Record-breaking day at the Vitality Westminster Mile
29 May 2016, 5:14 p.m.
It was a record-breaking day at the Vitality Westminster Mile in central London on Sunday as David Weir smashed the three-minute barrier to win his fourth consecutive wheelchair title and Nick Goolab broke the men’s course record to become British one-mile road race champion.
Sarah McDonald and Nikki Emerson won the women’s senior and wheelchair titles respectively as the fourth edition of the London 2012 legacy event saw 4,000 runners of all ages and abilities take part in some 35 races.
Weir was blessed with warm sun and dry roads as he flew around the course that skirts St James’s Park in the heart of Westminster, beating his South African rival Ernst van Dyk by a massive 12-second margin in two minutes 57 seconds.
The six-times London Marathon winner shattered his own one-year-old world best by six seconds as he crossed the Finish Line in front of Buckingham Palace.
“I’ve always said I could do it,” said Weir, who described his commanding victory as a “perfect race” after he broke the historic barrier at the fourth time of asking.
“This record has been bugging me for years,” he added. “I knew it was possible and training has gone really well. I wanted to prove a point that I was still up there with the best in the world.”
Just minutes after Weir’s historic achievement, Goolab grabbed the men’s title by the skin of his running vest as the Belgrave Harrier dipped ahead of Scotland’s Andrew Butchart in 4:01, eclipsing Charlie Grice’s 2013 course record by one second.
Butchart was given the same time as the winner while Cardiff’s Tom Marshall was third just one second back after a thrilling race. It was a welcome return for Goolab who was forced to pull out of last year’s event with illness.
“I was in a right mood here last year, so it’s nice to come back and have fond memories,” said the champion after receiving the Sir Roger Bannister trophy.
“It’s a great event and lovely for me especially as a born and raised Londoner. It’s fantastic to be in such a great setting.”
McDonald also won a close race, coming from behind to beat Jo Moultrie by two seconds in 4:38 with Adele Tracey a fraction back in third.
“I just wanted to make sure I was in a good place when I came round the bend, because I knew then it wasn’t far and I could put it all out there,” said McDonald, who received the Diane Leather trophy, named after the first woman to break the five-minute barrier.
“This is the first time I’ve been at this event and the support was superb with such a great atmosphere.”
Emerson clocked 4:10 to defeat reigning champion Martyna Snopek in the women’s wheelchair event, while Scott Halsted from Bracknell moved up from second place last year to take the junior men’s under 20 race in 4:16 ahead of James McCarthy. Holly Parker from Enfield and Haringay won the junior women’s title from Philippa Stone in 5:03.
The six-hour festival also included junior wheelchair events for men and women, plus six British Athletics age group races for boys and girls aged from 11 to 17, a batch of races no doubt containing a few future Olympic hopefuls.
Past Olympians were also out in force in a special race organised by former 400m runner Jocelyn Hoyte-Smith. More than 90 athletes from numerous sports turned out, including 1988 hockey gold medallists Richard Leman and Steve Batchelor, and 1968 equestrian Jane Holderness-Roddam.
Fencer James Williams and hockey player Jason Laslett were the first male Olympians home while former 800m runner Jo Mersh was the first woman.
“It was an honourable tie,” said Williams.” I’ve come and had a go today and it’s been fantastic. I met people that I haven’t seen for many years.
“Having been to three Olympics, seeing these guys and competing against them has been great, but not just competing, sharing time with them and catching up on old times.”
“It felt extra special to be doing this in an Olympic year,” added Mersh, who ran for Britain at the Athens 2004 Games. “The mile is such a good distance to do. Everyone can manage it, even me and I’m now a mother of two.”
The last Olympian home was Alan Newton, an 86-year-old former cyclist who competed at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki. Newton finished under an impromptu guard of honour made of raised hockey sticks and rowing oars as the rest of the Olympian field chaperoned him to the line.
“We get such a fantastic reception here,” said Hoyte-Smith. “People really appreciate us turning up and it’s such a thrill for us because it brings back so many memories.”
“It’s amazing to see all the different athletes turning out, representing a wide range of sports,” added Leman. “Each year the event grows and is only going to get bigger. It’s great that the Westminster Mile invites the Olympic athletes along.”
Paul Grainge had the honour of being the first runner home in first of the day’s numerous non-championship races for club athletes, joggers, and family members.
Grainge outsprinted Oliver Park in a three-man dash for the line shortly before 09:50 this morning. The 37-year-old burst clear off the final bend to take the tape in 4:26.
