Paula Jane Radcliffe is a British long-distance runner who, as of 2006, is still in the prime of her running career. In early 2006 she held the women's world record for the marathon (a running race that is 26.2 mi, or 42 km, in length) in a time of 2 hours, 15 minutes, 25 seconds. The record, set at the 2003 London Marathon, represents an average pace of 5 minutes, 10 seconds per mile.
Born in Northwich, England, in the county of Cheshire, she grew up in Bedfordshire, and is still a member of a local running club in that community. She attended Loughborough University, graduating in 1996 with first-class honors in French, German, and economics. During this period, competing in distances ranging from 5,000 m to 10,000 m, she won the 1992 World Junior Cross County Championships. She also placed seventh at the 1993 World Championships at the age of 19.
In 1995, Radcliffe returned to form after a lengthy recuperation from a foot injury, placing fifth in the 5,000-m competition at the World Championships. The next year, she was fifth at the Atlanta Olympic Games 5,000 m. In the 2000 Summer Olympics held in Sydney, Australia, she was a finalist in both the 5,000-m and 10,000-m events, but failed to win a medal. In the latter event, she finished fourth after leading the race until the final lap of the track.
The late race fade was the result of Radcliffe's race strategy. She is not known for her blazing speed in the closing stages of track races. Indeed, at the 1999 World Championships, she finished second in the 10,000 m after being overtaken in the final 200 m of the race. Thus, her strategy has been to surge to the front of the pack right from the start of a race and, by establishing a sizable lead, attempt to hold off the other competitors. As a result, scientific analysis of hydration and endurance strategies are a key element of Radcliffe's race planning.
Prompted by the knowledge that her competitive strength as a runner lay in her endurance, Radcliffe began to train for the marathon following the 2000 Olympics. The effort was worthwhile, as she was victorious in her first marathon, the 2002 London Marathon. Her time was over four minutes faster than the existing women's record for the course, and she finished over three minutes ahead of the second place competitor.
In her next marathon in Chicago, she set a new women's world record with a time of 2 hours, 17 minutes, 18 seconds. Her 2003 London Marathon victory chopped nearly two minutes off this record Chicago time.
As of 2006, Padcliffe has won six of the seven marathons she has run, and has compiled four of the five fastest recorded women's marathon times.
A blemish on this exemplary record came in the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. She was forced to end her run after 22 mi (36 km), suffering from the effects of the high temperature and, it was revealed later, the lingering effects of both a leg injury and the anti-inflammatory therapy for the injury. The therapy had upset her stomach and affected her diet in the weeks preceding the marathon. The lack of food energy proved to be her undoing. Later in the Olympic Games, her weakened physical condition forced her to withdraw from the women's 10,000-m final.
Her disappointment at these performances has been tempered by subsequent victories in the 2004 New York Marathon, 2005 London Marathon, and the 2005 World Championships.
In addition to her marathon prowess, Radcliffe is the holder of the women's world records for road races of 10, 20, and 30 km (in contrast to track events, road races are run on varying terrain and surfaces). She also won the World Cross-Country Championships held in 2001 and 2002.
For her athletic accomplishments, Radcliffe was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire in June 2002.
Radcliffe is a staunch advocate of drug-free competition and has been a vocal critic of the use of illicit performance-enhancing drugs. As an example of this resolve, at the 2001 World Athletic Championships held in Edmonton, Canada, she publicly protested the reinstatement of a Russian competitor who had previously tested positive for the banned substance erythropoietin (which increases the number of red blood cells, and so
As of 2006, Radcliffe is still training and competing. She intends to compete in the women's marathon at the 2008 Summer Olympics to be held in Beijing.
SEE ALSO Exercise and thermotolerance.