HAILE Gebrselassie has long been a man comfortable with his own mortality. Time stands still for no man, even one who has carved a legend from stopping clocks and defying supposed human limitations.
Yet there was still a sense of shock when the Bank of Scotland Great Scottish Run was deprived of the Ethiopian’s presence after just four miles yesterday as his body proved fallible, with the 41-year-old escorted to the finish in Glasgow on four wheels rather than by his customarily speedy two feet.
Asthma, the twice-Olympic champion revealed, had been an unconquerable opponent. “My lungs were finding it hard,” he said. “They were burning and I was struggling from the beginning.” Unable to defend the title he majestically secured 12 months before, the spotlight instead fell on his fellow Africans Stephen Mokoka and Edna Kiplagat, who emerged triumphant from the men’s and women’s races over the half-marathon course in fashions which, surely, would have met with Gebrselassie’s approval.
Kiplagat, the reigning world marathon champion, delivered a performance of indisputable brilliance that underlined her intent to chase a hat-trick of global golds in Beijing next summer. The Kenyan, now aged 34, showed no apprehension about raising the stakes to a speed with which three-times winner Caroline Kilel and London 2012 victor Tiki Gelana could not live.
Her bravado secured a course record of 67 minutes and 57 seconds, an ideal showing ahead of her next challenge across the Atlantic. “I felt strong from the start but I started to pick things up from 5k,” she said. “I tried to maintain my pace but, at eight miles, I moved up quicker and got away from Kilel and it felt good until the finishing line.
“I am motivated because this is part of my training toward the New York marathon. My preparation has gone well. This shows my body is fit.”
Susan Partridge, the 2013 race winner, claimed the Scottish half-marathon title by finishing fifth, just ahead of Beth Potter, whose maiden outing at the distance brought a time of 73:29. “I was struggling a bit at the start,” said the 22-year-old Great Britain international. “The last 11 miles were hard but there were lots of people I knew en route so that helped. I’ll not be doing another one any time soon.”
Mokoka, from South Africa, surged away in the closing stages from Kenyan’s Commonwealth silver medallist Stephen Chemlany to claim victory in 61:25. “I knew my target was about 61 minutes,” said the 29-year-old, who is prepping for the forthcoming Shanghai marathon. “When I felt the pace was slowing I wanted to push it.”
It was only the second time he had faced Gebrselassie, his childhood idol. And, Mokoka hopes, not the last. “I’m sad he didn’t have a good race but he’s an inspiration for us. At his age, when he’s still competing, it’s great. You think about him as an opponent and it’s always scary, thinking that a 41-year-old is matching your pace. It’s sad he dropped out. But I believe he’ll come back.”
At the opposite end of the age spectrum, Callum Hawkins hinted at his long-distance promise by coming sixth on his half-marathon debut in 63:06, the fourth fastest by a Briton in 2014. It was even more impressive given the 22-year-old from Paisley only decided to attempt the distance 72 hours earlier after opting out of the 10k in the wake of a training stint at altitude in Colorado under the watch of former marathon world record holder Steve Jones.
“I wanted a test,” he said. “I didn’t feel the 10k would help me so I decided to go over distance and see what I could do. It gives me a good boost. It was probably a minute better than I expected. I was watching the clock tick down and thinking it would be nice to get under 63 but I’m pretty happy.”
In Hawkins’ absence, London-based Scot Sean Fontana out-sprinted GB junior international Luke Traynor to win the men’s Great Scottish 10k in 31:03, but revealed he had pushed himself through excruciating pain from a stitch for most of the race.
“I looked at my watch 27 minutes in,” he revealed, “and I thought: ‘I can’t hurt any more than this’. And with two minutes left, I just went: ‘let’s give it my all’. And I kicked again. With 400 metres to go I heard the crowd and I’m sure I heard my mum’s voice. I just kicked and kicked because the pain was so sore. When I crossed the line, I crashed to the ground to relieve the pain.”
Edinburgh AC’s Laura Dunn won the women’s 10k in 35:17 by a comfortable margin from veteran Fiona Mathieson. Glasgow 2014 bronze medallist Jade Jones won in the women’s wheelchair race, while England team-mate Simon Lawson landed the men’s title.