Tomorrow morning Paula Radcliffe, aged 41, will run her final competitive marathon at the scene of her greatest triumph as a long distance runner.
The Virgin Money London Marathon will be host to Radcliffe’s final act. It is the stage where in 2003 Radcliffe set the women’s record time at 2 hours, 15 minutes and 25 seconds. This is seen as one of the most imposing records in world athletics.
Unfortunately Radcliffe has been forced to bow out of elite competition due to a recurring injury in her left foot however the legacy she has made leaves much to commemorate.
Paula Radcliffe has been a stand out figure in the fight against doping in elite sport. A year before her quite remarkable record beating run, the British athlete asked the International Association of Athletics Federations to increase the frequency of her doping tests.
Radcliffe’s physiotherapist, Gerard Hartmann, even insisted that Radcliffe would meticulously check her water bottles pre race to check that the bottles had not been contaminated without her knowing.
Paula Radcliffe has been an outstanding British athlete; there is no one quite like her.
Radcliffe has won the London marathon 3 times in 2002, 2003 and 2005. She has done the same in New York in 2004, 2007 and 2008 also winning the Chicago marathon in 2002.
This great athlete has represented her nation in several international competitions including the European championships, World championships, the Commonwealth Games and the Olympic Games.
Sebastian Coe, the man behind the success of the London 2012 Olympic Games, has commented that Radcliffe is a pioneer of women’s sport and has made an impact on wider society, he said:
“She gave women permission to feel they could go out and run and be part of the London Marathon….A generation of runners, male and female, have taken up the sport because of Paula Radcliffe.”
Radcliffe’s athletic success was testament to her tremendous fitness levels and unique tolerance for pain.
At the age of 17, sports scientist Andrew Jones discovered that a young Radcliffe possessed an unbelievable capacity for oxygen. Radcliffe, at such a tender age, had a VO2 max of 70. This is the highest of any female athlete. (VO2 Max = the maximum volume of oxygen an athlete can use)
Radcliffe was known to run, on average, a staggering 140 to 150 miles a week; running for hours on end in the morning and again in the afternoon.
A magnificent trainer, who pushed herself to the absolute limit, Radcliffe would refuse to simply step off the treadmill. Paula’s sport scientist, Andrew Jones said:
“When we are testing on the treadmill we ask people to tell us when they feel they have about a minute left to run,”
“Paula would be clearly as exhausted as most athletes ever get but would signal she wanted to keep going. And this would keep going and going. She would rather have gone off the back of the treadmill than be stopped. She would push herself beyond what seemed possible.”
Radcliffe would peak at the 2003 London Marathon, that day would be her golden moment in time.
Had things gone differently at the summer Olympic Games in Athens the following year Radcliffe believes herself that she would have broke her record.
Athens proved to be a difficult time for the British athlete. Prior to the competition Radcliffe was seen as the favourite to win gold in the women’s marathon. Three weeks before the competition Radcliffe was in the best form of her life. Coach and husband Gary Lough said:
“Three weeks before Athens she ran a tempo run of 24.4 miles in 2hr 15min at altitude,”
“That was better than a similar run she had done before London. We knew she was in 2:13.45 to 2:14.10 form. She was in unbelievable shape, the peak of her career. That was when the rose had fully blossomed – and then she got injured.”
A freak accident would prevent Radcliffe competing to her full potential at the event in 2004. While out for a jog, a stone hit by a passing car fired into the knee of the athlete which caused a ‘clot and abscess’, and for two weeks Radcliffe was out of action.
Pumped with anti-inflammatorys her body was unable to metabolise food, leading to dehydration and white coloured bowel movements. Despite this, Radcliffe ran on but had to stop 22 miles into the race.
The British press branded Radcliffe a failure and a choker, unaware of her injury. Still most of this flack has continued to this day.
Tomorrow morning on her return to the London Marathon, Radcliffe aims not to break her record but to run the race in under 3 hours, and to do so would be a huge send off and thank you to the fans and to the sport that she loves.
As an 11 year old girl visiting the marathon, a young Radcliffe was mesmerised by the performance of Norwegian runner, Ingrid Kristiansen. Since becoming a huge sporting success Radcliffe has commented on the inspiration she experienced that day saying:
“It broke down any barriers I had in my head….I thought: why can’t I be in there running and being competitive too?”
Perhaps tomorrow, that kid in the crowd will also say “Why not me?”