Paula Radcliffe setting the world record in 2003, photo by PhotoRun.net
I was at the Boston Marathon weekend, on the Sunday when Paula Radcliffe ran 2:15.25 in April of 2003. I had watched Paula set the previous WR in Chicago and was quite impressed with her gutty running style.
Anyone who was a fan of distance running, as Paula Radcliffe was the proverbial little train that could not. Her victories were epic, as she had come oh so close on so many races in the late 1990s.
Her move to the marathon was not the final move of a runner frustrated with being outkicked after courageously leading for 24 laps, it was a runner finding her perfect distance.
But, as we all know, the marathon is a jealous mistress, and challenging her comes at a huge price.
But, on one day in April 2003, Paula Radcliffe, like no one before her, and probably for the next twenty-five or so years, no one after her, defeated the cruel marathon.
Paula at Athens 2004, photo by PhotoRun.net
We first met Paula Radcliffe at the World Junior XC in Boston in 1992. She won there and was pretty impressive. Her battles on the track, at 5,000 meters, then, 10,000 meters, and also in the World Cross Country were legendary.
An outspoken critic of drug cheating, Paula Radcliffe ran against several notorious drug cheats, and gave it her all. She also ran against some of the best clean athletes ever and earned their respect, if not the gold, silver or bronze medals at the time.
But, it was her forays into the marathon where she seemed perfectly suited. Her 2002 Chicago Marathon world record run was a perfect example. Her ability to take on the best in the world, and then, break them and charge on was one of Paula Radcliffe’s best attributes.
Her 2002 race was not a shocker, but it should have been. Her 2:17:13 on October 12, 2002 at the Chicago Marathon gave us a hint of her ability and her focus.
The 2003 London Marathon was not Beamonesque, it was Radcliffesque–in her two hours, fifteen minutes and twenty-five seconds, Paula Radcliffe had the perfect storm; great weather, great focus, great training and all of Britain cheering her on.
Paula noted, in reconsidering the 2003 race this last Wednesday: ” After the 2003 race, I thought I could run faster.” Paula ended that comment with a wry smile.
Truth is and was, Paula Radcliffe has paid a terrible price for being the best in the world. David Bedford, a man who knows a bit about distance running, noted that Paula Radcliffe is the best distance runner, man or women, that he has ever seen.
That is high praise.
But here is the truth. World records take alot from one’s body, because they challenge current limits, not just mental but physical.
Paula was unable to complete the 2004 Athens Olympics, and, days later, dropped out of the 10,000 meters with eight laps to go. Radcliffe was castigated by British media, for not producing an Olympic medal. I was disappointed for Paula, but I respected her choices and her attempts to run in the Olympics.
In November 2004, Paula came back and won the New York City marathon. Her body just had a hard time with her spirited racing. In 2008, Paula finished 23rd in the Olympic marathon. Again, that November, she won the New York City Marathon. and in 2012, her body again revolted.
Paula Radcliffe, Olympics 2008, photo by PhotoRun.net
For those who champion a cause, a tradition or break accepted practices, there is a huge price to pay.
Paula Radcliffe proved to me that she ran drug free, sadly to say, with all of the pitfalls that her body threw at her. There are limits to both human endurance and the pressure the human body can withstand. Running two hours, fifteen minutes and twenty-five seconds for man or women is not a natural thing, or right.
But, it is something that some people have chosen to train for, focus on, and pursue among all the other opportunities in the world.
This afternoon, at the Marathon HQ hotel, I was walking in the lobby and saw Paula on the phone and Gary Lough, her husband, with their children in tow. I smiled. I know what comfort and love my son, Adam, has provided me in daily life, not just trying times. I thought, for a moment, how nice it was to see Paula hugging one of her children and Gary corralling their others. Good things and real life.
Paula Radcliffe thank you, from sponsor Nike, on London Evening Standard front page
To me, two of the most meaningful races for Paula Radcliffe had to be the long race in Dublin in 2002, when she took the lead back with less than 200 meters to go! Watch the video. Paula’s head bobbing, her focus resolute, she knew she had just one more bit of gas in the tank, and she red lined it–taking herself to the limit.
In 2002, Paula Radcliffe won the 10,000 meters in the Europeans going away. In 2005, her World Championship gold at the marathon distance was one of the exceptional days.
Paula Radcliffe, Worlds 2005 marathon, photo by PhotoRun.net
On April 26, 2015, Paula Radcliffe will enjoy the accolades of the hundreds of thousands of well wishers on the London course. There is no time constraints for her, and there should be no media post race commentary about a poor race.
Paula Radcliffe’s feet and legs bare the scars of races won and lost, of nearly two decades of racing at a world class level. She has given her country her best and that best came even when she could barely walk.
There is a part of elite distance running that is both good and harmful. The same drive that makes one workout twice a day, for a decade and such, hurts one when rest is what is called for. Such is the price of distance running.
In the running book, Once a Runner, John Parker, the author writes that the main character, a miler named Quentin Cassady, knew the ” Trials of Miles and the Miles of Trials”.
Paula Radcliffe has know the “Trials of Miles and Miles of Trials” for over two decades of world class running.
Paula Radcliffe, 2012 Vienne, photo by PhotoRun.net