Hot on the heels of the announcement of Kipchoge versus Bekele at Virgin Money London Marathon comes news that the warm-up act will be Sir Mo Farah (36) defending his Vitality Big Half title against Ethiopia's Kenenisa Bekele (37) on Sunday 1 March.
Sir Mo Farah has been unbeaten in London's community half marathon since the inaugural race in 2018, with times of 61:40 and 61:15 for his British title winning victories. The Newham and Essex Beagle, who lists his heroes as Muhammad Ali and Ryan Giggs, beat Kenya's Daniel Wanjuri by three seconds in 2018 and Bashir Abdi, representing Belgium, by a second in 2019.
With a superior PB (59:07) to Bekele's 60:09 and local course knowledge, plus fervent home support, it would seem as if the cards are stacked in Farah's favour but Bekele is in the form of his life, coming off the second-fastest marathon in history (2:01:41) in Berlin last September. Significantly, Bekele's splits in Berlin were 61:05 and an astonishing 60:36 so his best of 60:09, set in the 2013 Great North Run, is long overdue revision.
Perhaps it will take a sub-hour run for victory in the capital? That would certainly set us up nicely for Bekele's clash with Kipchoge over twice the distance in April and Farah's tilt at an unprecedented 11th global track title in the Tokyo Olympic 10,000m in the summer.
Relishing the anticipated challenge, Farah said: “I am really looking forward to coming back to The Vitality Big Half and kicking off my 2020 season. Everyone knows how much I enjoy racing in London. It’s my home city and it always gives me a buzz to come back and race here.” Bekele said: “This will be my first time racing at the Vitality Big Half and it will be a good test for me as I prepare for the Virgin Money London Marathon.”
One topic of discussion will be footwear. Both main protagonists are Nike-sponsored athletes and will be in some iteration of the controversial new Vaporfly shoes but the athletics world awaits a decision on whether some versions will be banned from competition.
Of course, the Vitality Big Half is far more than a spectacular match-up between distance running legends. For the third year running, the Vitality Big Half will also host the British Athletics Half Marathon Championships and, for the first time this year, will be the official trial for the World Half Marathon Championships in Poland on 29 March.
This has attracted a strong domestic field, including five of the six fastest men over half marathon in the UK last year: Farah, Dewi Griffiths, Jake Smith, Ollie Lockley and Chris Thompson. In the women’s race the leading contenders are Hayley Carruthers, fourth at Vitality Big Half last year, Eleanor Davis, Clara Evans, Tish Jones and Stephanie Jones.
Pictured below is Zan Sesay (2:20:10 for 8,264th in 2018) demonstrating the elation of finishing this special event.