Paula Radcliffe is a well-known name in the long distance running scene. She showed one of the most extraordinary careers in women’s running, a career this post will highlight in detail.
Paula was born into an active and sports-mad family. Her grand-aunt won an Olympic silver medal in the 1920 4x 100 meters swimming relay. Her father was an occasional marathon runner and Paula and his brother accompanied him on some of his training runs. Radcliffe, despite suffering from asthma, started running at the age of seven. Her wish to become an athlete became obvious when she watched Ingrid Kristiansen running at the London Marathon.
Her first successes came in cross-country racing where she won the youth world title in 1992. After misdiagnosed with a foot injury Radcliffe missed the entire 1994 season and even thought about ending her career already. However she continued and started to have decent success on track in the 5k distance.
The bests results for Radcliffe came in the first decade of the new millennium. She won three half marathon world championships and medals on cross-country championships. Also Paula won several gold medals in European elite races in distances from 1,500m to 10,000m.
But probably she’s best known for winning some of the biggest road races of the world. She came in first three times at the New York City Marathon as well as the London Marathon. 2002 was probably her best year with winning the cross-country world championship, the 10k European championship, the 5k at the Commonwealth games and both the Chicago and the London Marathon. The 2002 London Marathon was her first race at that distance and the second best time ever by a woman. In the Chicago Marathon that year she set the new world record that still stands today.
In 2005 Radcliffe delivered a story later voted to the top running moment in history in the UK. At the London Marathon she was suffering runner’s diarrhea and was in need for a toilet break. After fighting through for quite some miles she stopped and defecated at the side of the road in front of thousands of spectators. The event was broadcasted live on television. However she won also that race!
Later that year she also won her only marathon world championship in Helsinki. Despite the great achievements Radcliffe didn’t have any luck at Olympic Games. In Athens she suffered a leg injury two weeks before the 2004 games. Due to stomach issues that came from the anti-inflammatory medicine she dropped in the marathon as well as in the 10k race. In 2008 she was right back in good shape after another injury but cramped during the marathon. She finished that one but “only” in 23rd place. In her home Olympics in 2012 in London she pulled from the marathon because of a foot injury.
Paula Radcliffe not only suffered quite some injuries she also needed to pause two times giving birth to her kids. After her second pregnancy and a 19 month layoff she gave a comeback at the Berlin Marathon in 2011 where she ended up in third place. Not happy with her performance and another foot injury later she announced that she’d retire from professional marathon running after the 2015 London Marathon.
Despite suffering asthma, several injuries and giving birth to her two children Radcliffe managed to have one of the most impressive careers in women’s running. Her marathon world record that she set 15 years ago still stands and all the great African athletes still try to figure out how to beat it. Paula Radcliffe will always have her place in running history and will inspire generations of runners.