Never can Paula Radcliffe have looked so radiant in defeat. A year of roller-coastering competitive fortunes came to a relaxed conclusion here as the world marathon record holder jogged round with 30,000 others in the Nike Run London 10k, billed as the UK's largest mass participation night race.
Having finished several thousand places down the field after pacing a group of competition winners through in around 43 minutes, a shade slower than her 2003 world record of 30min 21sec, Radcliffe was a picture of bright-eyed health as she stood under the damp plane trees which lined the finish.
"It was really great fun,'' said the woman whose traumatic Olympic experiences were displaced, if not diminished, by her victory in the New York marathon three weeks ago. "There was a really festive spirit to the race, with all the Christmas lights along the way and the globe kilometre markers. I do like running at night - I think it's something about beating the winter blues. Everyone was just socially laughing and chatting along the way. You don't really get that in elite races.''
Radcliffe sets off with her husband and manager Gary Lough on Wednesday for a fortnight's holiday in Mexico, where she will decide whether she wants to do a marathon next spring, and if so whether it will be in London or in Boston. The races take place within a day of each other
The race, over a course from Surrey Quays to Southwark Park which took in a stretch over Tower Bridge, produced two British winners. Chris Thompson won the men's event in 28min 50sec, and Jo Pavey was the first woman home in 32min 33sec.
The event was watched with considerable satisfaction by Sebastian Coe, chairman of the London 2012 Olympic bid. "This sort of thing is all good for us,'' said the double Olympic champion, whose hopes of competing himself were frustrated when he injured a knee recently while weight training. "To get 30,000 people out on a Sunday night in weather of this kind tells you that we have a real passion for sport. You've got to be pretty keen to do something like this.''
Coe is about to set out on a fortnight's intensive lobbying of International Olympic Committee members, events which include the European Olympic Council's meeting in Dubrovnik and the forthcoming International Association of Athletic Federation's council meeting. But he was clearly delighted to witness an event which characterises the "can-do'' spirit.