Come sunday morning, Paula Radcliffe will be standing in the shadow of the Brandenburg Gate with the streets of Berlin stretching out before her. It could have been different. As she looked ahead to her comeback marathon in the German capital, the fastest ever woman at the 26.2mile distance admitted yesterday that she might have come to the end of the road as an athlete earlier this year.
Reduced to tears and third place by the painful effects of a leaking spinal disc in the London 10,000 road race in May, and then frustrated by a thyroid problem, Radcliffe told her husband and coach, Gary Lough, that she could not carry on with her quest to overcome continual setbacks and make a fifth Olympic Games. "There were loads of times when I threw stuff at Gary and said, 'I am not doing this any more'," the 37-year-old Bedfordshire woman revealed. "The thyroid thing messed with my head a lot. I got to the point where I thought, 'Do I want to do this any more?' And then you come home, have two days off, and think, 'Actually, I do'."
Thankfully, the thyroid is now under control. "It is quite common in women the year after childbirth," said Radcliffe, who gave birth to her second child, Raphael, on 29 September last year. "If it is overactive you have to let it settle on your own, and it felt better during July. I have only felt great since the end of August."
The question on Sunday is whether Radcliffe will be in great enough shape to effectively rubber-stamp her place in the British team for the London Olympics. There are three spots available in the women's marathon, and to date only two runners have achieved the qualifying standard of 2hr 31min – Jo Pavey (2:28:24) and Louise Damen (2:30:00).
Radcliffe holds the world record of 2:15:25 and also the world-record-in-waiting of 2:17:42, which will become the official global mark if the International Association of Athletics Federations' proposal of recognising performances from solely women-only races comes into operation on 1 January. However, she has not run a marathon since November 2009, when she limped home a hamstrung and tearful fourth in New York, clocking 2:29:27.
Radcliffe has only contested one race at any distance since then – her equally deflating 10km performance in London in May – so she will be lining up in Berlin without any competitive form behind her. "The goal is to run well and win the race," she said. "It has been a crappy year, with what I have gone through, and I hope to stand on the start line at the Olympics next year in better shape than I am in now. But at the same time I feel like I am ready enough to go out and race and enjoy it here – then recover, take a good rest, and build and be strong for next year."
Is the world record holder and former world champion not concerned, though, at how her rivals might be looking at her – short of fitness, three months shy of her 38th birthday, and four years on from her last marathon victory? "Let them think I am old and can't do it any more," Radcliffe said. "Realistically, I know I am not going to get back into 2:15 shape but if you can run 2:17 or 2:18 you can be competitive."
If Radcliffe could get into sub 2hr 20min shape next year she could yet finish her distinguished career where she richly deserves: on the Olympic rostrum. In Athens in 2004 and in Beijing in 2008, illness and injury left her in no condition to challenge for a medal.
"When I look back, I should have been able to get an Olympic medal and I am really motivated to get a medal, and try to win, next year," Radcliffe reflected. "The fact that the Games are in London keeps you going through harder times, because I can still remember what it was like at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002, standing on the rostrum when the whole stadium was singing, 'Land of Hope and Glory.'" That memory is something that can really keep you going when you are in a low point."Reuse content