The Sunderland Strollers athlete hopes to break 2:30 at the Berlin Marathon and better the Olympic qualifying standard

As Alyson Dixon heads to the BMW Berlin Marathon with Olympic qualification firmly within reach, she credits Paula Radcliffe with helping her get into such great shape.

The Sunderland Strollers athlete finished fourth in the recent Morrisons Great North Run and believes she can break the 2hr 30min barrier – inside the 2:31 qualifying standard for Rio – on Sunday in Berlin where she will be joined by the likes of fellow Britons Sonia Samuels and Scott Overall, who also have Olympic qualifying times in their sights.

Dixon is self-coached, but has benefited from advice and training help from the world marathon record-holder, especially at altitude training camps this year in Font Romeu and Kenya.

“I had such a bad start to the year, finishing an embarrassing last in the Edinburgh Cross Country in January,” said Dixon after the Great North Run event. “I should never have run it but it’s hard to turn down a GB vest.

“But then I went to Kenya and Paula built me up again. And then, in the run-up to the Morrisons Great North Run, she’s had a really tough week but has been sending me texts saying, ‘You’re in great shape, go for it’.

“It’s heart-breaking to see what she’s gone through but she’s been amazing and I’m eternally grateful and really proud to have her on my side.”

Dixon and Radcliffe spent time together in Font Romeu in August before the Great North event.

“When I was doing long runs, Paula was on the bike alongside me and then jumping into track reps to shield me from the wind!

“She went from shouting out times to joining in and dropping 34-second 200s. It shows the amazing person that she is.”

“When I was doing long runs, Paula was on the bike alongside me and then jumping into track reps to shield me from the wind!”

Dixon’s performance in Newcastle came in emotional circumstances after her uncle Derek, a long-time marshal at the event, died on the eve of the race.

“It’s why I wore a black arm band,” Dixon explained.

The 37-year-old was in less sombre mood at the finish, though, when she unleashed a Fabio Borini-style celebration to show her delight. Mimicking the Sunderland footballer’s trademark goal-scoring pose, Dixon explained it had double meaning because earlier in the month she’d been threatened with disqualification at a 10km as her emotions got the better of her and she swore while crossing the finishing line.

“So today I was trying to keep my mouth closed!” she said after completing the event. “It was just a bit of fun, really.”

If she smashes her 2:31:08 PB and breaks 2:30 on Berlin’s famously fast course on Sunday, though, no one will blame her for swearing.

» See the September 24 edition of Athletics Weekly magazine for a preview to the BMW Berlin Marathon on Sunday September 27