For once, Farah didn’t need to rely on his infamous kick: the four-time Olympic champion secured what was his most comfortable Great North Run victory yet, arriving to the cheers at South Shields a little over an hour after the race started. The 33-year-old was one of 41,000 runners who made the journey to the north east for the world’s largest half marathon, which, with 178 different countries represented in the field, further cemented its global status.
Starting in Newcastle, the course took runners from the iconic Tyne Bridge and through Gateshead before passing the famous international athletics stadium and finishing in the coastal town of South Shields.
Farah had company from the outset in Dathan Ritzenhein, the World Half Marathon Championships bronze medallist. The American managed to hold on until the 13 mile mark before Farah pushed at the downhill section at Redwell Bank (a tactic Bekele used successfully against Farah in 2013) to open up a clear gap. Farah crossed the line in 60:04, six seconds ahead of Ritzenhein, with Kenyan Emmanuel Bett third in 61.22.
While Farah’s performance may have lacked the intensity or excitement of his previous wins, adding to his two titles was clearly the primary aim and allowed him to claim an unprecedented third consecutive victory at the race.
His knowledge of the route, plus the support throughout the course, he later revealed, were factors in his success: “Knowing the course inside out helped a lot. I knew which bits were going to be tough, and which I was going to work hard on. It helped me out massively. It was brilliant, amazing. Dathan made it so hard for me – he made it a great race, and Emmanuel as well. I just had to hang on for my dear life. It was tough, but it was amazing to have so many people cheering for me. That’s what drove me to the line.”
The women’s competition turned out to be a closer affair, with Vivian Cheruiyot capping her 33rd birthday in style with a thrilling victory. Cheruiyot showed no signs of fatigue from her Olympic gold over 5,000m to put in a strong sprint finish and cross the line 67:54, just one second ahead of Priscah Jeptoo. Britain’s Charlotte Purdue (1:12:13) and Gemma Steel (1:13:23) finished in sixth and eighth respectively.
Cheruiyot’s performance belied the nerves she said set in as she prepared to compete in her first ever half marathon: “When I was on the start line, I wondered whether I was going to finish. I was a little bit scared. You never know what is going to happen, but generally it was so good. It was good to run against Priscah and Tirunesh. I’m so happy because I’ve done my best, it’s my debut and I’ve won on my birthday."
As ever, the Great North Run played host to tens of thousands of runners who each brought their own half marathon story to the north east. One competitor with an inspirational tale was Claire Lomas, who, after starting her Great North journey on Wednesday in a robotic suit, crossed the line at 10am on Sunday morning. Claire, who is also pregnant, said this had been her toughest challenge yet: “It’s such a relief. There were times this week when I didn’t think I would make it.”