The Olympic 5000m champion enjoyed a perfect half-marathon debut to take the win on her 33rd birthday
Vivian Cheruiyot enjoyed a debut win in the Great North Run on her 33rd birthday as she out-kicked Priscah Jeptoo along the seafront to finish one second ahead of her Kenyan team-mate on Sunday (September 11).
Cheruiyot and Jeptoo showed their greater strength over the final few miles to break three-time Olympic champion and the 2012 winner Tirunesh Dibaba, with Cheruiyot clocking 67:54 to Jeptoo’s 67:55 and Dibaba’s 68:04.
The Olympic 5000m champion and 10,000m bronze medallist, Cheruiyot, is unfamiliar over the longer distances on the road but her rookie status as a half-marathon runner never showed as the diminutive Kenyan was in her element throughout before out-kicking the more experienced road runner, Jeptoo, inside the final few hundred metres.
“I was so nervous. When I was on the line at the start I was thinking ‘am I going to finish my first half-marathon?’ I was a little bit scared,” Cheruiyot said.
“You never know what is going to happen but generally it was so good, it was good to run against Priscah Jeptoo and Tirunesh. I’m so happy today. I’ve done my best and 67 for my first half-marathon is nice for me, but also for the win on my birthday.”
She added: “If something is the first time in your life you have to run carefully. If I was on my own in the front you never know what is going to happen when it reaches 18km so I had to stay with the ladies. Next time I run the half-marathon I’ll have something that I can work on.”
Having now made up for years of disappointment in Olympic years with her first gold medal in Rio, the four-time world champion confirmed that she now sees her future on the roads as of next year.
“My future is road racing now. I will probably do the marathon next year but I don’t know which I’ll do. But I’m still going to run the 10,000m,” she confirmed.
A lead pack of five gradually ramped things up after a pedestrian first two miles with Joyce Chepkirui having taken the leaders through the first five kilometres in around 17 minutes. Britons Charlotte Purdue, Gemma Steel and Lily Partridge began to drop back after the start through the city centre and over the Tyne Bridge.
A steep rise between miles three and five saw the pace gradually pick up before a three-mile downhill stretch where the leaders began to clock sub-five-minute miles and broke Australia’s Eloise Wellings, who failed to maintain her position among the leaders.
Chepkirui fell back after the downhill acceleration and Dibaba, the 2012 winner of the Great North Run, began to fade in the final quarter as Jeptoo and Cheruiyot increased their turnover on the gradual ascent towards the South Shields coast as the Kenyan pair put in miles of 5:09 and 4:58.
Jeptoo’s strength on the roads briefly appeared to be taking its toll on Cheruiyot, but the four-time world champion was merely biding her time before stepping on the gas inside the final kilometre when she was able to demonstrate her greater short distance speed and Jeptoo became more ragged as fatigue set in.
The Ethiopian back in third briefly threatened to upset the dominant Kenyan pair, closing the 15-metre gap to around three seconds, but her extra effort eventually took its toll with 800 metres to go as Cheruiyot took off with Jeptoo in tow.
The 25-year-old Purdue, who competed at the World Half Marathon Championships earlier this year, was making her first competitive appearance since her debut over the marathon in London five months ago, and she was the best of the Brits back in sixth with a time of 72:13. Steel, runner-up at last year’s event, was eighth in 73:23.
» See the September 15 edition of AW magazine for in-depth coverage of both the Great North Run and Great North CityGames from our team in Newcastle