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By David Monti
(c) 2007 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
September 11, 2007

For distance running fans, the nearly two-year wait is over.

The world's fastest-ever women's marathoner, Paula Radcliffe, will return to competition after a 21 month layoff at the BUPA Great North Run, on Sept. 30, in Newcastle, England, organizers announced today.

The 33 year-old former world marathon champion, who has twice won what is the world's largest half-marathon, has not competed seriously* since winning the San Silvestro Vallecana 10-K road race in Madrid on Dec. 31, 2005.  In the intervening time, she had a foot surgery to remove a neuroma, and then became pregnant with husband Gary Lough (April, 2006).  The couple had their first child, daughter Isla, on January 17, 2007.  Radcliffe returned to training soon thereafter, but discovered she had a stress fracture in her sacrum related to child birth which slowed her comeback to racing.

"I really missed racing through the pregnancy and the setbacks since have emphasized this even more," said Radcliffe through a media release.  "It has really underlined to me how much I want to carry on competing for a good while yet.  I now feel that I am at that point and ready to come out and race well. I am really, really looking forward to it."

Radcliffe owns the women's marathon world record of 2 hours, 15 minutes, 25 seconds which she set at the 2003 Flora London Marathon. She has won London three times, including her marathon debut there in 2002 when she finished in 2:18:56, setting what was then a women's-only world record. In her second attempt at the 42.195 km distance later that year, Radcliffe knocked more than 90 seconds off her London time by running 2:17:18 at the LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon. Those two races, coupled with gold medals at the European Championships and Commonwealth Games that summer, earned her the IAAF Athlete of the Year and BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards in 2002.

Returning to London in 2003, Radcliffe again lowered her record (by nearly two minutes), and after struggling with injuries and illness in late 2003 and early 2004, the three-time Olympian won the ING New York City Marathon 2004 in a thrilling sprint finish against Kenyan Susan Chepkemei. Radcliffe won by three seconds in the closest women's finish in New York history.  She garnered her third London victory in 2005 and captured the gold medal in the marathon at the 2005 IAAF World Championships in Helsinki.

To prepare for the Great North Run, Radcliffe returned to her French training base in Font Romeu and took things slowly.  "I had to be patient until my body recovered and I have been able to get a good base of running and decent training in," said the Bedford athlete.

Radcliffe chose the Great North Run because of her familiarity with the event and her previous successes there.  She ran the fastest-ever certified half marathon there in 2003 (the point-to-point course is slightly aided), clocking 1:05:40.  She also won in 2000 in 1:07:07.

"I love the Great North, have many happy memories and always get such great support there," said Radcliffe.  "I love mass races where the atmosphere is so good at the start and all along the route. "I also know I will get a big test on my comeback but look forward to getting back to having fun racing."

*While five months pregnant, in September, 2006, Radcliffe ran casually in the Hydro Active Women's Challenge, a 5 km road race in London, clocking 18:51.

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