Paula Radcliffe made a convincing return to action yesterday as she won the Nike London 10km road race in 30min 50sec, a time only she has bettered this year.
Five months after her last competitive appearance, when she set her world-best performance at the Flora London Marathon, the 29-year-old Bedford athlete produced a display that drew a firm line under the frustrating period of illness and injury which prevented her from going to the recent World Championships.
Radcliffe's time was short of the world best of 30.21 she set in Puerto Rico seven months ago, but that was on the flat. Her best point of comparison was the British record of 30.38 she ran on the same hilly course last year, although this time round, on a deceptively warm day, that course had been considerably altered.
"I enjoyed it, although the uphill stretch from five to seven kilometres did some damage,'' Radcliffe said. "But the important thing was to show myself as much as anyone else that there's nothing wrong with me.''
Radcliffe must now address what that will mean for her racing programme as she looks ahead to Olympic year.
She confirmed yesterday that she would probably ask to be selected for both the 10,000m and the marathon in Athens in order to leave herself maximum time before choosing. But she is clearly inclining towards running the Olympic marathon, which she believes will be her "strongest shot'' at a medal she has coveted ever since she began racing as a 12-year-old.
After competing in next Sunday's Flora Light Challenge 5km in Hyde Park, the European 10,000m champion is likely to have her next outing either at the following week's Great North Run or the World Half Marathon Championships a week after that.
Although she has not ruled out running another marathon before the Olympics, she confirmed she would not be defending her London title in April because of the event's proximity to the Athens Games.
Radcliffe revealed that the shin injury which initially undermined her preparations this season had been a result of the training run collision she had had with a girl cyclist five weeks before competing in the London Marathon. The freak accident jarred her hip, and although she was still able to win a second London title, complications causing a swelling in her shins kept her out of action for almost five weeks, at which point she suffered an attack of bronchitis.
Radcliffe has no doubt she made the right decision in pulling out of the World Championships, especially as she only managed her first track session two days after the 10,000m final. But she admitted to feelings of guilt as she watched television coverage of her colleagues enduring a difficult and often unproductive period of competition.
"It's not logical, but I think when you're down you don't think logically,'' Radcliffe said. "There's been a lot of emotional pressure on me. It has been really hard, but I have to let Paris go now.''
After yesterday's first confident step back, Radcliffe is ready to march on towards Athens. Only the route remains to be determined.
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