The Great Scottish Run is one of the biggest running events in Scotland and attracts many elite athletes and recreational runners of all abilities. On Sunday 29 September 2019, Glasgow hosted stand-out half marathon performances from East Africans, who dominated the race. In this post, I’ll answer the question “What happened during the 2019 Great Scottish Run?” and what lessons all runners can learn from this popular race.
What happened in the elite men’s race?
The elite men’s race focused on whether anyone could usurp Britain’s Chris Thompson, who had won the previous two years. Zane Robertson of New Zealand, and a host of quality East Africans looked to do just that. Stephen Kiprop and Micah Kogo of Kenya, Timothy Torotich of Uganda and Yemane Tsegay of Ethiopia seemed best placed to test Thompson’s recent dominance of the event.
However, well before halfway, Thompson looked beaten and Robertson had dropped out. Torotich’s convincing triumph over the rest of the field returned the title to Uganda, after a four-year wait.
The steep hill during the first mile did nothing to separate the lead pack. But it didn’t take long to shake up the athletes. Kogo, Kiprop and Torotich pushed the pace just before five kilometres and established a quick twenty-metre gap. Thompson was sweating a lot after less than fifteen minutes, and his title defence was realistically over by four miles.
The three East Africans were soon out of sight. Torotich surged several times without a breakthrough, until the halfway mark. It was through Pollok Park that Torotich broke his Kenyan rivals. He ran hard, completing the seventh mile in 4:28. Although he couldn’t quite maintain the same fast mile splits, he didn’t need to. He kept a thirty-second lead at 10 miles and never looked in danger of being caught.
Kogo was runner-up, whilst Kiprop came third. This was despite Spain’s Benabbou managing to run beside Kiprop at 11 miles. Kiprop then surged and was four seconds away from second place. Fifth place Eritrean got a lifetime best by over two minutes. The Eritrean Weynay Ghebreselassie finished in fifth place with a lifetime best of 1:04:22, over two minutes faster than his previous best performance.
Although Torotich won the race by 59 seconds, he showed visible signs of working hard. He frequently wiped his face of sweat, his head moved a lot in the closing miles and his breathing was noticeably heavy. However, he stayed strong by using his fast, short arm drive to great effect.
What happened in the elite women’s race?
The elite women’s race was all about Kenya’s Edith Chelimo, who was the outstanding favourite, racing against fellow Kenyan Nancy Kiprop, Ethiopian Askale Merachi and a number of European runners. Chelimo ran as expected, alone, in a new course record.
Chelimo broke away within the first few minutes of the race. She looked relaxed throughout, looking slightly down, her head still, her posture strong and upright. She continued her dominance, leading by 59 seconds at the 10 kilometre mark. Male club runners helped her in the early miles. Then she was alone. She eventually ran a new course record of 1:07:38, 19 seconds faster than the previous record. Although she admitted post-race that she wanted to run 1:06:00, she should be proud of her amazing performance.
Although Nancy Kiprop and Askale Merachi worked together for much of the race, the Kenyan surged in the closing miles to beat Merachi by ten seconds and claim second spot.
Running lessons from the race
The 40th edition of the race revealed three important lessons for all runners: 1. you can race by yourself if you’re strong mentally; 2. you can’t expect a great performance (relative to your own standards) if you aren’t fully recovered from a previous race, and 3. sparsely located supporters can’t deter top athletes from performing.
Racing alone isn’t negative
In both the men’s and women’s elite races, the eventual champions spent much of their race running alone. Experienced athletes such as Torotich and Chelimo don’t get easily distracted by their competition. Instead they could run their own predetermined strategy. This was even more impressive when considering that neither checked their watches much throughout the race.
Peak performance requires being fully rested
For all athletes, top performances can only be achieved if you are in shape. This means that any athlete should be fully recovered from any recent races or hard block of training. Despite only a light breeze during the race, with the temperature around 12℃, certain athletes were never going to fare too well on the course.
Defending champion Thompson had to settle with seventh position, several minutes slower than his previous victories in a time of 1:05:31. Post-race the 38-year-old Briton admitted it had been a tough day. He had not recovered fully from his recent victories. This was understandable as he won the Great East Run the previous Sunday, and the Richmond RUNFEST Marathon the weekend before that. Sadly there was no threat from Zane Robertson either, who dropped out with injury at the five kilometre mark.
Sparse support is still helpful
Although there was huge support in certain areas, the race snaked through several parks, which understandably were sparse. This meant that athletes couldn’t draw on the enthusiasm of the spectators. Nonetheless, it was still encouraging in those areas where there were people cheering and clapping. Thompson even slowed as he approached the finish line to acknowledge the crowds’ efforts. Edith Chelimo also praised the Scottish people, saying they helped her to not give up and to keep believing in herself.
The men’s and women’s races at the 2019 Bank of Scotland Great Scottish Run were won by a relatively large margin. With over 8,000 runners completing the 13.1 miles, and tens of thousands running across the running festival weekend it’s a great spectacle for Scottish athletics. However, sub-par performances and even injury are risks if athletes are not fully fit to race. The steep hill at the start of the race should be a warning for everyone that all running achievements are no stroll in the park.
Read my reports from other elite races since 2018.