Paula Radcliffe on how she and NI-born husband Gary coped with working and living together... and why being a mum is the one thing she always wanted to do
Paula Radcliffe's marathon world record has been unsurpassed since 2003 - and tomorrow this legend of long distance running is pounding the streets of Belfast in the Laganside 10k. She talks to Karen Ireland about her stellar career, marriage to Larne native Gary Lough, and why being a mother is her greatest achievement.
Belfast will be graced by a very special guest tomorrow as marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe takes to the roads in the Novosco Laganside 10k race.
The former Olympian and world champion, who now lives in Monaco with her husband and former manager Gary Lough and their two children Isla (11) and Raphael (7), is taking part in the event as part of her role as ambassador for superfood supplement brand Revive Active.
"I am really looking forward to coming over to the province this weekend because, as well as taking part in the run, I will get to visit family," reveals Paula.
"The children are especially excited to see their cousins.
"Isla is the only girl on this side of the family, so she gets spoilt rotten when she comes over here."
No stranger to Northern Ireland, Paula, who was awarded an MBE in 2002, has run here many times. Her husband is originally from Ballygally, outside Larne. She has even been spotted pounding the roads of Larne on Christmas Day in years past.
Recalling how the pair met, she says: "We were both students at the University of Loughborough.
"We later shared a house together and then we started dating, before marrying in 2000."
Gary, a former 1500m runner, has not only played an important role in her personal life, but he has also helped her professionally as well.
"Gary was a long distance runner as well before he had to retire due to injury in 1996, so we used to run and train together," says Paula.
"Eventually he became my manager and then my coach."
When asked how they coped living and working together, Paula diplomatically says: "It worked really well as we understood each other and knew the importance of reaching goals and doing well. We trained really well together.
"Working alongside your other half means you do have to set some ground rules. You cannot let things fester between you. Everything needs to be out in the open and talked about.
"We talked a lot about work and training and what was working and what wasn't, and we sorted it out before we went home at the end of the day. We learnt to separate work and home life and not bring work home with us."
Paula says that got easier over the years, especially when their two children came along.
"Your priorities change and when you come home you are focused on your children. They want to talk to you about their day and what is going on in their lives. You switch off completely then and are focused on the family," she adds.
Becoming a mum is without a doubt her proudest achievement and something she always wanted.
"I had many career highs and lows and achieved a lot over the years but deep down I always knew the one thing I wanted to be was a mum. I love it and really enjoy being there for my two children as often as possible," says Paula, who retired from professional running after the London Marathon in 2015.
"They are at a great age now and we have a good work/life balance. Living in Monaco, where we moved 13 years ago, means we get to enjoy a lot of life outdoors. I am happy if they are happy and healthy and doing well in life. I love watching them going through different stages and am very fortunate in that I get to be there for them.
"We are always out on the bikes or running. Often they ride their bikes and Gary and I will run alongside them. We also have a sea kayak and we enjoy getting out on it. We love having barbecues and spending time together in the garden. The children are bilingual, which is great as they can speak French. I studied French and German at university, so my French isn't too bad either.
"We live in a lovely area and the children were born here and are very settled in school, so this is definitely home for now. It might be a different scenario when they are older and want to go to different universities, but we will just take that as it comes."
Despite living in a beautiful area, Paula says she is looking forward to spending some time on the beaches here during her visit this weekend.
"We love getting to Northern Ireland but due to the weather my husband's family tend to visit us more than we visit them, so it will be nice to spend some time here and hopefully the weather will be good, and we will get out and about," she says.
"Unfortunately, Gary won't be joining us this time as he is currently in the United States training Mo Farah. So it is just the children and me coming over."
Paula says she finds it hard to remember a time when she wasn't running - her parents both loved the sport.
"My dad was always running marathons and I would beg him to let me run with him. Eventually, when I was nine years old, I could join my first running club and it just took off from there," she explains.
Despite being diagnosed with asthma at 14, and still using a preventative inhaler every day, it never let it hold her back.
"I was diagnosed just after we moved house to a new area and I have always been affected by different types of pollen," she says.
Paula competed at the World Cross Country Championships at the age of 16 and after graduating from Loughborough with a first class degree in modern languagues in 1996 she devoted herself full-time to running.
She has held the women's marathon world record time of two hours 15 minues and 25 seconds since 2003, and won the London Marathon in 2002, 2003 and 2005.
Paula also won the New York event in 2004, and the following year became marathon world champion in Helskini.Another accolade was being voted the BBC Sports Personality of the Year in 2002.
"That is a title which means a lot to me as it was voted for by the public and it meant they recognised how hard I worked and the effort I put in," she says.
"I was also incredibly proud to receive the MBE as I always worked hard for the team and trained hard for every event I took part in, so to be recognised for that meant a lot."
She now splits her time between being a busy mum and commentating as well as working as an ambassador for various brands and working for the Athletics Integrity Unit.
She was particularly keen to put her name to Revive Active as it helped her recover from injury.
"I had an undiagnosed stress fracture to my foot in 1994," she explains.
"As scanning technology wasn't nearly as good then as it is now, it went undiagnosed for years and I continued to run on it.
"In 2012 it developed into a full fracture and arthritis and I had to have surgery on it.
"At one stage I thought I might never be able to run on it again as it was so badly damaged - but it is strong and healthy now thanks to the surgery and lots of work and nutrition including taking my Revive Active supplements. I use the Joint Complex with glucosamine and hyalauronic acid, which keeps my joints, and in particular my foot, strong.
"It may not look great but it works well and I am so grateful that I can still run. My strength and stamina would be nothing compared to what it was when I was training every day and taking part in competitions, but I can still run for about an hour every day, which is great."
Paula says that she was able to keep a positive attitude during the time she was injured and this helped her through.
"When I was injured I just kept imagining myself running again. That really worked for me," she says. "It can still be a little stiff at times, but I stretch it out and try to run on softer surfaces.
"I am very grateful that I get to run for fun and fitness now as I wasn't sure that would ever happen for me again.
"For now, life is good - I am lucky in that I have a great balance between doing things I love and being a mum, which is the most important job in the world to me."
The Pure Running Laganside 10k, at 2pm tomorrow, starts and finishes in Ormeau Park, Belfast, and takes in the Ravenhill Road, Albertbridge Road, the Lagan Towpath and Ormeau Embankment. Organised by the North Belfast Harriers, it is expected that 1,500 runners from across Northern Ireland will take part. The race is the 12th event in the 17-race Novosco Grand Prix series. The annual not-for-profit series of 10km running events also features races such as the Bangor Classic 10km and the Seeley Cup.