An amateur and self-confessed ‘club runner’ beat Olympic champion Mo Farah in a 10km race having worked a full day at a running shop the day before.
Ellis Cross, 25, works six-hour shifts at Up & Running, in Surbiton, south west London, and will be back there this evening a little over 24 hours from his most famous win.
On bank holiday Monday, he beat Farah, arguably the UK’s greatest ever endurance athlete – a remarkable triumph for an amateur who only finished ninth in the 10,000m at the British championships last summer.
Yesterday’s feat is even more astonishing when you consider he had to pay his own £37 entrance fee, didn’t have his name on his bib, wasn’t considered part of the elite pack and had to take the train to the start line.
It was surprising to just about everyone to see Cross – wearing bib number 219 – alongside one of the most successful runners in history through the first eight kilometres, but almost unbelievable to see him pull away from the seven-time winner to take home the victory at the Vitality London 10,000 by a margin of four seconds.
Cross works at Up & Running, in Surbiton, south west London, fitting customers with new running trainers
Gold medalist Ellis Cross, silver medalist Mo Farah and Bronze medalist Mohamud Aadan pose on the podium after the men’s elite race. Both Farah and Aadan were considered elite athletes, meaning they didn’t have to pay their own entrance fee and had named on their bibs, something Cross had to do without
A prolific junior athlete, Cross signed a professional contract with Hoka One One, a sympathetic local company, in 2019 but that ended two years later, shortly before his dream of becoming a fully professional runner materialized
To one person, it was perhaps slightly less surprising: Cross himself. After the race, he said he had told colleagues at Up & Running during his shift the day before that he ‘might beat Mo Farah tomorrow’.
‘I was joking with a colleague saying that’, he told BBC Breakfast.
‘I was actually working on Sunday so I worked the day before the race, did a full day. I was just like “oh I’m racing Mo Farah tomorrow, who knows? What if I beat him”?’
Millie Grice, the colleague Cross was speaking to, said she didn’t give his prediction much thought until she watched footage of him outpacing Farah while she worked at the shop on Monday.
She told the Telegraph after his victory: ‘He told me he was going to win.’
Ellis Cross crosses the finish line ahead of Mo Farah to win the men’s race during the Vitality London 10,000 road race
Cross (right) after shocking Farah to win the 10km race on bank holiday Monday a day after telling colleagues: ‘I might beat Mo Farah tomorrow’
But there was reason for his confidence. As a youngster, Cross was a prolific junior athlete. He twice won the English national cross-country in the under-20s, the BUCS 5,000m and also came 15th in the European cross-country championships for the under-23s in 2016.
Shortly after, he signed a professional contract with Hoka One One, a sympathetic local company, in 2019 but that ended two years later, shortly before his dream of becoming a fully professional runner materialized.
While remaining an extremely talented athlete, Cross is now an amateur runner for Aldershot, Farnham & District – a club which celebrated his victory over Farah as ‘one of the most notable victories of his career so far’ – and his finish time of 28 minutes and 40 seconds was a personal best.
He revealed afterwards that he didn’t even wear his watch during the race – hoping just for a ‘hard run out’ without worrying about times – and had to pay his own £37 entry fee as he wasn’t deemed good enough to get a paid-for spot.
Following his win, he was reflective of what he had just achieved.
‘I haven’t followed the script have I?’ he said. ‘I didn’t believe it until 20 meters from the line when I thought, “I think I might be able to win this race”, and then just gave it absolutely everything I had. I managed to hold on. I’m absolutely delighted.’
As a youngster, Cross was a prolific junior athlete. He twice won the English national cross-country in the under-20s, the BUCS 5,000m
He also came 15th in the European cross-country championships for the under-23s in 2016
Cross’ running club, Aldershot, Farnham & District, posted a screenshot of the 25-year-old crossing the finishing line as they congratulated him on ‘one of the most notable victories of his career so far’
On the day, he was up at 6am in order to get the train to the race and had to run wearing a bib without his name on – names on bibs being reserved for the elite runners who also avoid paying the entry fee.
He revealed that people who turned out to watch the race on Monday were all calling out Mo Farah’s name because they didn’t have a clue who he was.
‘No one knows who I am,’ he said. ‘I’m just a club runner. I just wanted a hard run out – I didn’t even wear my watch.’
Born in September 1996, Cross studied at the Polesworth School in Tamworth, Staffordshire, before going to St Mary’s University, in Twickenham. The university is popular with talented sportsmen and women owing to its state of the art facilities and running track on campus – facilities deemed good enough for Farah himself to train there from 2001 to 2011.
His girlfriend since 2017, Anna Weston, also attended St Mary’s University and works alongside Cross at Up & Running as a sales assistant. She is a pretty handy endurance runner herself, running 10km in less than 40 minutes, and has competed in the South of England and cross country championships.
Cross appeared on BBC Breakfast on Tuesday morning where he revealed he would be back at work just over 24 hours after beating Olympic champion Mo Farah
In an interview in December 2021, Cross talked about the reach of athletics, comparing its lack of fanfare with horse racing, which sees thousands turn out to watch, and asked what the difference is between humans and horses racing.
He told Views From the Concourse: ‘You go to something like horse racing you get a significant amount of money that is there and people are happy to put money on, they can have a full day out and watch it. You turn up and watch people running and you get nothing.’
Cross, having enjoyed funding while at university and during the two years he was sponsored, now uses the money he earns from fitting customers with new running trainers at Up & Running to help fund his training.
‘I’ve been saying to people at university you’ve got to take that opportunity and make every single moment count.
‘An athlete in our sport, the best part of funding is student finance.’
Winning yesterday’s race came with £2,000 in prize money which Birmingham City football fan Cross hopes to put towards buying a house, while hoping the recognition of this race will help him gain elite entry into races in the future.
He said: ‘It would be nice wouldn’t it! Free entry goes a long way for someone like myself.’
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.