Paula Radcliffe on how marathons helped her face daughter’s tumour battle


Paula Radcliffe, won the London Marathon, not once, not twice, but three times – as well as the New York marathon an equal amount during her career.

She also held the Women’s World Marathon Record with an almost unimaginably fast time of 2:15:25 for 16 years until 2019. Here, she shares how to get through life with the lessons she learnt as a champ…

Life is a marathon, not a sprint

“There’s ups and downs in life just like there are in a marathon,” explains Paula. “There are periods that are really easy and other parts that are tough – you have to work hard to come through.

“When I’m running I believe in my training, and in life you have to believe in yourself and that you have what it takes to overcome the challenges.

Paula with her family after the 2015 London Marathon
Paula with her family after the 2015 London Marathon
(Image: Getty Images)

“Focus on what you can do. It’s like any long-term relationship. I’ve been married [to Gary Lough] for 20 years – of course, there are going to be highs and lows. There are also times when things just get annoying! You have to power through the hard times to get to the good. It always gets better.”

You’re capable of than you think

“You learn from pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. If you don’t ever challenge yourself, you won’t know what you’re capable of. For me, running is my passion. Follow what inspires you and you can’t go wrong.

“Even if you don’t fully achieve what you wanted, you’ll achieve more than if you never tried at all. Face your fears head on and work on what you’re not so good at, which for me was the finishing sprint. When you get in the zone, you realise you’ll do whatever it takes. I even took a wee at the side of the street as I felt it was slowing me down at the London Marathon in 2003 – and I went on to win!”

You can survive the bad times

“Knowing I can do things that are difficult has meant I can face challenges in life and handle them better. We found out last year that my daughter Isla, 14, had a tumour growing on one of her ovaries.

“It was devastating, but my background in sport meant that I got through it by sticking to a plan and trusting that if we did what we needed, it would be OK. She’s all clear now and we’re very grateful.”

Paula's daughter Isla [right] had a tumour growing on one of her ovaries last year
Paula’s daughter Isla [right] had a tumour growing on one of her ovaries last year

Accept support

“What got Isla and me through the experience of her illness was having support and a strong family. Even though I’m a solo runner, I never really did anything alone. It’s all about the team behind you – your coaches, your family and the people cheering you on.

“My husband has been there all the way. He watched every race, he supported me emotionally, he was my training partner, and later on in my career, my manager and my coach. I love when my children Isla and Raphael, 10, watch me run – but even more so, I love running with them and being their support.”

Everybody is running their own race

“Concentrate on what works for you – that’s how I get through races. I don’t focus on other people’s training or tactics, I trust myself. Comparing myself to others could have limited my success. Remember, you’re living your life and need to trust your own route. Everybody’s different; sometimes you need to do things wrong in order to learn.”

Take one step at a time

“When I’m running, I count to 100, then once I get to 100 I start from zero again. It keeps me in the moment and prevents me from thinking about the race as a whole, which can feel overwhelming. In normal life, break challenges or tasks down into manageable chunks. These mind tricks can get you from A to B.”

It’s never to late to start something new

Paula is helping Mark prepare for his first marathon
Paula is helping Mark prepare for his first marathon
(Image: Ben Queenborough/PinPep)

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“I’ve been working with Mark Wright, who’s running his first marathon for Flora’s Get Towns Active campaign, which aims to encourage everybody to take steps towards healthier lifestyles. His enthusiasm and commitment is impressive and he’s not afraid to ask questions, from “What shoes should I wear?” to “What distance run should I do in the week?” and soaks up all my answers. He’s a great role model and shows that taking up new activities can be great for our wellbeing. I’ve just started kayaking and it’s given me an extra boost.”

Learn from failure

“Every athlete has setbacks. It didn’t work out for me at the 2004 or 2008 Olympic Games. It was tough, so I allowed myself to get angry and let out those emotions rather than bottle them up. Look at what you can learn from experiences. Even though it’s painful, it only makes you stronger.”

As part of FLORA’s Get Towns Active campaign, three-time London Marathon winner Paula Radcliffe is sharing training and nutrition tips to help Mark Wright prepare for the Virgin Money London Marathon. For more info, visit

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