Paula Radcliffe has revealed just how close she came to missing her London Marathon farewell on Sunday because of an achilles injury and a long-standing problem with her left foot that flared up while training in Kenya in February.
The 41-year-old has won in London three times – and set the women’s world record of 2:15.25 in 2003 – but she feared her body would buckle under the strain of going 26.2 miles for a final time, especially after struggling through a 45-minute run over Easter weekend.
“I went out in Kenya in February, I thought I was being really careful but because the trails are pretty rocky out there I tweaked my achilles and it took about six weeks to settle down,” Radcliffe said.
“Four weeks before race day I took [my daughter] Isla up to the park in Èze, just outside Monaco,” she said. “I managed to run or jog for 45 minutes and while that was the best I’d done since I got back from Kenya, there was definitely a worry because I thought ‘oh god, I can’t run for 45 minutes’.
“People kept saying ‘you’ve only just got to get round’ but if you can’t run for 45 minutes you can’t run a marathon – and going round slowly is probably worse for my foot because it’s longer out there impact-wise.”
Radcliffe, who will be returning to the London Marathon for the first time since famously stopping for a toilet break en route to victory in 2005, said she had consulted doctors around the world to find a cure – with very little joy.
“I was not really getting anywhere,” she said. “I was lucky that the UK Athletics medical team had a look at it and they said ‘we can’t see anything wrong with the tendon, we think it’s coming from the foot’. The doctors and radiologists that have helped me over my foot injury, and my foot surgeon in the US, we were all throwing ideas in, and the guys in Monaco were helpful trying to settle down the foot joint but the achilles wouldn’t settle. I also went to see guys in Belgium who messed around with the orthotics. Thanks to a combination of everything it started to get better.”
Radcliffe has not run a marathon since finishing third in Berlin during September 2011, where she ran 2:23.46, and while she will not commit to a target time in her valedictory marathon, she now believes her body is sturdy enough to get round.
“For the last three weeks, I’ve been able to gradually get back, even though I have ice buckets after every run,” she said. “It’s got to the point where it might get sore afterwards, and I might feel a few twinges during it, but I think it will get round.
“I want to enjoy it but at the same time I want to feel that I’ve run it hard. It’s my first time to get the chance to run in the middle of the mass race. I’m sure it will be a new experience.”
Ahead of Radcliffe will be four Kenyans fighting it out in what the organisers claim is the greatest field assembled for a women’s marathon. It includes last year’s champion, Edna Kiplagat, the 2013 champion, Priscah Jeptoo, and Mary Keitany, who won the race in 2012 and 2011. Florence Kiplagat, the world half-marathon record holder, is also competing after finishing second last year.
Radcliffe will be the first recipient of the London Marathon lifetime achievement award on Sunday. She will be presented with the trophy by John Disley, who co-founded the event with Chris Brasher in 1981 and designed the course, at the finish. The London Marathon race director, Hugh Brasher, told Radcliffe: “There is no more fitting recipient, you are a woman who has inspired a whole host of women to take up the sport.”
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