More than 8,000 runners finished the Vitality Westminster Mile in central London today, Sunday 27 May, making the world’s greatest festival of mile running officially the biggest ever timed mile event in the world.
A total of 8,048 runners in 39 waves completed the picturesque course around St James’s Park to cross the Finish Line in front of Buckingham Palace, smashing the previous record of 7,664 set at the New York Fifth Avenue Mile last year.
The world record finish was a fitting tribute to Sir Roger Bannister, the most famous mile runner of them all, who died in March this year aged 88, nearly 62 years after breaking the iconic four-minute barrier for the first time.
Sir Roger’s name now adorns the British senior men’s mile trophy won today for the second time by Chris O’Hare, who sprinted clear of Charlie Grice and Jake Wightman off the final bend to claim victory in four minutes four seconds.
The race had been billed a bid to break the four-minute mark for the first time in the event’s six-year history, but that target faded rapidly in the sapping Sunday heat and muggy air of the capital.
“I don’t care about the time, to be honest,” said O’Hare after adding the 2018 title to his victory in 2014. “I just made it my job to win against such a great field.
“And now I get to hold the Sir Roger Bannister Trophy,” added the delighted US-based Scot. “When I heard he’d died I couldn’t stop thinking about him all day. He changed the game for all of us. It’s an honour to win the trophy this year.”
The event’s inaugural champion, Charlie Grice, took second in the same time as O’Hare while Commonwealth bronze medallist Wightman faded to fifth behind Elliot Giles and Zak Seddon.
There was another tight finish in the women’s race, won by Melissa Courtney ahead of training partners Sarah McDonald and Rosie Clarke. Courtney took the tape on Spur Road in 4:35 to add a first British senior title to the Commonwealth Games 1500m bronze she won last month in Australia.
“It’s going really well this year,” said Courtney. “Being a Commonwealth medallist has raised my expectations and to win my first title in this fantastic race really sets me up for the outdoor season.”
McDonald was runner-up for the second year in a row, in 4:36, while Clarke was another two seconds back in third.
While it was a first win for Courtney, it was a sixth for David Weir who retained his British men’s wheelchair title with a comfortable victory in 3:11, some way short of his sub-three course record set last year.
“It was tough this year because of the pollen,” said Weir afterwards. “I couldn’t open my lungs as much as I wanted to but I’ll be back next year to break my record.”
Nikki Emerson, who won the women’s wheelchair title in 3:58, echoed many of the day’s runners in describing the event as “awesome”.
“This has to be most photogenic race in London,” she said. “When you’re lining up at the Start on The Mall you can see all the flags on Admiralty Arch and it makes you so proud to be in London.”
The British Championship races were just a few of the 39 that made up the day-long festival of running that attracted people aged from two months to 92 years, runners of all shapes and backgrounds.
Among them were junior wheelchair events for men and women, plus six British Athletics age group contests for boys and girls aged from 11 to 17 – a batch of races no doubt containing a few future Olympic hopefuls.
Past Olympians were out in force too, some 90 of them led by Lord Sebastian Coe who couldn’t quite turn back the clock to his middle-distance glory days of the 1980s.
The former mile world record breaker and double Olympic 1500m champion finished in fifth place in the Olympians wave before dedicating his run to Bannister.
“It’s a knock-out event,” said Coe. “Seeing so many people from so many sports running a mile is really great, especially in the year we are mourning a colossus of the sport. This is a real tribute to Roger.”
The first record of the day fell to Dani Nimmock and husband Mark Burgess who crossed the line hand-in-hand to set a Guinness World Record for the fastest mile while holding hands.
The Essex couple sprinted across the line together in 5:24, almost a full minute inside the old mark set here last year, before receiving their certificate from GWR adjudicator Richard Stenning.
“We’re really happy to have broken 5:30 – we thought we could but you never know what will happen on the day,” said Dani, a London Marathon Events Ltd staff member and winner of the 2018 Manchester Marathon.
“It feels amazing to have set a Guinness World Record – it’s the only world record we’ll ever set together. I can’t wait to put the certificate on our wall at home.”
The pair, who have been married for four years, practiced running holding hands just once in training. “It’s a great experience running in St James’s Park. The crowds around the route are amazing, the park is beautiful and to finish in front of Buckingham Palace is incredible,” said Nimmock.
The couple ran in one of 12 family waves started by Olympic legend and current British mile record holder Sir Mo Farah who then joined the throng to jog round the course, giving a number of lucky youngsters an unforgettable opportunity to #RunWithMo.
“It was great to see so many kids running and having fun,” said Farah, who will bid to regain the British 10k road title at the Vitality London 10,000 on Monday.
“This is just the kind of event the sport needs. I really enjoyed it and urge everyone to run again next year.”
Sir Mo was followed by scores of London schoolchildren running in The Daily Mile London wave, with young runners from schools all over London. The fitness initiative was started six years ago by headteacher Elaine Wyllie of St Ninian’s in Stirling.
“The Vitality Westminster Mile is such a great showcase,” she said after completing the course herself. “It was even better this year. The kids look lean, fit and glowing with health. The effort they’ve put in is really paying off.
“This is such a beautiful, child-friendly event in the most scenic place possible. It’s a privilege for them to run here and they love it.”
Alex Crossland was the first runner of the day to cross the Finish Line, the Highgate Harrier celebrating his 28th birthday in fitting style as he took the tape in around 4:30.
“That was a nice little birthday present,” said the Financial Times data analyst, who took up running five years ago to lose a bit of post-university flab. “I ran last year and was runner-up by one second so I really wanted to go one better.
“The chance to do an organised mile on the roads like this are few and far between these days. It’s a great event,” he added before heading off to “chill” with a few well-earned birthday beers.
This year’s event also featured the first Vitality Masters Mile for over 35-year-olds, a race won by Joe Ashley of Arena Athletics Club who was delighted with his first ever victory.
“That was such an amazing feeling,” said the Brighton-based runner, wearing a British Masters Athletics vest. “As a 39-year-old I seem to have found some speed.
“To put the British kit on and run down The Mall and finish at the Palace is just a dream.”
Another notable name among the early finishers was Born Barikor, founder of the London Marathon Events-funded outdoor fitness initiative, Our Parks, which has helped 70,000 people across the capital become more active over the last four years.
Born was one of 92 Our Parks runners who completed the Vitality Westminster Mile for the first time today.
“This is a great way for our communities to celebrate getting active,” he said. “We’re all about making activity accessible and fun for local communities and this event is such an important motivator.
“There’s no better entry level for running than a mile and we were all over the moon to come out and run, meet Mo and finish by the Palace. We’ll be back, one hundred per cent.”
Many of today’s finishers will be back in Westminster tomorrow morning, Monday 28 May, for the Vitality London 10,000, which gets underway on The Mall at 10:00.