AW speaks to Paula Radcliffe ahead of making her debut appearance at the BMW Berlin Marathon
Doubts and questions surround Paula Radcliffe as she prepares for Sunday’s BMW Berlin Marathon. Running her first marathon since November 2009 and her first race since a disastrous 10km in May, her chances of being part of the British team in London 2012 appear to hang in the balance.
Not that Radcliffe looked worried at the pre-race press conference in the Marriott Hotel near the Brandenburg Gate on Thursday morning. Wearing a pink Nike t-shirt with the words “Live easy, run hard”, she lived up to the slogan with an easy-going approach to the questions, most of which came from the large number of British journalists in the city to cover her comeback.
London 2012, she said, was not the be-all and end-all. “My career will not be defined by what I do at the Olympics,” she insisted.
Was she concerned she would not beat the London 2012 qualifying mark of 2:31:00. “No, the goal is just to go out and run well in the race. The best preparation before the Olympics is not to run another marathon after this one, so for that reason the time needs to be ticked off, but I’m just going out to enjoy the race and hopefully the time will come with that.”
Can she regain her world record-breaking form of yesteryear? “Never say never,” she said. “I’m not going to break 8:22 for 3000m again, but my endurance is still there on the long runs. And I do notice year on year that basic strength does increase even though speed doesn’t improve in the same way.”
Would she swap all her previous achievements for gold in London 2012? “No. I worked very hard for all my achievements and wouldn’t swap any of them.”
Was the pressure of preparing for London 2012 getting to her? “Not at all. I don’t look on it that way. Competing in a home Olympics is a special opportunity and there are more plus points than negatives.”
Inevitably, the controversial issue of the women’s world record classification emerged, too, and here Radcliffe was equally relaxed. “I honestly don’t think you will run any quicker with men or without men. Without any men in London in 2003 I think I still would have run in the 2:15s, maybe quicker because on one or two occasions I started racing them. I also don’t like to run behind people usually and prefer to run alongside people.”
She added: “To have the world record and then to not have the world record, but to then still have the world record anyway is a bit up and down!”
On her training, she said the back problem that caused her to run so badly at the Bupa London 10,000 in May cleared up within 10 days of the race. Since then she has trained solidly all summer with the only issue being a minor post-pregnancy thyroid problem that caused her to have a handful of underpar sessions. “But this settled down in August and the last four weeks have gone well.”
There was even talk of racing beyond London 2012. The 2016 Olympics popped up a couple of times during the interviews. “Never say never,” said Radcliffe, who also mentioned the Commonwealth Games of 2014 as a possible target. “As long as I can keep going, I will do.”
Radcliffe looked very much at home, which is perhaps not too surprising given she lived in Dussledorf for six months in 1994 as a student and since then has raced in Berlin, Cologne and Munich – the latter being the venue for one of her greatest performances when she won the European 10,000m title in 2002.
Most of all, though, Radcliffe’s message on Thursday was one of an athlete who does not feel under pressure and who simply wants to just run and enjoy it. “It’s been a really crappy year so far,” she said, “and I just want to go out, race, enjoy it and have fun!”
Radcliffe’s biggest rival on Sunday is Germany’s Irina Mikitenko, a former winner of the Virgin London Marathon, but the underdog will be former world cross-country champion Florence Kiplagat, who will be making her marathon debut. Kiplagat won the world half-marathon title last year and holds the Kenyan 10,000m record at 30:11.53. She also warmed up for Berlin with a brisk 68:02 clocking over 13.1 miles last month.
Meanwhile the men’s field is led by Haile Gebrselassie, the world record-holder from Ethiopia, and Patrick Makau, a 2:04:48 man from Kenya.