Nick Goolab became the first man ever to retain the British men’s one-mile road race title at the Vitality Westminster Mile in central London on Sunday as 5,980 finishers crossed the Finish Line in front of Buckingham Palace on a day of remembrance and support for the victims of last Monday’s suicide bombing in Manchester.
Event Director Hugh Brasher began the six-hour festival of road running by introducing a minute’s silence before the first of the day’s 36 races around St James’s Park in central London.
“It was a cowardly attack designed to kill, maim and injure as many of the concert goers as possible,” Brasher told the runners assembled on The Mall. “It was designed to cause fear, division, and suspicion, and to attack the very fabric of our society, of our values, of our freedom and our way of life.
“Today, here, in front of Buckingham Palace, we remember the 22 lives that were lost and the scores of people who were injured.
“As we run, as we have fun, as we enjoy this bank holiday weekend, we ask you to remember those lives lost, those injuries sustained, those families torn apart, and above all that love overcomes hate.”
It was almost five hours later when Goolab claimed the Roger Bannister Trophy for the second year in a row while Adelle Tracey turned bronze into gold as she beat defending champion Sarah McDonald to win the Diane Leather Trophy as British women’s road mile champion after placing third last year.
Goolab pipped Andy Butchart on the line to take victory 12 months ago in a course record and the Belgrave Harrier left it late again as he grabbed his second victory with a dip finish.
The 27-year-old found himself boxed in at halfway and still off the pace with 400m to go but kicked off the final bend into Spur Road and passed a group led by Brighton youngster Robbie Fitzgibbon on the outside.
“I saw there was just 100m to go and felt myself dying, but then I just found another gear,” said Goolab. “I really don’t know how I did it.
“I thought it was not going to be my day. With 600m to go I had to come up on the pavement to get through, but when I saw Robbie pulling away I thought I can’t let that happen. Then something changed with 100m to go and I just grew in confidence.”
Goolab stopped the clock at 4:04, three seconds outside his 2016 course record, but now believes a sub-four-minute mile is possible on the iconic C-shaped loop around St James’s Park.
Fitzgibbon emerged from a large group of some 15 runners to lead into the final turn, but the 21-year-old Brighton Phoenix runner had to be satisfied with second in 4:05 as Philip Sesemann of Blackheath and Bromley took third in the same time.
Tracey tracked McDonald through the first half of the women’s race before Steph Twell made a bid for victory along Birdcage Walk alongside Rosie Clarke. McDonald attacked again in the final stretch but Tracey’s superior finishing speed took her to the line in 4:34.
It was a gratifying win for the Guildford and Godalming runner who raced over 800m in Belgium less than 24 hours earlier.
“My legs were really tired so it’s great to come here and win,” she said. “It was a pretty tough race but when I got to 400m to go I thought if I can hold on and put in a kick it would be great.
“To line up against so many amazing 1500m runners and come away with a win shows I’m in great shape.”
McDonald held on for second place in 4:35 with Clarke clocking the same time in third.
The six-hour festival also included 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, 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 six minutes exactly in the Olympians wave, upstaged on his return to racing by Rio Olympic rowing champion Constantine Louloudis who broke clear to clock 5:05, well inside Steve Cram’s ‘Olympians record’ from 2015.
“That was brilliant, and it was my first ever running event,” said the 25-year-old who won gold in the men’s eight in Rio last summer. “It was really fun to meet so many Olympians of different ages and sports. This is such a great event; I’m going to get my whole family to do it next year.”
Coe was also full of praise for the London 2012 Olympic legacy event.
“I loved the race,” he said. “It’s such a lovely mix of all sorts of things: people doing a bit of exercise, Olympians, youngsters who will become healthier adults as the result of taking part in races like this.
“Running is a wonderful thing to do. It’s easy, accessible, not technical. You can roll out of your front or back door and run. If you do it gently and carefully to start with, it will make a real difference to your daily life.”
One man who knows that more than most is 88-year-old Eric Shirley, who was the oldest Olympian to finish in an age-defying time of 10:01.
“It’s great to run with other Olympians, but this event is not for us oldies, it’s for the youngsters,” said Shirley, who ran in the 3000m steeplechase final at the 1956 Melbourne Games alongside future London Marathon founders, Chris Brasher and John Disley. “Let’s hope events like this encourage the youngsters to stay in the sport.”
The first record of the day fell to Ellie Awford and Mike Kotosky who crossed the line hand-in-hand to set a new Guinness World Record for the fastest mile while holding hands.
