So it proved that the two pre-race favourites, Mo Farah and Mary Keitany, reigned triumphant at Sunday’s (13 September) Morrisons Great North Run. Both athletes successfully defended their titles on a day in which over 50,000 runners took to South Shields for the world’s largest half marathon.
In crisp weather conditions, the field departed from Newcastle upon Tyne through the city centre and over the iconic Tyne Bridge Moving through Gateshead, the route reached South Shields where at the top of Prince Edward Road runners were provided with a stunning view of the sea before moving into the home straight.
While Farah had been strongly tipped to retain his crown, Kenyan Stanley Biwott ensured the crowds that lined the gantry would be treated to an engaging contest. The pair were matched evenly leading into the drop down to Coast Road - the point in which Kenenisa Bekele capitalised two years ago to open up a decisive lead - before Farah stretched out over the last mile.
As ever, Farah’s kick over the last hundred metres allowed for a fairly comfortable finish in 59:22, the fastest ever time by a British athlete and a victory which meant Farah became the first UK athlete to win successive Great North Runs since Mike McLeod in 1981 and 1982. Biwott crossed the line in 59:24, with Mike Kigen third in 60:10.
After the race, Farah was quick to praise Biwott’s performance: “I was knackered with two miles to go. Credit to Stanley. He’s a class athlete. He tried to get away from me. He’s a strong and he pushed me to the limit. I’m just delighted to finish my season in this way. I started with a world best for two miles. I won the two gold medals at the World Championships. And I’ve finished with my best time for the half marathon. I couldn’t have asked for a better year.”
In the women’s competition, Keitany secured her title defence in confident fashion, securing first in 1:07:32, with Britain’s Gemma Steel once again putting in an impressive showing to take second in 1:11:00. Jelena Prokopcuka of Latvia took third with 1:11:52 while Britain’s Alyson Dixon fifth in 1:12:07.
Aware that victory was in her sights from the outset after taking an early lead, Keitany seemed to hold back towards the end, with her time some two minutes slower than last year. She commented: “I would have run different if there would have been stronger athletes pushing me. I was ready to run a 65-minute time. I’m very happy to have come to Newcastle twice now and on both occasions was able to win the race. Next year my big goal is the Olympic marathon.”
The race attracted a mix of recreational, club and first-time half-marathoners to South Shields with the field enjoying bright yet fairly cool conditions. As ever, a substantial number of runners were taking part for charities close to their heart, with an estimated £25 million raised.