Sir Mo Farah declared the fear factor which accompanied his move into full-time road running two years ago dead and buried as he claimed his fifth straight Great North Run title in South Shields.
Farah led from the front to cross the line in an impressive 59 minutes and 26 seconds, just four seconds short of the personal best he had set in winning his second title in 2015.
His win set him up perfectly for his assault on his first major marathon title in Chicago early next month which would further vindicate his decision to end his glittering track career in the wake of his Rio success in 2016.
Farah said: “When you’re new to this, you do fear it. You don’t know what to do. You almost cower in the corner. But I don’t have that fear now. I have more confidence now, having run a couple of marathons.”
Farah shrugged off New Zealand’s Jake Robertson in the final section of the race to win by 30 seconds, with Belgium’s Bashir Abdi coming in third. Favourite Vivian Cheruiyot saw off fellow Kenyan Brigid Kosgei to win her second women’s title in one hour, seven minutes and 43 seconds, with Northern Ireland’s Emma Mitchell the best-placed British finisher in eighth place.
It was a dominant performance as expected from Farah in front of an enthusiastic home crowd, and one which placed him in the history books as the first man to win the event five times.
Farah added: “I’m happy with where I am. I just can’t wait until Chicago. The aim is to stay injury-free and stay focused and keep doing what I’m doing, and it’s definitely working.
“The conditions made it tough. If they had been perfect as in previous years. I would definitely have run a lot faster. The last two miles, particularly the last one, were tough. I was tiring towards the end.
“There is definitely a bit more work to do towards Chicago. The aim was to use this as a test – play with the pace, go to the front and wait. So we’re already thinking about what lies ahead and how to do it.”
Such was Farah’s speed off the start line there were real hopes that he might challenge the course record of 58mins 56secs set by Kenya’s Martin Mathathi in 2011.
Farah led a four-man bunch including Robertson, former London Marathon champion Daniel Wanjiru and Abdi clear of the field, but had dropped the latter pair by the halfway stage.
Cheered by crowds bordering the course in sunny conditions, Farah stretched out to shrug off Robertson and push towards the line, only narrowly falling short of his former mark.
For Robertson, the brash Kiwi who moved to Kenya in order to enhance his distance-running credentials and had fallen only six seconds short of Farah in last year’s event, it was another chastening experience.
“I said yesterday I was facing a legend and again he proved why,” admitted Robertson.
“Today I didn’t challenge him the way I would have liked but I’ll take lessons from it.”
Earlier, David Weir won the men’s wheelchair race for the seventh time in his career in a course record of 41.19.
Former Olympic champion Michael Johnson is recovering after a mini-stroke, the American has revealed.
Johnson, a regular athletics pundit on the BBC, said in a post on his official Twitter account on Saturday he had last week “rather surprisingly suffered what’s known as a Transient Ischemic Attack”.
The sprinter, who claimed the 200m and 400m titles at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, added: “The good news is I’m back at home with my family, cleared of any heart issues and have already made great progress on my road to a full recovery.
“It seems these things can affect anyone, even the once fastest man in the world! I’m no stranger to a good exercise plan and have thrown myself into it with my usual focus and determination.”
Last week I rather surprisingly suffered what's known as a Transient Ischemic Attack or mini stroke. The good news is I'm back at home with my family, cleared of any heart issues and have already made great progress on my road to a full recovery.— Michael Johnson (@MJGold) September 8, 2018
Four years ago when Sir Mo Farah won the first of his four consecutive Great North Run titles he admitted he was still consumed with fear over what life on the road would bring.
Farah was still two years away from calling time on his glittering track career and remained unsure whether he was entirely cut out to translate that success to the world of elite marathon running.
But the 35-year-old returns to Newcastle on Sunday battle-hardened from two full years of mixing it with the world’s best distance runners – and intent on using the race to pave the way to glory over the longer distance.
Victory this weekend will make Farah the first man to win the Great North Run five times, and deliver the ideal preparations for his appearance next month at the Chicago Marathon.
“I’m still learning and understanding more and I’m not afraid to mix it in,” said Farah. “In 2014, I was afraid to mix it because it was their territory and I was a track runner. But now I’m not afraid of anything.
“It’s a totally different challenge and I’m enjoying every day of it. My goal is to win a major marathon. For a track runner the highlight is the Olympics, and in the marathon the biggest thing you can do is win a major race.”
This year’s Great North Run presents a different dimension for Farah, who admitted his previous victories in the race have signalled the end of the season and a rare opportunity to binge-eat sticky toffee pudding.
Farah, who has run the London Marathon twice, coming third in April, is closing in on his latest career goal and has not under-estimated the importance of making history in the process on Tyneside.
“My aim (in Newcastle) is to run a decent time – I’ve still got another week from this point so it will be a good test for me on Sunday to see where I am and what I can do,” said Farah.
“I’ve never gone into this race having had this amount of training. I’ve always gone into it thinking ‘Great North Run, finish, sticky toffee pudding’.
“But after this it’s straight back to my training camp in Flagstaff to prepare for Chicago. Hopefully I will get the job done and there will be a lot of stuff to take back. Doing that as the first five-time winner would be amazing.”
Farah’s biggest challenge is likely to come from Kenya’s Daniel Wanjiru, winner of the 2017 London Marathon. Vivian Cheruiyot and Joyciline Jepkosgei are favourites for the women’s race.