Vitality Big Half 2019 Review

Both the men’s and women’s races were stacked with talent for the second year of The Vitality Big Half.

This already popular event is also the British Half Marathon Championships. But many of the elite runners were testing themselves for the upcoming Virgin Money London Marathon.

As the race unfolded last Sunday, appearances were deceiving, not least because of the strong winds across London.


Sir Mo Wins Second Title in a Row

Expectation was high as is always the case when Farah takes to the streets of London. He quickly established his place in the leading pack once the gun had sounded.

Surprisingly, around the 5-mile mark Farah appeared to be struggling, falling behind his training partner Bashir Abdi and Kenya’s Daniel Wanjiru by 10m. He clutched his stomach and spectators feared the worst. But this blip lasted less than 5 minutes. For the remainder of the race Farah was locked together for the title, until the last 100m, when the sprint finish began.

Farah won by a mere second. But the way he dealt with the brutal conditions and challenging sections shows just how well he can still triumph over adversity.

 

Purdue Comes from Behind to Retain Title

Steph Twell, full of confidence from recent victories at the Armagh 3k  and Chichester 10k, pulled away from her female competitors before the 5-mile mark. She maintained a strong pace in a large group of male runners.

For miles Charlotte Purdue was running alone, battling the wind without any protection from other runners. But she continued to work hard, and with self-belief she would soon chip away at the lead. After 53 minutes at the 10-mile mark, Purdue did overtake Twell, who was slowing. Purdue never let up, running beside and then overtaking male club runners to retain her title and finish in 1:10:38.

She maintained an even pace throughout, which proved to be the best strategy on such a blustery morning.


London saw the best of British half marathon runners compete in far from ideal conditions. But the experience of past champions proved successful. The advice after watching this event is to stick to a race plan. Even if you find yourself alone, it can be easier to judge your effort without distractions. Otherwise you can get carried away with faster runners and find you haven’t the speed endurance or leg strength to end the race strong.

4 Reasons Mo Farah Won 2018 Chicago Marathon

Mo Farah won the 41st Chicago Marathon earlier this month. The field was full of top elite athletes, but the Brit’s triumph wasn’t all that unexpected when you consider the context of his career to date.

#1 He Never Panicked

For the first half of the race, the lead pack contained no less than 13 runners. They sensibly spread out when they arrived at the water stations to avoid any drama over hydrating. But they soon rejoined, changing leaders only when necessary. However, for many of these early miles, Mo was content to stay at the back of the pack.

He appeared to take no interest in his competitors’ moves. He was instead focusing on conserving energy and sticking to his race plan.

#2 His Strong Finish

As the race developed, the lead pack dwindled to nine, six, then four, until Mo was competing against only Mosinet Geremew of Ethiopia. But unlike the rest of the field, Mo could make the very most of his track pedigree. He waited until as late as he could before leaving the young Ethiopian behind to sprint across the line.

As the commentators revealed during the race, Mo’s coach had made him focus more on his ‘long tempo runs’ near or at race pace. These strength-building workouts undoubtedly ensured that Mo could use his famous fast finish to great effect.

#3 His Hunger to Win

Mo’s desire to win is well documented. He so infrequently loses races that the marathon distance would have come to him as a relative surprise. His two other London Marathons (eighth in 2014 and third in 2018) were not acceptable to a man with the highest standards.

His wife’s delight shortly after Mo completed his 13-second victory captured the moment perfectly; for an incredible athlete, there are still more astonishing race stories to live.

#4 Winning a recent Half Marathon

A month before the Chicago Marathon, Mo won one of the largest half marathons in the world, the Great North Run, for a fifth consecutive year. In his familiar style he stayed relaxed throughout and powered his way passed any competitors brave enough to stay with him for over 90% of the race distance.

Although his victory was a likely outcome, it must have given him a lot of confidence going into the marathon. His performance was only 4 seconds off his personal best time on the course.


Mo Farah deserved to win his first marathon, and break the European marathon record, because of his extensive (and specific) training, and gutsy race strategy. The biggest surprise was that pre-race I wasn’t confident he would beat a rather fast field of athletes.

Mo demonstrated yet again why he is still the greatest British male runner, with his ability to continually reign supreme.



Mo’s Marathon Progress

Last Sunday, Mo Farah competed in only his second marathon. Much of the build-up surrounding the 38th Virgin Money London Marathon concerned comparing Farah to previous records. His own, from four year ago. The British record, set in 1985. The European record, set less than five months ago.

My prediction before the race was for Farah to break the British record of 2:17:13, set by Welshman Steve Jones. But with such a quality field I was reluctant to believe he would finish in the top five.

Despite the heat, and his fast early pace, Farah was strong enough to stay in touch with the eventual winner Eliud Kipchoge for around 17 miles. Farah’s third place finish was less surprising than the significant slowing of more experienced athletes such as Kenenisa Bekele, Bedan Karoki and Daniel Wanjiru.

The editor of Athletics Weekly1, Jason Henderson, writes this week that he was worried Mo wouldn’t even finish2. I didn’t believe that was ever going to happen. However, although a new personal best and British record were set, I feel less impressed about this achievement than Henderson.

The ‘bronze medal’ was a bonus that Farah received for his persistence, especially running mostly alone during the final miles of the race. But the rest of the elite field didn’t put up much a fight for third place.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge admirer of Farah. He has inspired me along with much of the UK with his global medals, canny performances and humble personality, but my analysis is partly informed by the man’s high personal expectations.

I remember his reaction after earning a silver medal in his last major championship track race3. It was pain mixed with anger and disgust. He has built his career on winning. Nothing else feels right for him.

Although I would love him to win major marathon titles, and by doing so cement his already legendary status, the reality is that he was over two minutes behind Kipchoge in London. More importantly, 31 other marathoners have run faster than Farah in the last twelve months4.

This suggests that if he is to truly make an impact on the marathon circuit (and as Henderson writes, challenge at the next IAAF World Championships and Olympic Games) he is going to have to improve his personal best by further minutes. At 35 years old this is a tall order. Still, if he corrects his water intake and concentration on the road ahead (two aspects of his race strategy that let him down on the day), he has a chance of success.

But, unlike on the track, I don’t believe he will be able to dictate races. Gold medals won’t come without arguably more heroics than he has evidenced over the past twenty years. Of course, I wish him the best of luck and look forward to following his journey.


1 Published on 26th April 2018.
2 The editorial piece is entitled Farah Comes Up Trumps.
3 The IAAF World Championship 5,000m held in London on 12th August 2017.
4 According to statistics from the IAAF, since 23rd April 2017, found here.