The veteran warrior of the women's marathon was back in action on the streets of London yesterday. For the wounded Paula Radcliffe, it proved to be a losing battle. In the city where she forged her reputation as the finest female marathon runner of all time, making a winning debut in 2002 and clocking a stunning world record in 2003, the 37-year-old Briton was beaten not just by two domestic rivals but also by the latest injury blow to have struck her on the road to an Olympic marathon.
Running in the Bupa London 10,000 road race, on much of the course that will be used for the Olympic women's marathon on 5 August next year, Radcliffe struggled from the start and trailed in a distant third – behind Jo Pavey, who prevailed in 32min 22sec, and Gemma Steel.
Her time, 33min 17sec, was almost three minutes down on the world best she holds for the 10km distance on the roads. In her first race for 18 months, since limping home an injured fourth in the New York City Marathon in November 2009, Radcliffe was suffering from more than competitive rust.
"I'm really gutted," she said, fighting back tears. "I've got a tear in one of the discs in my back. The fluid leaks out of the disc and irritates the nerve.
"I can't train on the track because of it but I thought I was going to be fine on the road. It's sciatic pain. I just lose the power in my legs. I've started to get treatment for it. I've had three injections in different places to try to take the pressure off it, so it can heal up. It was a bit of a disaster today. I should be running a marathon quicker than that pace."
The consolation for Radcliffe, who was hamstrung by illness and injury in her bids for Olympic marathon glory in Athens in 2004 and in Beijing in 2008, is that she has time on her side. She has until 30 April next year to achieve the Olympic qualifying time for the marathon, 2hr 31min. "It is a worry," she said, "but I'd rather be gutted, pissed off and upset with it now."
There was a happier return to the English capital for Mo Farah. The Londoner, who now has a training base at Portland in the United States, finished a clear winner of the men's race, clocking 29min 15sec.