The world’s best long distance runners have taken to the capital’s streets to compete in the London marathon, yet much of the nation’s attention will be focused not on the elite field, but in the masses of club athletes and in particular one 41-year-old who has recently been struggling with an achilles injury.
Paula Radcliffe is running in her final London Marathon, the race in which she set a world record time of 2:15:25 some 12 years ago.
Organisers are pushing the #thankyoupaula hashtag, while tributes are sure to sound out from the crowds lining the Mall for the athlete whose records have not only been unmatched, but exist in a category of their own.
As demonstrated in our graphic below displaying the 2,500 fastest times in women’s marathon history, no one has even got near Radcliffe’s 2003 record in London nor at any other marathon. Neither has Radcliffe’s woman-only race record of 2:17:42 set in London in 2005 been in any danger of being trumped. On desktop, you can hover over any dot to see who ran that time, when, and where. Click on the prompts to highlight times run in London, or Paula's times.
The three fastest times in marathon history all belong to the British Olympian and are more than three minutes ahead of the next nearest time – Kenya’s Mary Keitany is next with a time of 2:18:37.
Only four other women have ever run under two hours and 20 minutes in London, and it has been done just 20 times in any marathon in the 12 years since Radcliffe sailed past the mark by almost five minutes.
In 2003, at age 29, Radcliffe set the marathon world record, a stellar year in which she also won gold in the Commonwealth Games 5,000m, European Championships 10,000m and the World Cross Country Championships.
So dominant are her best times that her personal best is around 3.5 minutes faster than that of Rita Jeptoo, the best marathon runner in the world last year, who tested positive last December for the blood-boosting drug erythropoietin (EPO).
EPO was made famous by its abuse in cycling and has been found to boost normal cyclists’ stamina (time to exhaustion) by up to 54 per cent in lab trials, although effects on elite athletes are likely to be less dramatic.
For the time being, Radcliffe’s record looks pretty safe. Yet she herself believes the record won’t last forever. She told British Athletics: “It will be beaten at some point, that’s the nature of the sport. I don’t believe I have any more talent than anyone else.”
Yet even if and when it is, Radcliffe’s phenomenal achievements are guaranteed to loom large over the London Marathon for a long time to come.