Photo credit: Virgin Money London Marathon

Kenenisa Bekele set a new course record today as he claimed victory at The Vitality Big Half 2020 as part of his preparations for the 2020 Virgin Money London Marathon.

Bekele recorded a time of 60 minutes and 22 seconds, seeing off strong competition from runner-up Chris Thompson.

The elite women’s race was full of British talent and it was Lily Partridge who took the win ahead of Samantha Harrison in a time of 70:50. Stephanie Davis finished third.

Brent Lakatos won the elite men’s wheelchair race as David Weir had to settle for second place ahead of his 21st London Marathon. Shelly Woods was victorious in the elite women’s wheelchair race.

Bekele was considered the favourite going into the race after Kenya’s Lawrence Cherono was forced to pull out through injury, but he was tested by Thompson from the start.

Thompson looked to set the pace in the early stages, hitting the front and leading out Bekele and the rest of the pack.

But Bekele, joined by Birchfield Harrier Omar Ahmed, soon reeled Thompson in.

Ahmed was dropped and Bekele led after halfway, aiming to create some distance between himself and Thompson as the gap between them opened over Tower Bridge.

And Bekele was all alone as he crossed the Finish Line at Cutty Sark, smashing Sir Mo Farah’s previous course record of 61:40.

Thompson was second in 61:07 and Jake Smith third in 62:00.

Bekele said: “This was my second half marathon in the UK and I’m very happy to win. It was a little bit windy.

“The new course record is a great bonus. I wasn’t focused on time today; I just wanted to win.

“I’m on schedule in my preparation for the Virgin Money London Marathon in April. If the weather is good, then I’m hoping to run like I ran in Berlin last year.

“There’s no question about the crowds in London being great. There was cheering all around the course; it felt like a great place to be thanks to the amazing people of London.”

The elite women’s race featured runners who have experienced The Vitality Big Half before, including Partridge, who finished runner-up to Charlotte Purdue at the 2018 race and was fifth in 2019.

Samantha Harrison of Notts AC emerged as the early leader, storming out in front ahead of Partridge and Stephanie Davis.

But the gap was gradually closed down by Partridge, who got on to Harrison’s shoulder heading into the latter stages.

Partridge pulled away and checked over her shoulder going into the final mile, before crossing the line in a time of 70:50. Harrison was second in 71:01 and Davis third in 71:15.

“It was nice to get the win; that was important today,” said Partridge. “My coach said to me before the start that the goal was to win. It wasn’t about the time today. It’s my fastest ever half marathon during a marathon build-up [Partridge is training for the Virgin Money London Marathon in April].

“I feel like I’m on the up from injury, and I don’t feel like I’m flying, so that’s a big confidence booster. I’m excited to get back to work for London.

“The crowds at The Vitality Big half are incredible. Everyone knows your name, and they shout for you, which you don’t always get when you race abroad. I will absolutely be back next year to defend my title.”

Brent Lakatos also secured a new course record in the elite men’s wheelchair race, seeing off competition from the experienced David Weir.

Lakatos was the clear winner in 48:44, taking more than two minutes off Weir’s record Vitality Big Half time set in 2019. Weir was the next man home in 50:07 and John Boy Smith was third in 51:15.

In the elite women’s wheelchair race, Shelly Woods won in a time of 62:02. Eden Rainbow-Cooper was second (66:56) and Mel Nicholls third (67:13).

“The race went really well today,” said Lakatos. “I’m doing the Virgin Money London Marathon in a couple of months so this will help me as I build up to that.

“I did the inaugural Vitality Big Half in 2018. To beat David Weir is great. The support was great out there today – even if most people were cheering for Dave [Weir]!

“It’s the first race of 2020 for me, in a year when Tokyo is coming up, so winning here today is a really good start to the year.”

Woods said: “It’s my first time at The Vitality Big Half and I found it challenging. It’s quite a tough course and was challenging in terms of the wind, the cobbles and the twists and turns but I love racing in London, so it was nice to be back.”

The 2020 Virgin Money London Marathon takes place on Sunday 26 April.