Jonny Mellor and Natasha Cockram came out on top in tense two-way tussles to win the British marathon titles at the 2020 Virgin Money London Marathon today.

Mellor lived up to his pre-race favourite tag as he shrugged off the challenge of marathon first-timer Ben Connor in last few miles to place 13th overall in the elite men’s race in 2:10:38, cementing his claim to join Callum Hawkins on the British marathon team for next year’s Tokyo Olympics.

Connor also put himself in the frame for Olympic selection as he beat the qualifying time of 2:11:30, finishing a weary-but-happy debutant in 2:11:20, 15th overall.

Cockram was also 13th, claiming the women’s UK crown in 2:33:19, following a hard-fought victory over surprise of the day Naomi Mitchell, who was just four seconds behind after pre-race favourites Steph Twell and Lily Partridge both dropped out.

Mellor was the only Briton on the men’s Start Line with the Olympic standard under his belt having clocked 2:10:03 in Seville earlier this year. He wasn’t quite as fast in the cold, wet conditions of central London, but his confident victory over a field of 14 British hopefuls was every bit as impressive.

“I knew with the conditions today it wasn’t really about times,” he said. “I really wanted to get first across the line, so I’m delighted to have achieved that.

“It gives me the confidence that I can go to a trial race and finish in the top two, which will be the main goal for next year [to get] into the Olympics. I’ve got the time now so I can focus on really racing.”

The race rapidly boiled down to a group of five, ably paced by British record holder and Olympic 10,000m champion Sir Mo Farah. The tall Connor was prominent among them, with Mellor tucked in alongside training partner Ross Millington, plus Charlie Hulson and Chris Thompson.

When Farah moved aside at 30km there were still four in the hunt, Millington having fallen back. Thompson and Hulson also began to struggle as Connor and Mellor opened a gap with 5km to go.

Mellor, running his fifth marathon, always seemed comfortable and he began to push ahead as Connor entered unchartered territory. Behind him 2017 champion Josh Griffiths emerged to take third, but the day belonged to the top two.

“Ben’s a top lad,” said the admiring Mellor of his rival. “I’ve trained with Ben over the years. He’s a top, top guy, so I’m really pleased for Ben, he deserves that.”

“That’s what I wanted coming into today. I would have been delighted with anything under 2:11:30,” said Connor.

“Me and Jonny used to be training partners a couple years ago, so it was great to have him alongside for most of the race. He pushed on quite a bit and pushed me to get the pace.

“We’ve just got to see what the Olympic selection is from the trial races now. I’m going into them with an Olympic qualifying time, so that’s one box ticked.”

If it was a good day for Connor, it was a bad one for his partner, Lily Partridge, who had been tipped for a top-two spot alongside Twell. While that pair dropped out, it was Mitchell and Cockram who emerged through the puddles to battle for the crown.

Cockram made her move soon after halfway, when she left the struggling Partridge adrift, only to find the powering Mitchell surging past to open a 20-metre lead. But Cockram dug in and re-took the advantage with two laps remaining.

Mitchell was having the race of her life, however, and she rallied in the final circuit to close on Cockram, who just hung on to become the British champion.

“I didn’t give up, I kept going and just pushed through,” said Cockram. “My legs were a bit sore by the end. On the last lap I couldn’t really feel much but I just kept pushing.”

For the 28-year-old victory was especially sweet after a troubled build-up.

“I think it’s given me a lot of confidence because last year I couldn’t even run and I wasn’t even sure if I would make the Start Line,” she said. “I haven’t worked out in a couple of weeks either, I’ve just been on the cross trainer. Let’s hope the next build-up goes a bit smoother than this one.”

It was Mitchell who provided the biggest shock of the day, however, the 26-year-old taking four minutes from her personal best to beat a host of more fancied rivals.

The Reading athlete has made staggering progress over the last few years, improving from a 3:01 finish in London two-and-a-half years ago, to 2:48:01 in April 2019 to 2:37:51 in Frankfurt last October.

She made another great leap forwards this morning with a performance that puts her in the frame for an Olympic place next year.

“I really hope I can get another race like this with some laps, that would be brilliant,” she said. “I’m just going to see if I can get in and see what I can do.

“With five to go I was feeling strong but my coach said just keep it comfortable, don’t try anything crazy. I knew Natasha would have it in her at the end.”

Tracy Barlow was the third British woman home just ahead of Tish Jones in 15th place.

As for Twell, the only British woman on the Start Line with the Olympic standard to her name, she was off the pace from the start and called it a day shortly after halfway as an old plantar fasciitis injury flared up.

Twell ran a Scottish record 2:26:40 in Frankfurt last October and was hoping to seal her claim for Tokyo selection.

“I have been managing my plantar fasciitis and the conditions didn’t help my body run to its maximum today,” said Twell. “I wanted to see what I could do off the shape I’m in, but it wasn’t the right race for me today. Right now I feel a bit sore.”

At that point Partridge looked all set for a strong performance, but her challenge fell away shortly after 30km.

“I just started to cramp up around 16 miles,” she said. “I didn’t feel too bad, but in these conditions in a marathon, it’s never really going to get better.

“I think it’s just one of those days. It’s obviously frustrating, but there’s no way I’m risking anything ahead of next year.”