LONDON, Paula Radcliffe was presented with the inaugural John Disley London Marathon Lifetime Achievement Award at the end of her emotional farewell performance at Sunday’s Virgin Money London Marathon.
It was a fitting conclusion to an exceptional career for the women’s world record holder, who finished her final race in 2:36:55, a time which placed her ahead of the British Championship field and arguably faster than either she, or the huge crowds, had dared to hope.
“I came in underprepared, and I know I set out too fast,” she admitted.
In fact, she recorded an opening mile in the region of 5:30 and a first 5K of 17:27, but such enthusiasm should be forgiven when considering how much this journey meant to her and, indeed, what the journey of her career has meant to those around her.
“When I heard about the Lifetime Achievement Award it was so touching,” she said. “This is a really special event and everyone will tell you that, and for me it was very, very special to be given that award.”
Radcliffe’s glittering, record-breaking career, which has inspired so many men and women to run, began as a child when she herself caught the bug by watching her father take part in the London Marathon.
She went on to win in London three times between 2002 and 2005, and in 2003 smashed the women’s world record, a time still almost three minutes faster than any other woman has achieved.
After a decade away from the adoring supporters who lined today’s route, Radcliffe said she was grateful to be given a chance to run this year, albeit as part of the mass race. She had said she would run hard to be the best she could be on the day, rather than to meet the kind of target split times which once dominated her race thoughts.
As it was, the majority of female runners on the course, and many of the men for that matter, would have been delighted to achieve the times Radcliffe hit as she raced through the capital.
To put it into context, her opening 10K alone would have ranked in the top 30 among British women in 2015 to date – without an additional 20 miles to consider. She clocked an opening half of 1:17:03 and a second half of 1:19:53.
As she came into The Mall the crowd rose to greet her and Radcliffe responded.
“I knew it would be emotional and it was,” she said. “I nearly lost it at Bird Cage Walk, but the crowds bowled me over. I wanted it to last forever.
“I didn’t really have any times in my head, I just wanted to enjoy it, but the first mile was too quick. I just had so much fun out there and every time I tried to slow down, the crowd got me going again and I had to rein it in.
“My pace was more about my body holding out, but there’s a magic about it that helps you get a bit more out of yourself.”
Radcliffe supported this year’s London Marathon social media campaign #handinhand by trying to cross the line hand in hand with a fellow runner in honour of the event’s first ever winners, Dick Beardsley and Inge Simonsen, who finished together at the inaugural London Marathon in 1981.
“I was thinking about it as I was coming into The Mall,” she said. “There were guys in front of me that I’d run with for a lot of the race and I was shouting to them. I just wanted someone to celebrate that hand in hand gesture with. I always wanted to run with my dad but never managed it, so I did it in spirit instead.”
Radcliffe’s final London Marathon race week has been filled with joy and with memories that will stay with her forever.
“There were so many special memories, that to pick out one is very hard,” she said. “It’s been so special from start to finish, from the moment I was told about the Lifetime Achievement Award, to feeling the magic and anticipation building throughout the week.
“I’m really going to miss it. I’ve been so lucky to have a career that is also my hobby, and this is not the end. I’ve always run and I’ll continue to run, just not competitively. When I couldn’t run, I really appreciated what a gift it is, and I’m a better person when I run.”
Her legacy will go on of course, as girls and women continue to be inspired by what she has achieved and what she will continue achieve, including her young daughter Isla.
London thanked Paula. But, as she ran towards the Finish Line for the final time, she felt that she owed London a thank you too, for creating memories that will last forever.
-By London Marathon