Runners in south-east London have described their delight at being able to return to the streets for large-scale race events, cheered on by crowds of “friendly faces.”
Competitors said they felt “like normality had returned” as they raced through the capital for the Vitality Big Half in Greenwich on Sunday morning.
Thousands of people crossed the finish line of the 13-mile course in the shadow of the Cutty Sark while members of the public shouted encouragement.
The event was postponed from its original date of April 25 due to problems caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
But participants said they felt “safe” while running and praised both supporters lining the roads and the event’s organisers.
Paul Dodounou, 49, from Brentford, said returning to running events had been “brilliant” and a big help for his mental health.
“I’m feeling great, absolutely great. It’s great to see so many friendly faces,” he told the PA news agency.
“It was brilliant to run through the streets of London, great for my mental health. I was getting a bit down and lonely these past few days but I feel good.
“I finished strongly, I trained for it and I’m a happy man.”
Joanna Kuligowska, 36, from Greenwich, who ran the race alongside her boyfriend, said: “It was tough at times but we did it. I’m a bit tired.
“It was very safe, I felt safe, we kept distance but I think we were happy to run altogether so there was a great atmosphere.”
Jake Smith, winner of the men’s elite race, went further, describing the atmosphere as “unreal”.
“We had to be up at 5.45 for this race… being a student I haven’t seen those hours in so long,” he said.
“It’s amazing to be back… at six miles you came back on a switch back and you had all the runners running and on the bridge you couldn’t hear yourself breathe.
“You’re running along and everyone is screaming… it just gets you so motivated.
“Just to be part of such a good crowd is unreal. This is what I’ve missed so much.”
Mr Smith said he had appreciated the encouragement from a group of people outside a McDonald’s near to the start of the race, who had cheered the runners on despite seemingly not knowing what they were cheering for.
Organisers say the event aims to celebrate the diversity of the capital and the community spirit of those taking part.
Nikki Emerson, 33, winner of the women’s wheelchair event, said she had missed the experience of competing on London courses.
“I haven’t raced for over two years with everything that’s been going so just to be out on the roads to hear the steel drums, which is such a London thing,” she told PA.
“To see all the crowds, to see all the little kids, that’s always the best bit – it felt like normality has returned after such a long time.
“It’s such a good feeling.”
Organisers say the race was the biggest mass participation running event in London since the start of the pandemic, with more than 12,000 estimated to have participated.
Two-time Olympic gold medallist James Cracknell, who joined members of the public on the run, said having cheering crowds at the event made “a big difference” as well as the support from other runners.
“When you run past someone or they run past you, you give them a shout.”
Asked if he was glad to be back out, Mr Cracknell replied: “I’m glad to be back now, I wasn’t glad to be back eight miles into the race.”
The former Team GB rower added he had fuelled up for the race with leftover rice from his fiancee’s Saturday night curry.