A tearful Paula Radcliffe suffered that most familiar of experiences yesterday, the Olympic setback, as she struggled in a Vienna half-marathon which took her 72min 03sec to complete; more than two minutes slower than she has ever previously run.
Britain’s 38 year old world marathon record holder, who had been hoping to finish in around 69 minutes as part of her preparation for London 2012, had suffered from bronchitis in the fortnight before the race and had only come off antibiotics the day before.
“My legs just felt empty,” she said. “There was no turnover there at all and I was just fighting it.
“It’s not as if there aren’t reasons, but even so I couldn’t have expected it to make that much difference.
“It is really concerning. I knew I wasn’t coming into the race in PB (personal best) shape but I didn’t expect it to feel that bad.
“It was a kind of lonely run. I was just trying to mentally switch off and keep going.”
After Radcliffe crossed the line she crouched, exhausted, before apologising to the race director for her performance in an event where she had started with a 7:52 advantage over Ethiopia’s multiple world and Olympic champion Haile Gebrselassie, also 38, who passed her at the three-quarter mark and finished in 61:52.
“Sometimes there are good days and some days there are bad days; maybe today was just a bad day for Paula,” said Gebrselassie after the race, “She is a fantastic runner, but she was not fantastic today.”
Radcliffe, asked about her realistic ambitions on the day before the race, had eventually responded, “I would be happy with an Olympic bronze. What I don’t have is an Olympic medal.”
“It [Vienna] should have been a test for the Olympics, but it wasn’t a real test in the end.
“The plan now was always to take a week easy and I think I need to take that week now to recover properly and get back to being fully healthy again before I start heavy marathon training.”
Her time was good enough to win in the women’s race, and indeed to break the women’s course record, but it was Radcliffe’s first ever failure to break 70 minutes in a half-marathon.
Lizzie Flint, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine