By Andrew McSteen
South London landmark Cutty Sark provided an iconic finish for the inaugural ‘Big Half’ marathon on Sunday – the new event from the organisers of the world-famous London Marathon.
Four-time British Olympic champion Sir Mo Farah won the men’s elite race and another Brit, Charlotte Purdue, took the honours in the women’s version.
But thousands of runners, including many from the three South London host boroughs of Southwark, Lewisham and Greenwich were winding their way around the 13.1-mile course, including former Charlton Athletic manager Chris Powell, who finished in just under two hours (1:58:23).
In the week leading up to the event, heavy snow and freezing temperatures from a combination of the ‘Beast from the East’ and Storm Emma had put a question mark next to the race taking place, but the spirit of south London shone through, ahead of a much-welcomed thawing out before the start at 0900 on Sunday morning.
“All the planning and everything that people did by coming together in our host boroughs of Lewisham, Southwark, Greenwich and Tower Hamlets made a massive difference,” said Hugh Brasher, Event Director of the Vitality Big Half exclusively to the South London Press after he had completed his own run in the event, clocking in at 1:26:23. “Without the hard push that they made in those conditions last Wednesday, Thursday and Friday it wouldn’t have gone ahead, but the community spirit that they showed shone through and that is what the event is all about.
“In the week leading up to the event it was quite incredible the amount of hard work that our team, the host boroughs, TfL, the Royal Parks, the Mayor’s Office and all of our contractors and staff did in the conditions to make it happen and it really is testament to them that the event went on.
“We were in constant contact with all the councils in several ways, including safety advisory group meetings and on the telephone, but the final go-ahead was given for the race to go ahead at 12:30 on Saturday.
“In Britain, people always say you get four seasons in one day,” he continued. “I couldn’t believe it the morning before when the sun started shining – the temperature had risen even further than predicted. On Friday night the thaw started coming in and I could hear ‘drip, drip, drip’ on the roof of my house – I went outside and the temperature had just changed.
“It really was quite a beautiful day in the end, it was absolutely fantastic.”
As well as the half-marathon itself, Greenwich Park hosted the ‘Big Festival’, aimed at celebrating London’s diverse culture through food, music and workshops, while ‘The Big Relay’ – an event exclusively for community groups from the host boroughs featuring teams of four each running from one to five miles each – was incorporated into the main race.
Unfortunately, ‘The Little Half’ – a 2.4-mile course in Southwark Park aimed at families running together – was cancelled due to adverse conditions in the assembly and start areas.
“It was a very, very difficult decision to cancel The Little Half but next year I am sure we will not get the same conditions as we had,” said Brasher.
“We want all of this to be an annual event and to grow so more of the community come out. We had 200 patients, doctors and nurses running from the Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust as well as community groups from across south London, including the Lewisham Migrant Refugee Network, Greenwich Refugee Aid & Community Enterprise and Eltham Junior Parkrun amongst many other groups.
“Along with Tower Hamlets, we want this event to be about the host boroughs of Lewisham, Southwark and Greenwich and the people in them embracing it and getting involved.”
For more information about the Vitality Big Half, visit www.thebighalf.co.uk.