London Marathon: Clague strides out of Paula's long shadow

After 14 frustrating years, forgotten woman of British distance running can fulfil dream

It has taken her 14 frustrating years, but Jenny Clague is finally starting to play catch-up with her arch-rival from her teenage running days. As 18-year-olds, they both had the look of future world-beaters. On one weekend in February 1992, Clague smashed the British junior record in an indoor 5,000-metre race in Birmingham. Paula Radcliffe finished five seconds behind her. A month later, Radcliffe won the junior race at the World Cross Country Championships in Boston. Clague finished fourth. It was to be the pinnacle of the Liverpudlian's athletics career.

Until now, perhaps. At the age of 32 (old enough and experienced enough on the sidelines to have been appointed last year as manager of the England women's cross-country team), Clague has re-emerged on the national scene as a marathon runner gaining serious momentum.

Since making her debut at the 26.2-mile distance in Shanghai in November 2004, she has reduced her personal best from 2hr 48min to 2:38.04. In the absence of the injured Radcliffe, Clague lines up as the third fastest of the élite female British entrants for the Flora London Marathon today, behind Mara Yamauchi and Birhan Dagne.

If she can maintain her improvement and make it across the finish line inside 2hr 35min, the forgotten young woman of British distance running would be a thirtysomething debutant in major championship competition at the European Championships in Gothenburg in August. She would also, more than likely, be a Great Britain team-mate of Radcliffe for the first time in 14 years; Radcliffe has yet to declare her intended plans for the summer, though a defence of her European 10,000m crown would seem likely.

"I saw Paula just a year ago, actually," Clague said. "It was in the lift at the hotel before the London Marathon. [Radcliffe won in 2hr 17 min 42sec; Clague, in only her second race as a marathon runner after a decade of injury problems, finished 20th in 2:41:21]. We had a little chat. It was a bit weird, because obviously we were main competitors when we were younger. I beat her once or twice, as well."

So what had it been like for the Liverpool Harrier, being out for so long after rupturing an Achilles tendon in 1993 and watching her old rival establish herself as the leading lady of world distance running?

"It was very, very hard," Clague confessed. "I rem-ember the first few years I couldn't watch the races; it got me so upset. But I did come to terms with it. Yeah, it's disappointing that I didn't fulfil my potential, but I think there's a lot of luck in sport and I was just injury-prone.

"I lost a lot of confidence when I got back again after the injury, so I didn't perform as well as I should have. I've got a lot more confidence since I started training for marathons. I had a couple of good results and I thought, 'Maybe I can be OK again'. I ran 2:48 in Shanghai in November 2004, then 2:41 in London last year. That got me a British vest for the Kosice Marathon in Slovakia last October, and I finished second there in 2:38:04.

"I'm hoping to get the European qualifier in London: 2hr 35min. They're taking a team of five, so I've got a better chance of getting selected than I did for the Commonwealths this year... That's a bit of a sore point."

It has good reason to be a tender topic, though the chuckle that accompanies mention of it tells you that Clague is far too affable a soul to harbour any smouldering bitterness. Her time in the Kosice race put her third in line for selection for England's Commonwealth Games team, only for the powers that be to limit their selection to just two runners.

"That's been the biggest blow, if only because it took me 14 years to get back [to being] that fit again," Clague said. "To make the qualifying time [2hr 40min], to be in a position where you think you're in the team, and then to get told you're not going because of the funding, when I've funded myself through everything... it was a bit of a bad time.

"But I've run better since then, because I got a bit angry about it, I think. I've had the best winter season I've had for 14 years. I've won the Northern title this year and I won it 14 years ago. I've run under 34 minutes for 10km on the roads for the first time. So it's not all been a waste. I've obviously got myself into good shape. I'm quite confident I can do 2hr 35min. It all just comes down to the day now, doesn't it?"

That day has dawned finally for the woman who has managed to fit in her marathon-training mileage while holding down a full-time job as a sports development officer with Liverpool City Council - and who has beaten the clock before, of course. The indoor 5,000m time she recorded in Birmingham 14 years ago, 16min 11.61sec, still stands as the fastest ever by a British junior. The second fastest, 16:11.10, still stands to Paula Radcliffe.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

MBDA UK Ltd: Mission Planning and Control Solutions Systems Engineer

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity? A pro-act...

MBDA UK Ltd: System Design Capability

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity? The small...

Recruitment Genius: Production / Manufacturing Operative

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading garage door manufacturer are curr...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Software / Solution Sales

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a thri...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific