A pack of female elite runners
The lead runners and pace runners competing in the rain in the Elite Women's Race. Sunday 4 October 2020. Photo: Thomas Lovelock for Virgin Money London Marathon

Shura Kitata and Brigid Kosgei claimed the elite men’s and women’s titles at the 2020 Virgin Money London Marathon today, as Eliud Kipchoge’s remarkable marathon winning streak came to an end on the rain-splattered roads around St James’s Park.

Kitata triumphed in a thrilling three-way sprint ahead of Vincent Kipchumba and Sisay Lemma, with the struggling four-time champion Kipchoge nursing a blocked ear back in eighth place.

Kitata crossed the line just one second ahead of Kipchumba in 2:05:41, with Lemma third in 2:05:45 after the trio had entered The Mall virtually side-by-side at the end of a damp and chilly 26.2-mile challenge around 19 laps of the looped course.

Kipchoge was widely expected to win a record fifth title in The 40th Race, but fell behind in the latter stages as Kitata took control and forged on to become only the third Ethiopian winner of the coveted London crown, the first since 2013.

Kitata, who was second behind the Kenyan in 2018, recorded the slowest winning time for seven years. But having reached the top of the podium under such grey skies, that was hardly going to dampen his joy.

“I had trained for a looped course and now I’m very happy to have won the race against a very strong field for my country and for my group of teammates,” he said.

While Kipchoge’s title defence wilted in the men’s race, Kosgei’s bloomed in the women’s, as the world-record holder made light work of the conditions, dominating her contest with world champion Ruth Chepngetich to win by more than three minutes in 2:18:58.

Despite the rain, Kosgei felt it had been a “wonderful” experience as she celebrated a second London Marathon crown to go with her two Chicago victories.

“I had nothing planned, I just felt good,” she explained. “I felt my body move, but my legs could not move. So I tried my best.”

Behind the winner, US athlete Sara Hall produced a powerful finish to prevent a Kenyan one-two as she overtook Chepngetich in the closing metres and placed second in a personal best 2:22:01. It was the first time since Deena Kastor’s victory in 2006 that an American woman has finished on the London podium.

Down the strung-out fields, Jonny Mellor and Natasha Cockram won the battle for the British titles, Mellor finishing just outside his best to take the men’s in 2:10:38, as debutant Ben Connor also dipped under the Olympic qualifying time in a second-place 2:11:20.

Cockram held off the unfancied Naomi Mitchell, who produced another surprise on a day full of twists and turns fitting for such a year. Cockram was the 13th elite woman overall in 2:33:19, while Mitchell was second Briton home just four seconds behind, taking four minutes from her best.

There were shocks aplenty in the wheelchair contests too, where the British-based Canadian Brent Lakatos beat eight-time winner David Weir and two-time London champion Marcel Hug in the men’s race, while Dutchwoman Nikita den Boer out-pushed Switzerland’s reigning champion Manuela Schär in the women’s.

“The London Marathon is the biggest marathon there is, so to come here and win against Dave and Marcel, it’s amazing,” said Lakatos.

Den Boer was amazed too, not least at becoming the first Dutch winner, male or female, of a London Marathon title.

“I didn’t know I was the first one. I think it’s really, really special,” she said. “My coach said ‘Just go for it’, and I was going for it. Manuela was speeding down, and I had to go on my own. I had to go faster.”

Meanwhile, 45,000 other marathon runners have been going for it on their own today, each of them targeting a socially distanced 26.2-mile challenge as they aim to raise much-needed funds for their chosen charities.

Runners from 109 countries entered the virtual marathon and each of them had almost 24 hours to complete a 26.2-mile course of their own choosing – they started from 00:00:00 BST this morning and need to finish by 23:59:59 BST tonight, Sunday 4 October.

As of 18:00 more than 25,000 had completed their own unique London Marathons, including James Whaley, the Grimsby Town FC mascot, who ran 130 laps of the club’s home pitch at Blundell Park for the Make A Wish Foundation, which creates life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses.

“It was great to be part of such an amazing event with people taking on the same challenge across the country,” he said. “It was tough and particularly hard around mile 20, but I kept reminding myself of the kids who will benefit, which kept me going.

“Now I’ve finished it feels great and I can’t wait to get to the London Marathon proper next year.”

Anna Bassil also had a tough day, at one point wading through a flooded section of her route at mile 14.

“The water was up to my knees for about a 300-yard stretch,” said the 40-year-old from St Albans, who was raising money for Save the Children dressed as a birthday cake and sporting bright pink hair.

“My costume and trainers got really heavy, and knowing I had to go back through it again at mile 18 was tough.

“But when people saw a big cake running past them, they couldn’t seem to help but smile and cheer me on, and that just filled me with happiness.

“Now I am letting the world know I completed it and have been part of a historic moment. When I receive my medal I will definitely celebrate with a glass of bubbly.”

Deborah James is also celebrating after completing her route around London’s Battersea Park. James hosts the You, Me and the Big C podcast and has been living with bowel cancer since being diagnosed in 2016.

“While we didn’t have the crowds, we had friends and family who were able to join us along the way, for 5K or 10K stretches. We couldn’t have done that in a normal year,” she said.

“Being able to see them along the way was amazing. Plus, we passed so many other people doing their own virtual races. That camaraderie with total strangers was very special.”

Indeed, it was very special day all round.