24 Apr

Radcliffe Redefined Boundaries

Paula Radcliffe Crosses the finish line

Last week's Virgin London Marathon was another memorable occasion to add to the annals of this great race. In the wake of the tragic events of the previous week in Boston, the air of defiance among the runners and huge crowds under glorious sunshine was just the tonic international marathon running needed.

It also marked the 10th anniversary of one of the greatest athletic performances of all-time, when Paula Radcliffe smashed the women's world record with an astonishing run of 2hrs 15mins and 25secs on the streets of the capital. Although we should not quite yet write the obituary to her running career, it seems her time at elite level has now drawn to a close. It was therefore a timely anniversary to allow for some reflection on an incredible performance from an incredible athlete.

It is unfortunate and an unjust reflection of her talent that she is now almost virtually guaranteed to end her career without an Olympic medal, but it still cannot detract from her iconic barrier-busting run on 13 April 2003.

Having won in London the previous year in 2:18:56 - the fastest ever debut at the distance and just nine seconds short of the world record - much was expected of Radcliffe the following year. But even her most optimistic of supporters could not have predicted just quite how fast she would run.

Right from the starting gun, her intentions were clear and she simply ran away from world-class athletes and tagged on to male pacemakers setting a lung-bursting tempo. Even before halfway, she was a full minute clear of her international rivals.By 18 miles, she was well over two minutes clear and at the finish it was a full four minutes before the previous world record holder Catherine Ndereba of Kenya crossed the line to finish second. Radcliffe's performance forced a re-think on what was physically possible for female marathon runners.

It was one of those rare moments when an athlete at the very peak of their powers competes in perfect conditions in an insprational atmosphere generated by an enormous home crowd. The combination allowed Radcliffe to move human performance into previously unchartered territory.

It is no surprise that the record has lasted for a full decade. It could easily go a decade more. The closest anyone has come is Liliya Shobukhova of Russia, who in winning Chicago marathon in 2011 clocked 2:18:20, still a shade under three minutes short of Radcliffe's time.

Of course, world records do not last forever. One day an athlete will emerge and will break Paula's record. But it is likely to be by seconds, not minutes. Radcliffe redefined the boundaries that day in London. Not every Olympic gold medallist can say that.

image of Paula Radcliffe is reproduced courtesy of paularadcliffe.com