down. I knew I was on for a good time and wanted to keep going. I found the cobbles challenging to run on, but I don’t think it slowed me down. It was good preparation for the London Marathon.”

First across the Finish Line by the Cutty Sark today were the men’s wheelchair racers, with Switzerland’s Marcel Hug beating his long-time rival David Weir into second place. Hug crossed the line in 51:36, with Weir just over half a minute behind in 52:17. John Boy Smith finished two seconds after Weir in 52:19. 

“The first 14K was very easy and a slow, tactical race,” said Hug afterwards, “but then I started to attack several times. Sometimes I went away alone and it was pretty tough.” 

Hug, who will be back in London for the Marathon next month, enjoyed the experience of being back in the capital: “I really love to be here in London and to race here. It’s fantastic, the atmosphere is great, the spectators, the organisation, everything.” 

In the women’s wheelchair race Switzerland’s Manuela Schär took the honours, winning in 56:39, well ahead of fellow Swiss Sandra Graf, who finished almost three minutes back in 59:58. Great Britain’s Nikki Emerson was third in 67:08.

“It’s a really tough course,” said Schär, “there are a lot of turning points and a lot of cobble stones so it was pretty intense, but it was a good one to win. It’s always great to race in London. I really love to come here; the crowds are always amazing and I’m looking forward to coming back for the Marathon.”

The event also played host to the British Half Marathon Championships and the final chance for selection ahead of the World Half Marathon Championships in Valencia in three weeks.

The elite athletes 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.