The couple from south London sprinted across the line together in 6:22 before receiving their world record certificate from GWR adjudicator Lucia Sinigagliesi.
“The GWR certificate is definitely going on the wall when we get home,” said Ellie.
“I’m not ruling out coming back next year to try to set an even faster record,” added Mike. “It was really fun.”
“We have been doing some training but it’s slightly embarrassing to run in public holding hands so we’ve been tactical about when and where we’ve done it,” said Mike.
“We wait until it gets quiet and then hold hands,” added Ellie. “It was quite hot today, and quite tough, but we did way better than expected. To run under 6:30 is a dream.”
They were soon followed by scores of London schoolchildren running in The Daily Mile London wave, with young runners from schools from all 33 London boroughs. The fitness initiative was started five years ago by headteacher Elaine Wyllie of St Ninian’s in Stirling.
“The Westminster Mile is such a great showcase,” she said after watching the youngsters finish. “It was great to see all these children who can now finish a mile without stopping.
“It’s amazing how it’s taken off. Every London borough was represented here but it’s right across the country now. This event is great for them, it’s like the grand performance after all their rehearsals. And what could be a better stage than running down The Mall?”
Paul Grainge was again the first runner of the day to cross the Finish Line, as he was 12 months ago. The 38-year-old burst clear off the final bend to take the tape in 4:30 before dedicating his ‘victory’ to his wife, Angela Wright, and their three children.
“My wife was diagnosed with cancer last year, so it’s been a tough few months,” revealed the Dagenham runner. “I did this for them.
“It meant a lot to me to win again against all my friends from the London running community. I had no sleep last night. It’s been really stressful but hopefully this will help us raise awareness about living well to prevent cancer.”
Nick Pearson, the chief executive of parkrun, led the second wave of non-championship races home in 5:17 before hailing the event as a perfect complement to his own globally successful grass-roots running phenomenon.
“We are passionate about getting more people running,” he said. “It makes people healthier and encourages thousands to make that step into a structured running event like this.
“It’s brilliant to see so many people sign up for this sort of event. parkrun is a great way in for people who then go on to enter such brilliant events as the Westminster Mile.”
Another notable name among the waves of early finishers was Derek Rae, Britain’s Rio Paralympic marathon runner, who cruised home in a swift time of 4:54.
“It’s great to be among all these runners at the Westminster Mile,” said Rae, who was fourth in his T46 category at this year’s Virgin Money London Marathon.
“The Mall will always be one of the greatest settings in the world for racing. Money can’t buy this stuff. If you can’t enjoy running here, then there’s something wrong.”
It was a sentiment echoed by 80-year-old Mary Harte who took “somewhere around 20 minutes” to complete her first ever running event before walking the short distance back to her Westminster home.
“I’ve never done anything like this before in my life,” said the sprightly Harte. “I climbed a mountain last year back home in Ireland and I just wanted to try something new while I still can.
“I came to do it once, but I enjoyed it so much I might do it again.”
Mums, dads, kids and grandparents were among the waves of family racers to wash through the finish zone, some jogging together hand-in-hand, some coming one-by-one to greet each other with high-fives, fist-pumps and selfies.
Local resident Pengfei Mi was one of many who sprinted under the gantry behind a high-powered baby stroller. His contained his three-and-a-half year-old daughter, Mingyi.
“Next year she will do it on her own,” laughed the panting post-grad design and engineering student from Beijing. “What a spectacular finish. We drive and walk around this area all the time, but we’ve never run it. We’ll definitely be back.”
A group calling themselves ‘Sagar’s friends and family’ epitomised the diversity of the event. All sporting white T-shirts, they ranged in age from five to 78, spanned three generations, both genders and all manner of races and creeds.
That spirit was the motivation for Kelly Jacobs and daughter Elle Boyne too. They were among many runners who wore yellow ribbons in memory of the Manchester bombing victims. The pair also sported matching leggings emblazoned with the word ‘love’.
“It was really important for us to come here to run today,” said Kelly. “You can’t stop doing the things you love because that’s what they want, but they won’t stop us.
“This is our first year at the race. I’m a regular runner and my daughter Elle has shown an interest in it so we thought the Westminster Mile would be a great first race for her to try.”
“I found it hard but I enjoyed it,” said Elle. “It was fun to run with mum.”
“It was nice that we could run together,” added Kelly. “I’ll be back here tomorrow for the London 10000.”
Some 12,000 runners are expected to start the Vitality London 10000 at 10:00 on Monday when Andy Butchart and Lily Partridge will defend their titles in the British 10K road championships.