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Vernon beat his Aldershot, Farnham & District clubmate Chris Thompson in a closely contested men’s race, while Steel dominated the women’s event from the start. Behind the elites, more than 12,000 runners completed the looping course from the The Mall to the City and back to St James’s Park.
Vernon was a late addition to the men’s field after five-time champion Mo Farah pulled out this week. While Farah took on new duties as offical race starter, the 28-year-old Vernon raced on to victory, raising his arm in triumph as he crossed the finish line in front of Buckingham Palace in 29:33, more than 50m ahead Thompson.
“It was a last-minute decision to run today,” said Vernon. “This wasn’t really in my summer plans but when Mo dropped out the organisers asked me to run. I really enjoyed myself out there, and it’s nice to follow Mo as the winner.”
With double world and Olympic champion Farah taking a break from this year’s race to train for the Commonwealth Games, the men’s event was far more open than it’s been in recent years, so it was no surprise that a big bunch developed on the front as they went through the first kilometre in 2:51.
Vernon and Thompson were joined by Blackheath & Bromley’s Scott Overall and Tipton’s Tom Payn, with Neil Burton of Run Fast a stride behind.
By 2km the group of five had pulled 10m away from the pack to go through the mark in 5:44, and they stayed together as the race wound through the City and past the Bank of England, passing the 4km point in 12:02 when Payn dropped well behind.
A slower fourth kilometre gave some of the chasing group a chance to catch the leaders as they turned through Leadenhall Market to negotiate the tightest turns on the course. John Beattie of Newham & Essex Beagles and Alex Bruce-Littlewood of Blackheath & Bromley managed to bridge the gap as the group ran shoulder to shoulder along Cannon Street.
With Thompson and Vernon on the front, and Overall a step behind, the leaders passed the 6km point in 18:02 before turning back onto the Embankment and into a wall of noise from the crowds who’d turned out to support the runners.
Emerging from Blackfriars Underpass into the spring sunshine, the leaders took the opportunity to look around and check each other out, but it wasn’t until they passed 8km (in 23:55) that Thompson and Vernon started to pull away from Overall and Burton.
The two leaders looked relaxed at they matched each other stride for stride along the final stretch of the Embankment until Vernon put in a huge surge as the pair turned past Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.
Thompson, the 2010 European 10,000m silver medallist, couldn’t respond, allowing Vernon to pull 30m ahead. He passed the 9km point on Great George Street in 26:45 and in the last kilometre his victory was never in any doubt. He crossed the line in 29:33, cheered on by huge crowds gathered around the gantry on Spur Road.
“I was pretty confident today so when I got to Big Ben I just pushed on from there,” Vernon said. “There’s lots of running still to come this season so I just wanted to get a decent run out.
“I’ve done two 10ks now and it shows I’ve got the base. The next two races are 3ks so that will start to show what kind of speed I’ve got.”
Runner-up Thompson, who made his marathon debut in London last month, crossed the finish line 15 seconds later in 29:48, admitting he’d found the race tougher than expected.
“I never felt comfortable today,” he said afterwards. “It felt like a slog, and when I went through half way in a little over 15 minutes, I felt in trouble. Without doubt, after the marathon, getting back into it was tough.”
Overall put in a late surge to take third place in 29:55, also acknowledging he’d struggled to find 10km form after endurance training over the winter.
“I’m just trying to get my legs back into 10k shape after marathon training so I’m quite pleased with third place today,” he said. “I only had Vernon and Thommo in front of me and they are in pretty good track shape.”
Burton held on to finish fourth in 30:00.
In the women’s race, Steel put in an imperious performance, leading from start to finish to take the win in 32:53. The Charnwood AC runner was delighted to improve on her runner-up place in the 2011 race after finishing second at the Manchester 10k last weekend.
“I was really pleased to win today,” she said. “It’s always good to win, especially after coming second in Manchester last weekend. This has helped my confidence, as the conditions were tough. It was windy and warm but there was great support from the crowds.
Behind Steel, there was a battle for second place with Vale Royal’s Stevie Stockton just holding off Belgrave’s Tish Jones as the women finished in 33:36 and 33:38 respectively.
“I haven’t done a 10k before so there was no pressure at all, and I just found the support on the streets absolutely amazing – I really didn’t expect it.
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