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11,000 half-marathon runners chase Mo Farah — but streets of Wapping are empty

PUBLISHED: 13:00 05 March 2018 | UPDATED: 13:21 05 March 2018

Start of Sunday's Vitality Big Half marathon as 11,000 runners head off from Tower Bridge. Picture: Joe Toth

Start of Sunday's Vitality Big Half marathon as 11,000 runners head off from Tower Bridge. Picture: Joe Toth

©The Vitality Big Half

Thousands of runners made it through cobbled streets of east London for Sunday’s inaugural Big Half marathon less than 24 hours after the winter snow melted.

Callum Hawkins and Mo Farah lead the athletes at the start of the Vitality Big Half marathon. Picture: Ian WaltonCallum Hawkins and Mo Farah lead the athletes at the start of the Vitality Big Half marathon. Picture: Ian Walton

Olympic champion Mo Farah was the star winning the elite men’s race setting off from Tower Bridge.

But the streets through Wapping were ghostly empty as spectators stayed away.

Many families left for the day, fed up with the neighbourhood being cut off yet again for what was the first of four sporting events from now until the summer.

Wapping High Street... empty, no spectators, as world's top athletes race through on half-marathon route to Tower Bridge and Greenwich. Picture: Ian WaltonWapping High Street... empty, no spectators, as world's top athletes race through on half-marathon route to Tower Bridge and Greenwich. Picture: Ian Walton

A stream of 11,000 runners of all ages and abilities snaked their way from Tower Bridge along The Highway to Canary Wharf, then back along The Highway—but this time tuning into Wapping Lane and making their controversial way along the cobbled Wapping High Street returning to Tower Bridge for the last leg to the Cutty Sark in Greenwich.

“We want to get more people from all backgrounds into running,” event director Hugh Brasher said.

“We set a target of making it the first mass participation event that reflects London’s diversity while also bringing together the best athletes in the world.”

Champion trio Callum Hawkins, Mo Farah and Daniel Wanjiru tearing through Limehouse Link tunnel on Sunday's half-marathon route. Picture: Ian WaltonChampion trio Callum Hawkins, Mo Farah and Daniel Wanjiru tearing through Limehouse Link tunnel on Sunday's half-marathon route. Picture: Ian Walton

It was the start of his “long-term project” likely to become an annual event on the London sporting calendar—not exactly what the people of Wapping want to hear.

Many residents only learned for the first time three weeks ago that their neighbourhood wasn’t just being cut off along The Highway as usual with the annual London Marathon in April, the mass Bike Ride in July and the Triathlon in August.

The half-marathon was going through Wapping itself. Even the Mayor of Tower Hamlets, John Biggs, who lives in Wapping, hadn’t realised his own neighbourhood was on the route when he addressed a public meeting just a month ago.

Just half-way to the finish and the strain already shows on some runners crossing Tower Bridge. Picture: Joe TothJust half-way to the finish and the strain already shows on some runners crossing Tower Bridge. Picture: Joe Toth

Some residents on social media thought of staging a disruptive street party—but in the event just stayed away and let the runners get on with it. Afterall, some 40 East End groups are among the charities to benefit from the event.

Olympic and World champ gold medallist Sir Mo Farah won the men’s race arriving at the finishing line at the Cutty Sark in Greenwich in 61 minutes and 40 seconds.

He beat Kenya’s London Marathon champ Daniel Wanjiru by just three seconds and Callum Hawkins by five in a sprint finish.

Kylie is all heart crossing Tower Bridge, running for the British Heart Foundation. Picture: Joe TothKylie is all heart crossing Tower Bridge, running for the British Heart Foundation. Picture: Joe Toth

The women’s race turned into a battle between two runners from the same athletics club in Surrey, Charlotte Purdue and Lily Partridge, both side-by-side for much of the route.

Purdue pulled clear to win at the end in a new personal best of 70mins 29secs, the fastest women’s half-marathon by a Briton this year. Partridge came in at 71mins 6secs, while Cardiff’s Charlotte Arter was half-a-minute later.

Wheelchair winner was the Swiss Marcel Hug in 51mins 36secs, with Britain’s David Weir second and John-Boy Smith third.

A host of celebrities followed in their wake, like radio DJs Chris Evans and Adele Roberts, former TV newsreader Sophie Raworth and ex-England international and current Southend FC manager Chris Powell.

The day ended with a free festival drawing the crowds with live music and the ‘Tumbleator’ huge treadmill where spectators tried running at the same speed as Mo Farah.

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