Among all the jubilation and photo ops for Jess Ennis, Victoria Pendleton, Sir Chris Hoy and GB’s amazing gymnasts and boxing team, one British sporting legend has been conspicuous by her absence – marathon runner and holder of so many world records – Paula Radcliffe, who pulled out of the marathon with an injured foot, an agonizingly close couple of weeks before the games began.
We caught up with her in London’s Clapham Common, where she was spearheading a massive drive by Nike, to get London into their trainers and out onto the park by building their Fule Station, where training sessions and run clubs are taking place on Clapham Common.
Grazia Daily: Very unfortunately, you were injured and not able to compete in the marathon at the Olympics. How are you feeling about it all now?
Paula Radcliffe: Well, it’s been a devastating disappointment. I have to say, it is the most heartbreaking episode in my entire career. Ever since that day in 2005, when it was announced that London had won the bid to host the 2012 Games, everything I’ve done has been working towards this time.
Accepting that I wasn’t going able to do it has been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. . . I had to sit my little daughter down and explain to her that Mummy wasn’t going to be doing ‘the big race’ and then have to explain to her that she wouldn’t be able to make my foot better.
The thought of watching the marathon go ahead without being in it was terribly hard too.
GD: Did you think to yourself, I’m going to go to Paris and get away from it all, on the day?
PR: It was a big decision, it did cross my mind. But I did go there and support them in the end.
GD: Aside from the women’s marathon, have you been enjoying watching the Olympics and being a spectator for once?
PR: Well, yes that is the other side of it. Everything has been so wonderful, the team taking so many medals, the way it has been organized is brilliant, the crowds are fantastic, even the way people around London have been interacting with each other has been so good, all the foreign visitors I’ve met are really impressed.
Although it’s been awful to have been left out of it I’ve been watching everything. It’s so emotional, the tension, the drama all of it!
GD: Do you know all the athletes well? Who have you been rooting for the most?
PR: So many of them! Jess Ennis, The Brownlee brothers, Bradley Wiggins and the cyclists, have been absolutely brilliant. I would have to say though that Mo Farah is a very special athlete for me – I’ve known him since he was quite little and all the way through his running career, all the way up through the ranks. It’s been so great to watch him run, feel the energy and he’s made us all so proud.
GD: Have you got into any of the less well-known sports, or is it more the athletics?
PR: Ha ha! Yes! The horses? I’m not sure all the correct names of the events, but the show jumping and the dressage. I really surprised myself by watching those, I’ve never got into that before! It’s our team doing so well, you end up getting into all of it!
GD: As a result of all the current sports-based euphoria, lazy people up and down the country will all now be thinking; ‘I want to get fit’ or ‘I want to take up a sport’ A lot of people will go for running. Why is running so brilliant?
PR: Well, I know I would say this, but running is the simplest, and the purest of all the sports. You don’t need a lot of money or equipment to do it. You just need a good pair of trainers and a good watch or whatever. I mean, good kit is a bonus but the main thing is – just get out there and run.
GD: What’s better for a real beginner though, getting on the treadmill in the gym or going down the park?
PR: Just get out there. If you join a gym then you’ll have to pay up front and anyway, gyms can be intimidating places, especially for girls. What I would say is get together with some friends, like five or six of you. If you’re young girls you can encourage each other on, if you are mums you can do it while your kids are at school. Just do it as a group and then even if one of you doesn’t feel like it, you can’t all not feel like it – so you’ll motivate each other to train. You know Nike are amazing with their free run clubs and their hubs – like this one. Have you ever been on any of their runs? They’re so good.
GD: And if, on the other hand, you already do a bit of running, or you’re into your fitness, how do you know if the marathon is your event?
PR: You never know. You’ll never know how you’ll do in a marathon until you do one. Honestly. I didn’t do my first marathon until I was 28 and that was the right time for me. I’d actually been running since I was nine – and always wanted to do a marathon – but until I tried it I didn’t know that it would end up being the event for me. [Paula progressed from cross country to 10kms to half marathons then marathons and broke records – and still holds them – in all]. The marathon is like no other event, you only race a couple of times a year, you put all your hopes on those times. No other event can break your heart like the marathon. Having said that, no high is as high either.
GD: When you do the London marathon, and all the athletes are out in front, what happens to the thousands of other people, the mums and the unfit people and the people dressed as Big Ben? Do you have any interaction with them at all? Are you aware of them?
PR: Well, you’re not as removed from it all as you might think. You’ve still run the same course as the man who’s gone round juggling balls, or whatever it is – you’ve all gone through the same difficult bits. You can talk about which miles you found the hardest, which bit you enjoyed the most. There are so many ways that running – and sport more widely – brings people together. It gets people talking, it makes you stronger mentally as well as physically, teaches you about overcoming obstacles and it makes you more compassionate as a person. Although running is about competition too, it does bring people together and get people looking out for each other. It really is the best thing you can do.
500 runners joined marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe at the Nike+ FuelStation at Clapham Common – a digitally enabled sporting clubhouse designed to inspire London’s athlete community. Join at go.nike.com