Paula was an amazing cross country runner and excelled at several distances; however, this is all about the marathon. Paula ran 2:18:56 in her marathon debut – at the time, it was the second fastest women’s marathon ever run (it is still 7th fastest). Following that, she got faster and faster. Paula owns the three fastest women’s marathons ever:
2:15:25 London (2003)
2:17:18 Chicago (2002)
2:17:42 London (2005)
Her world record is about to celebrate its eleven year anniversary. With that being said, it hasn’t been an easy eleven years. Why is that? In 2011, the IAAF ruled that times set by female runners in “mixed” races will not count for records. According to the IAAF, male pacers give women an advantage.
As Paula pointed out, she was racing these men and at no point did she draft off them (the rule was implemented after the world record was broken in the half marathon in a race that did involve drafting). While initially the rule was expected to apply retroactively, which would have eliminated Radcliffe’s record, the IAAF ultimately made a statement that it would only apply going forward.
While Paula is the greatest ever, there is still a missing piece to her story. She never won an Olympic medal – she had a 5th place finish in 1996, a 4th place finish in 2000, a pair of DNFs in 2004 and a 23rd place finish in 2008. The 2004 marathon ended at the 22 mile mark and is captured in the iconic photo seen below.
Radcliffe may have slightly tarnished her legacy by dropping out of the marathon in Athens. With that being said, she rehabilitated it in Beijing with a gritty performace that ended in tears.