Paula Radcliffe has won the London and New York City Marathons three times apiece. She has a Chicago title on her resume. Last autumn she finished third in Berlin. The only major mountain left for the world record holder to scale is Heartbreak. But with the end of her career in sight it’s unlikely that the 38-year-old Briton ever will run in Boston unless London changes its marathon date to the fall, which is as unlikely as the Henley Royal Regatta being held in February.
“I guess my problem is that it’s (Boston) always so close to London and London has such a special place in my heart,” Radcliffe said after the last Olympics. This year she’s bypassing a spring marathon to prepare for this summer’s Games in London.
Patrick Lynch, the longtime race recruiter for Boston Marathon sponsor John Hancock, has made overtures to Radcliffe in past years and she was tempted to run here in 2005. “It’s a case of deciding which one my heart’s in and which one I want to run,” she said then. The lure of staying home on a flat course and collecting a reported appearance fee of more than a quarter of a million pounds was persuasive. Radcliffe set a world record that year for a women’s-only race (2 hours, 17 minutes, 42 seconds) and went on to win the gold medal at that summer’s world championships in Helsinki.
Only Norway’s Ingrid Kristiansen has won Boston, London, Chicago and New York, and Radcliffe’s chance to match her may have passed. Her last victory in one of the five majors came four years ago in New York. Injuries and motherhood already have had her contemplating retirement. That could come after this year’s Olympic Games if she wins the medal that twice has eluded her. “It’s something that I really, really want,” Radcliffe told the London Evening Standard this week. “It’s a piece that’s missing.”
After being heavily favored to win in the Athens Olympics, Radcliffe dropped out. In the Beijing Games, after a leg injury left her undertrained, she struggled in 23rd. Her Berlin race was her first 26-miler in nearly two years after the birth of her son and she needed it in order to post an Olympic qualifying time.
This year Radcliffe will make her competitive debut on Sunday in the Vienna half marathon where she’ll be given a head start over defending champion Haile Gebrselassie, the former men’s world record holder. After the Games, there’s a good chance that the final two marathons of her career will be in New York in November and in London next spring.
While running here would fill a prominent gap in Radcliffe’s bio sheet, she likely wouldn’t want to subject herself to a hilly jaunt in unpredictable weather on Patriots Day, which commemorates an unfortunate British experience on suburban roads hereabouts.