Paula Radcliffe ends her long and winding road at the London Marathon | Sean Ingle

Britain’s greatest woman distance athlete makes great capital out of being a fun runner as she takes her leave at the end of a distinguished career

In those fretful moments before Paula Radcliffe started her final competitive race her eyes welled up as she admitted: “I don’t want to embarrass myself.” Not only did her emotions hold up but her fragile body did too, as Britain’s greatest woman distance runner finished the London marathon in 2hr 36min 55sec.

That was only five minutes slower than the top British female finisher, Sonia Samuels (2:31.46) – a highly respectable time given that Radcliffe’s preparations were interrupted by achilles and foot injuries which meant she was unable to run for six weeks.

Indeed the rumours from Radcliffe’s training camp in Kenya in February were that she had been in good enough shape to run under 2:30 before injury intervened and her time here was good enough to be inside the 2:42 qualifying standard for the women’s marathon at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. But afterwards the 41-year-old quashed suggestions that she might be tempted to keep her competitive career going for another last hurrah.

“Those questions were answered when I was in Kenya because I tried to run hard but my body broke down,” she said. “I started to train like I’d always trained but I couldn’t stay healthy, so for me that was a sign that it was time to enjoy running.”

Radcliffe – who put in 140-150 miles every week in her prime – admitted that while she would continue to run for fun, it would no longer consume her life. “We’ve got a holiday now which the kids are really excited about and I won’t be packing any training kit,” she added.

However, Radcliffe has not completely ruled out running another marathon. When asked if she would accompany her eight-year-old daughter, Isla, if she ever wanted to attempt the distance, she replied: “Absolutely.”

While the elite women got underway at 9.30am, Radcliffe started instead with the championship standard runners – sub 2:45 for men and 3:15 for women – 40 minutes later. But the adrenaline of the crowd meant she started at a pace somewhere approaching her best, including a 5min 30sec first mile, and paid for it near the end. “I came in unprepared and was way too quick early on but I had so much fun out there,” she said. “Every time I tried to slow down the atmosphere and the pace just sped me up again.

“But it was so special and I’m going to really miss it. The magic of London made me run faster than I thought I was capable of. There is something about London, you can’t come here and not give it your best effort. I felt I owed that to London because it has given me so much over the years.”

As she approached the finish, she joined hands with a club runner on route – an echo of Dick Beardsley and Inge Simonsen’s famous gesture in 1981. “I always wanted to race and hold hands with my dad but never managed it so I did it in spirit instead,” she said.

She was also delighted to be the first women’s club runner home – and while her 199th overall in the men’s and women’s race combined was certainly her lowest finish since coming 299th in the Under-13 English National Cross-Country championships in 1986, she was happy to get through without her injuries flaring up again.

“I was worried about my body holding out, especially I felt my achilles twinge after seven miles but it was OK despite going up and down the twists,” she said. The reverberating cheers on every part of the course must have gone some way towards blunting the pain of every aching joint.

Afterwards she was presented with the inaugural John Disley Lifetime Achievement Award, named after the man who did so much to get the race off the ground in 1981, and said she tried her hardest to enjoy every moment.

During the race Radcliffe waved at the people who lined the course – the event attracted around 750,000 spectators – and even started clapping them at one point. “In my previous races in 2002, 2003 and 2005 my ears were always ringing with the noise but it was even louder this time, which I didn’t believe was possible,” she said. “I knew it would be emotional and it was emotional. I nearly lost it at Birdcage Walk but the crowds bowled me over. Much as my body wanted to finish, I didn’t want it to end.”

But while this is the end of Radcliffe’s competitive career, she was keen to stress that it is not the end of her running. “I will always run and I will continue to run,” she said.

And anyone who doubts how much she is revered should have been at Blackheath at the start. When her name was announced, almost every runner in the championship race started waving fists in the air and spontaneously shouting “Paula! Paula!”


Sean Ingle

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Paula Radcliffe deserves rousing send-off in 2015 London Marathon
One of the greatest female distance runners in history has the final race of her competitive career; #thankyoupaula is least she has earned

Sean Ingle

19, Apr, 2015 @3:28 PM

Article image
Paula Radcliffe will not compete in London Marathon

Paula Radcliffe has confirmed she will miss the London Marathon for the fifth consecutive year since winning it in 2005

Anna Kessel

08, Apr, 2010 @9:00 PM

Article image
London Marathon champion undaunted by return of Paula Radcliffe

Liliya Shobukhova, the defending London Marathon champion, said she was not concerned about competing against Paula Radcliffe

Anna Kessel

13, Apr, 2011 @8:31 PM

Article image
Paula Radcliffe in training for her swansong in 2015 London Marathon

The world mararthon record holder, Paula Radcliffe, has resumed trained after injury and is aiming to compete in the 2015 London Marathon

Sean Ingle

02, Feb, 2014 @11:05 PM

Article image
Paula Radcliffe defiant on doping doubts and ready for London Marathon
The female marathon world record holder is pleased to be running again, albeit not at an elite level, and says doubts of her achievements are ‘horrible’

Sean Ingle

20, Jan, 2015 @10:00 PM

Article image
Paula Radcliffe reveals how close she was to missing London Marathon finale
Paula Radcliffe has revealed just how close she came to missing her London Marathon farewell on Sunday because of an achilles injury and longstanding problem with her left foot that flared up while training in Kenya in February

Sean Ingle

22, Apr, 2015 @5:56 PM

Athletics: Paula Radcliffe out of London Marathon after breaking toe

Paula Radcliffe will miss the London Marathon and is in doubt for this summer's World Championships after breaking a toe in training

Anna Kessel

05, Mar, 2009 @8:52 PM

Article image
Paula Radcliffe predicts marathon classic and sees threat to her record
Paula Radcliffe, who has held the women’s world marathon record for 15 years, thinks one of Mary Keitany and Tirunesh Dibaba may break it at the London Marathon

Sean Ingle

20, Apr, 2018 @9:26 PM

Article image
Paula Radcliffe: ‘It’s still a special day. I’ll be doing this marathon for me’
The marathon world-record holder has finally overcome a debilitating foot injury and will allow herself to drink in the memories – good and bad – with the elite club runners in her last meaningful tilt at the London circuit

Donald McRae

20, Apr, 2015 @10:19 AM

Article image
Paula Radcliffe recalls her 'impossible' London marathon record run
Anna Kessel: Ten years after her London marathon world record was set it remains both unbeaten and an extraordinary sporting achievement for Paula Radcliffe

Anna Kessel

20, Apr, 2013 @6:59 PM