PAULA Radcliffe has the added responsibility of a baby daughter to look after and 33 years behind her, but Britain’s leading female athlete believes she is stronger than ever before.
Radcliffe’s bold declaration will get its first accuracy test in the Bupa Great North Run tomorrow, but an athlete who has pushed the boundaries of women’s long-distance running believes motherhood and the protracted return to competitive competition that followed has made her better prepared for the mental and physical strain of endurance athletics.
The world marathon record holder has not raced competitively for almost two years because of the birth of her first child, Isla, and the back and foot injuries which followed forced her to miss the World Championships in Osaka last month. But Radcliffe is adamant the time at home has only made her more hungry for success, while the physical changes prompted by childbirth have made her stronger and mentally sharper as she gears up for next year’s Olympic games in Beijing.
“It’s been extremely frustrating to be out for so long and I’m delighted to be back,” said Radcliffe, who cannot hide her excitement ahead of her third appearance in the Great North Run – where she set a world record for the half marathon on her last appearance in 2003.
“It was not through the pregnancy – that was planned. I was looking forward to Isla arriving. Then I got back into training and was in pretty good shape and was making plans about racing in May.
“I think my body was still recovering from giving birth as I had to be induced and that stretched my pelvis. With hindsight, if I’d had a caesarean I probably would have got back quicker, but I hadn’t recovered properly when I went back into training and that’s when the damage was done.”
However, Radcliffe is confident that, although there were unwanted side effects from giving birth, some of them could be positive because of the changes in her body.
“I’ve been really encouraged by how quickly everything has come back in training,” said Radcliffe, who admitted she had been devastated to miss out in Osaka. “In terms of whether there is something lacking in stamina, that’s why you really have to come out and race and find out.
“It was a difficult labour, but I feel I can come back stronger as a result. I’m definitely happier and more balanced and that can help. I’m not only racing for myself now either, I’m racing for Isla as well. I feel as though I’m mentally sharper and I definitely think that, deep down, your body is stronger after giving birth because of the whole process.”
Despite the fact it has been 21 months since her last race – which she won in Madrid – Radcliffe knows her competitive instinct will kick in the second she stands on the start line in Newcastle on Sunday morning. She explained: “I’ve not got any concerns about my motivation and focus. I’ll be raring to go because I’ve been missing for so long. That part of me will always be there, long after my body is probably able to go as fast as I’d like it to. “I’m pleased with how things have gone. I’m eager to get back into race mode and I think my instinct will come through on Sunday. I’m not looking to break any world records or anything like that but I want to win the race.
“You don’t really know until you come out and race, but obviously I wouldn’t be racing if I wasn’t in shape to be competitive. In terms of whether there is something lacking in stamina, that’s why you really have to come out and race and find out.”
The men’s race boasts a world-class field, headed by 20-year-old world half-marathon record holder Sammy Wanjiru and this year’s Flora London Marathon champion Martin Lel.
The Kenyan pair will be aiming to prevent South Africa’s Hendrick Ramaala defending his title and matching the record four victories of their compatriot, the late Benson Masya. Jon Brown will lead the British challenge along with Dan Robinson, who was an excellent 11th in the recent World Championships marathon.
I hadn’t fully recovered (from giving birth) when I went back to training, that’s when damage was done