Elsie Butler from Charnwood Athletics Club in Leicestershire was the first woman to finish for the second year in a row. The 24-year-old 1500m and 5000m specialist described the event as “so well organised” after she finished in a personal best of 5:11.
“I’ve done this event for three years now and I really enjoy it,” she said. “I love the atmosphere.
“The mile is such a good distance and I love the crowds and being in the centre of London. I always run fast here so I’m dead chuffed.”
Among the crowds who followed Grange and Butler home was 69-year-old Alan Davidson from Haselmere in Surrey, who shuffled under the finish gantry following a man carrying a dog in a basket on his back.
“It is not a bad place to finish, is it?” said the white-bearded Davidson, a member of Raneleigh Harriers, as he gestured towards the Palace.
“It is a terrific race this, but I bet the Queen would have gone out for the day if she knew all us lot were coming.”
Paul Greaves arrived a few minutes later, resplendent in his red and white striped trousers and stars and stripes bandana. The 55-year-old from Stockport was running for his brother Bernard who has lived in the United States “for years”.
“A mile’s a long way when you’re 55,” said Greaves who completed the course in 9:20, some 40 seconds faster than 12 months ago.
“My brother promised £50 to my charity if I went under 9:30 so I needed to show him I’ve done it. That’s why I wore the trousers and my wife’s going to send him the video.”
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 meet each other for selfies. Some ran with pushchairs, some in football tops, some dressed as their favourite super-heroes.
One family of five crossed the line in scarlet ‘Incredibles’ outfits complete with masks and tights, while Westminster Council contracts manager Sagar Barua ran with eight family members from three generations, ranging in age from 11 to 77.
“I keep telling everyone this event’s for all ages so I thought I’d better prove it,” said Sagar, who helps to organise the festival.
Few finishers were younger than two-year-old Matilda Rooker-Cook who ended her first ever road race hand-in-hand with mum Tracey and dad Rob in just under 17 minutes.
“We had a few carries, but it was mostly a combination of galloping, skipping, trotting and walking,” said Tracey. “What fun. Matilda has watched dad go for so many runs we thought it was time she had a go.”
“It’s so good for kids’ health and fitness to get them active early,” added Rob, who hoped to beat 44 minutes in Monday's Vitality London 10,000. “This is a great event to get them used to it, so they know fitness and activity is natural and normal.”
Running as a large black cat is not so natural, however. Anthony Scarlett was delighted to win the mascots race dressed as QPR’s Jude the Cat, duly claiming the £1,000 prize for his club’s development programme.
“I’m so happy with that,” purred Scarlett through his furry black costume. “At least it means QPR has won something this year. Running a mile is so much harder than being a mascot on Saturdays though.”
Not as hard as juggling a football for a mile, however, which Derbyshire’s Dan Magness did to wow the crowds in one of the three Sweatshop races.
“Juggling the ball was quite difficult in this wind, but I managed not to drop it,” said the 32-year-old who once did keepie-uppies all the way from Wembley Stadium to Old Trafford.
“I’m hoping that maybe next year I can give the London Marathon a go,” he added. “I really got a buzz out of it. I’ve been doing this for 13 years now as a job and it's days like this that make me realise why I do it.”
London Marathon Events Ltd director Iain Hook was official starter for the race marking Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign, while Pride of England award-winner and former headteacher Elaine Wyllie started a special race for Westminster schoolchildren to mark her role in the ‘Daily Mile’ initiative to encourage physical activity at St Ninian’s Primary in Stirling.
“It’s such a great event and the numbers just increase each year,” said Hook. “The Westminster Mile really gets to the heart of the communities in London. People keep coming back for more.
“Year after year, word is spreading and you can see by the crowds today and the numbers that have turned out. I’m delighted to be here and it’s a great training run for tomorrow.”
Hook will be taking on the Vitality London 10,000 on Monday morning, as will David Weir, the athletics world’s latest world record breaker. The wheelchair races start at 09:55 while the elite races get underway at 10:00.
- Nick Goolab 4:01 CR
- Andrew Butchart 4:01
- Tom Marshall 4:02
- Sarah McDonald 4:38
- Jo Moultrie 4:40
- Adele Tracey 4:40
- David Weir 2:57 WR
- Ernst van Dyk 3:09
- Rafael Botello Jimenez 3:25
- Nikki Emerson 4:10
- Martyna Snopek 4:35
- Scott Halsted 4:16
- James McCarthy 4:18
- Tim Cobden 4:26
- Hollie Parker 5:03
- Philippa Stone 5:07
- Natasha Sinha 5:30
Further results will be available later