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Paula Radcliffe: Marathon Queen


Paula Radcliffe: Marathon Queen

Paula Radcliffe displays her gold medal at the 2005 World Championships.

Michael Steele/Getty Images
Competition is clearly in Radcliffe’s DNA. Her great aunt, Charlotte Radcliffe, won an Olympic swimming silver medal in the 4 x 100 freestyle relay in 1920. Radcliffe’s father, an amateur marathon runner, influenced her decision to take up running at age seven. Her first national level race didn’t yield the results to which she’d later become accostomed, however, as she finished 299th in a field of around 600 at the English Schools Cross Country Championships in 1986, at age 12. But that type of performance didn’t last long. She was fourth in the same race one year later.

Moving up the ranks:

Radcliffe ran a variety of shorter distances before finding her marathon stride. At 3,000 meters she placed fourth in both the 1992 World Junior Championships and 1993 World Championships. In the 5,000, she finished fifth at both the 1995 World Championships and 1996 Olympics, took fourth at the 1997 World Championships, then won at the 2002 Commonwealth Games. At 10,000 meters Radcliffe earned a silver medal at the 1999 World Championships, then was fourth at the 2000 Olympics and 2001 World Championships before winning the European Championship in 2002.

Off the track:

Most of Radcliffe’s early successes came in cross country competition. She won the 1992 World Cross Country Championship junior race. On the senior level, she placed second twice and third once in the long race before winning back-to-back World Cross Country Championships in 2001-02. She also placed second in the 2001 short race.


Radcliffe was out-sprinted in the home stretch of several key races prior to taking up the marathon, the notable exception being the 2001 World Cross Country long race, where she out-gunned Gete Wami in the final 50 meters. But it became evident that Radcliffe was more likely to excel at longer distances. She won three World Half Marathon Championships in four years, between 2000-03, and began running the marathon in 2002. She began brilliantly in the London Marathon, winning in a European record 2:18:55, the fastest-ever women’s debut and, as of the end of 2011, still the sixth-fastest women’s marathon time. Radcliffe set the world record in her second race, in Chicago, then broke her own mark in her third. She currently owns the three fastest marathon times in women’s history, topped by her 2:15:25 performance in her third marathon, in London in 2003. Radcliffe earned her only World Championship gold medal by winning the marathon at Helsinki in 2005.

Overcoming asthma:

Radcliffe was diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma at age 14, but it hasn’t slowed her since. She says the key is to manage the condition, taking preventive steps such as warming up gradually and using her inhaler. She also wears nasal strips while running. “The message I always try to communicate is: control your asthma, don’t let it control you.”

Additionally, Radcliffe has also suffered from anemia. In 2003 she stated that she counters the anemia with a diet that included ostrich meat, venison and Cadbury’s chocolate.

Setbacks and comebacks:

Radcliffe is famous for training hard and long, and for setting a fast pace when running the marathon. These habits may have played a factor in a series of injuries that have hampered her in her mid to late 30s. She’s also given birth to two children during that time. Nevertheless, Radcliffe was named to the 2012 British Olympic marathon team. The London Games will be Radcliffe’s fifth Olympics.


  • Height: 5 feet, 4 inches
  • Weight: 119 pounds
  • Birth date: Nov. 17, 1973
  • Hometown: Norwich, Great Britain
  • Personal best: 2:15:25 (marathon); 30:01.09 (10,000 meters); 14:29.11 (5,000 meters)


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