Interviewing Paula Radcliffe

2548.Paula and Roshni 640After a quick run together last weekend I was given the opportunity to compare marathon stories with Paula and ask her what her top marathon tips are and which of her many marathons is her favourite. I can’t tell you how excited I was about having the chance to run with and interview the World Record holder. I really, really hope you all enjoy this.

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‘I think my first marathon has to be on the list,’ Paula Radcliffe says as she sits opposite me after a NRC (Nike Running Club) shakedown run the day before the 2016 London Marathon. We had both just run a very gentle four kilometres from Oxford Circus to Holborn through London streets bathed in sunshine. ‘It was the first time running here in London, it went amazingly well and it was the race I had wanted to run with my Dad in 1985.’

I’d asked Radcliffe what her stand out marathon moments were and first was a nostalgic memory about watching her Dad run and inspire her to do the same. ‘When I got old enough to run a marathon I was concentrating on shorter distances and by the time I moved up to the marathon [distance] my Dad couldn’t run. So we never actually managed to run London together but we managed to run the same one a long time apart. That race was really special, to find my distance and feel at home from start to finish.’

That was in 2002 and she won the London marathon in a time of 2:18:56 which was a course record. The same year she ran the Chicago Marathon and broke the World Record in a time of 2:17:18. That world record time didn’t stand for very long and in 2003 she ran 26.2 miles in 2:15:25. In the years since, no elite woman has been able to run faster and the second fastest time set by Mary Keitany in 2012 was three minutes slower. Does she want her world record to be broke? ‘No,’ she answered with a laugh though she knows that eventually it will. ‘Both those world records [in Chicago and then in London] were really special days because to prepare and train for something and get it right on the day is quite rare and that it worked out is quite special.’


Being invited to run with Radcliffe and Nike pacers, some of whom ran the London marathon the next day, and then interview her wasn’t something I ever thought would happen. Radcliffe’s running career has been brutal, euphoric, and painful and I, we have followed her and been behind her every step of the way. We all watched her win the London marathon three times (2002, 2003, 2005), be New York champion three times (2004, 2007, 2008), and win the Chicago marathon (2002). As she herself said earlier that day surrounded by eager runners and fans in Nike Town, apart from the Olympic Games she doesn’t have many regrets in her running career. She is a massive inspiration for so many people – her tenacity and her grit and her success have got countless people pounding the pavement trying to attain their own personal glory. In fact as I was waiting in the Nike Town reception Radcliffe walked and the receptionist addressed her as ‘one of the greatest athletes in the world’. No one there disagreed.

Last year Radcliffe ran the London marathon for the first time since 2005 and it was like watching a love letter play on screen. Her smile and enthusiasm and excitement – who doesn’t remember her running hand in hand with another competitor? – made it so obvious that running was something she loves. And that is the case for so many people who ran the London marathon over the weekend – it certainly inspired me to try again to secure a ballot place.

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But what are the key tips for runners not only wanting to run the marathon but just run? ‘Get the right kit,’ Radciffe says with passion and experience, ‘especially the right shoes for the way that you run. Go to a professional running store [and] get them to look at how you run and how you stand. Have your gait analysed and make sure you are in a pair of shoes that suit your style of running so that you feel free and have an enjoyable experience.’ Radcliffe later adds with a smile that the right kit (in my case wonderfully printed leggings!) can all come later. To start running possibly most importantly you need a good community, a support network. ‘Join together with friends or a run club, just join a club so that you have that social comradery and motivation to get out training,’ said Radcliffe.  ‘The social side is so important and running is such a great sport. Joining with a running club opens people’s eyes to places they can run and the routes in London. A lot of people feel safe in a club with a mapped out route and the support.’

I started running with NRC in January 2015 and found everything Radcliffe mentioned – the comradery, the motivation, the new routes, the wonderful people, and a plan. I went to sessions where the goal was to run a fastest mile, a fastest 5k, a successful 10k, and a full marathon. ‘It doesn’t matter how but set a plan. And don’t be blinkered; don’t feel that to have to stick to it. So if you’re ill one day be flexible. But set a goal, an aim – something you are working towards,’ says Radcliffe.  The conversation then turned back to the London marathon and her recovery. With a laugh she told me, ‘rest [and] reward yourself. Definitely reward yourself because you have just worked hard and achieved you goal. So eat as much as possible as soon as possible after the race and just keep on doing that. But mainly just be proud of yourself.’

London marathon is famed for the support from the crowds and Radcliffe herself assigns a lot of her world record success on the people who watched and cheered her as she ran. Berlin may be a faster course she said but the crowd support isn’t the same. When a fan asked her if she could ever have run faster than 2.15.25, unless it was in London she wasn’t sure. ‘There is so much that’s really great [about the London marathon],’ she added later when we were talking. ‘Tower Bridge is really iconic and you know that when you cross it you’re half way…and for me the second half is nicer than the first half, you can certainly run quicker in the second half so that’s kind of a key point.’

In both the marathons I have run there are always bad moments when nothing seems to be going right and running feels horrible. It is the same for Radcliffe and while there (sadly) isn’t a magic trick to stop this from happening her advice is to ‘distract yourself whilst also focusing.’ She would count each footfall until she reached a hundred and then start again. As someone who has tried word games and association games with varying degrees of luck, I am very happy to give counting a go.

The interview ended with one final marathon memory from Radcliffe. ‘I think it was New York in maybe 2007 after I’d had my daughter. To come back to running and get back to racing and to have her at the finish line was so special. Not waiting because she was only little, but just being there – those things. To get back to what I love doing, to have her there was really special.’Run With Paula-50

I was give the chance to run with and interview Paula thanks to The Running Bug. This interview was published there earlier this week – check them out, they are one of the largest and fastest growing running communities out there.

All of the images bar the one of me and Paula together were sent to me by The Running Bug and Nike. My thanks to them both for the permission to use them.

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