If Paula Radcliffe turned heads with her 26.2-mile debut—a victory at the 2002 London Marathon—she was just getting warmed up. Later that year, on October 13, the then-28-year-old Englishwoman dominated the field at the Chicago Marathon, where she trimmed more than a minute from her time and set a new world record: 2:17:18.
Again, it was mighty impressive, but again, Radcliffe had more in store.
Returning to London on April 13, 2003, to defend her title, Radcliffe smashed her own record, finishing in 2:15:25. In the dozen-plus years since, no female runner has come within three minutes of that mark, and while that makes this wife, mother, author, anti-doping crusader, three-time New York City Marathon champion, and onetime Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? contestant a legend, it’s just one of her many amazing accomplishments.
A Most Excellent Athlete
Born in Northwich, Cheshire, on December 17, 1973, Radcliffe has been running for most of her life. At the age of 11, after her family had moved to Bedford, she joined the Bedford & County Athletics Club. When she was 16, she competed at the World Cross Country Championships. Despite a history of asthma and anemia, she continued to pursue running and chose to devote herself full-time to the sport after graduating from Loughborough University in 1996 with a degree in modern languages.
By then, Radcliffe already made her name on the track and trail, placing fourth in the 3000m at the 1991 European Junior Championships and winning the junior race at the 1992 World Cross Country Championships. From 1997 through 2002, Radcliffe racked up noteworthy victories, including IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in 2000 and 2001 and long-course titles at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in 2001 and 2002.
Between 2002 and 2008, she won three London Marathons (2002, 2003, 2005), three New York City Marathons (2004, 2007, 2008), a Chicago Marathon (2002), and an IAAF World Marathon Championship (2005). While she never earned an Olympic medal, she represented Great Britain four times in a row (1996 to 2008).
She also picked up an the prestigious MBE, or Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, in 2002—the same year the BBC named her its Sports Personality of the Year. When Radcliffe retired from competition in 2015, she did so in fitting fashion, high-fiving fans on the streets of London as she completed one last 26.2-miler.
Radcliffe shared her remarkable story in 2004’s Paula: My Story So Far, a memoir she followed with 2011’s How to Run: From Fun Runs to Marathons and Everything in Between. If Radcliffe has one weakness, it may be geography. In 2004, appearing on Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, she couldn’t name the country located due east of Ukraine. (Answer: Russia.) Still, she helped earn £16,000 for Asthma UK and £32,000 for the British Olympic Association—two more impressive numbers in a career filled with them.
Career Highlights: Road
|2000||IAAF World Half-Marathon Championships||1:09:07|
|2001||IAAF World Half-Marathon Championships||1:06:47|
|2003||IAAF World Half-Marathon Championships||1:07:35|
|2005||IAAF World Championships Marathon||2:20:57|