August 18, 2008

‘When You Take Any Gamble, You Have to Weigh Up What is the Worst That Can Happen and Are You Okay to Live With That’ Moment of Truth Edges Closer for World Marathon Record Holder, Reports Doug Gillon

By Doug Gillon

PAULA RADCLIFFE sounded for all the world like Jim Trott in the Vicar of Dibley . . . "No, no, no, no . . ." but without the concluding "yes". There was real angst in the voice as she responded to a question as to whether the world marathon record-holder felt tomorrow's race would be the defining moment of her career.

"It is something that is just very important to me. It is important to any athlete. It is important for me to go out there and run well, but I do not think it is the defining moment of my career. There have been other things in my career which will define it afterwards. And hopefully, there are other things that I will go on to achieve."

It was the surest sign yet that Radcliffe is carrying fear and uncertainty into the Olympic marathon. These are burdens that weigh heavy, and they will increase with every step she takes from the start in Tiananmen Square. The race starts at half an hour past midnight tonight, UK time.

Confidence is what lightens one's step, and even the single- minded Radcliffe cannot, surely be totally in denial.

She has had plenty of running with a light tread since she began her rehabilitation from a stress fracture of the left femur.

Much of the work has been done on a anti-gravity treadmill which has a sort of skirt attached, rather like a wet suit. One steps into the skirt and it fits snugly. Then air is blown in. It's possible to reduce one's body-weight by up to 80per cent. Her normal preparation is 12 weeks, peaking at 120 miles per week more than a month out. But this time, more than half of that has been aqua-jogging in a pool, and cross training.

Full on weight-bearing running was apparently tried for the first time less than five weeks ago. Her mileage - which she won't specify, peaked just two weeks ago, when she would normally be tapering significantly. She also lost four days in the past month when a spider bite turned septic. "I'd a red line running up my leg, " she said.

It's the hard miles, moving your body along when you are tired, which build strength, and she has not done that. We are not saying she has not trained hard. She has trained with as much desire and commitment as at any time in her life. However, if Radcliffe should put in a competitive performance this weekend, all the accepted training norms will have to be re-written.

"Obviously I could have done with more time, " she said. "When your biggest week of actual running is two weeks before the race, it's not an ideal preparation, and it's not what you would risk going into any other race. But the Olympic Games is not a race which I ever want to watch on television, and think what I could have done in there. You get in there and give it your best shot.

"I have not added up the amount of miles I have done this week, but I have been running twice a day most days.

"When you take any gamble, you have to weigh up what is the worst that can happen and are you okay to live with that. When you take a gamble, and I knew I was taking a gamble by coming back, trying to be here and pushing my leg, but they were calculated risks because I was never running through pain.

"If I was told it needs another couple of weeks, I was trying it to see - could I do a bit more, could I do a bit more - asking questions, really, because if you don't ask questions, you don't get the answers, and can't move forward.

"The worst that could have happened was that at some point the leg would break down, and I would not have been able to do it. Luckily that has not happened so far, and hopefully it will not happen now.

"I knew after what happened in Athens that I could deal with that if it happened."

There, in baking heat, she broke down and wept by the roadside. It was less injury, more a stomach problem. Anti-inflamatory medication compromised her ability to absorb nutrients and salts. She was distraught.

Now, she seems torn between fear of failure, and fear of not giving it a try.

"If you are not in the race, you cannot win the race, " she says. "But by getting myself to this point, I have put myself in as good a position as I could have done. And if I look back over the last 12 weeks, I don't think there was any point where I could have done any more than I have done.

"If you are going into it with ideal preparation, I would have done a lot more running, but I have not been able to do that. I've done what I have been able to do. I cannot go into it with any regrets, of: 'I wish I'd done this, I wish I'd done that.'

"I am glad I pushed it at every opportunity. There were times when it was really hard, and having got this far, it gives me a mental lift going into the race. That gives me a boost too.

"If I had run an absolutely perfect race in Athens, it would not have been any different. That is the problem. I was ill going into the race. This year I am in a better situation to Athens, because I am going into the race healthy. I was not healthy going into it there. I did a lot more training and I was in better shape going into Athens.

"Two weeks before that race I was in outstanding shape, but it didn't work out for me on the day, as things fell apart . . . my body was just not healthy enough to start that race."

The weather is no particular problem. The skies yesterday were bluer and the air less humid than any time since she arrived at the British training camp in Macau a week past Monday.

"I have generally adapted to the humidity, " she says. "It has been good. My leg has held up well, and I have been able to get a good amount of training in."

Her 19-month old daughter, and husband Gary are here, and she saw her daughter every day in Macau. "Isla is staying with my mum and dad at the moment." They arrived in Beijing yesterday. "They are staying near the start in Tiananmen Square, but I am not sure where exactly they will be on the course."

Radcliffe's first Olympic recollection is of a British disaster, in Los Angeles 24 years ago. It was 3am in Britain. "My first Olympic memory is probably watching the DeckerSlaney race, getting up early and sitting on my mum and dad's bed one morning, watching it. I was only a kid then. They had a small TV in their room .

"I have since seen all the Coe-Ovett races from 1980, but I do not actually remember them [she was just six] "I don't think it was seeing such things, but it was what the Olympics were all about - the whole aura - rather than any specific race, that I ever thought: 'I want to go to the Olympics' .

"I am just looking forward now to getting in the race and getting on with it. I know it is going to be tough, and I'm going to fight harder than I have ever fought out there, but I have fought harder than I have ever fought to get to this point. I just want to go in there and do everything justice and everyone justice."

Many feel Radcliffe is in denial, that her problems will inevitably catch up with her. It is not Radcliffe's fault that Scottish reserve Hailey Haining was kept in limbo. The Kilbarchan runner is to be commended for keeping her cool.

Hopefully it will not end in tears, but I fear it may.

Originally published by Newsquest Media Group.

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