Despite a clean sweep of World, European and British Championships marathon titles, as well as a long-standing world record, one medal has always eluded the grasp of running legend Paula Radcliffe - Olympic gold. Paula secured her place at London 2012 with a third place finish in last month's Berlin Marathon, now she is about to start training for what is likely to be her final shot at making Olympic history.
We caught up with Paula a few weeks ago to discover her target time for London 2012, her plans for life after racing and to find out what she really thinks about the contentious new IAAF ruling that removed her 2003 world record. Friendly, relaxed and giving RW a run for our money in the canapé-grabbing stakes, we discovered how down-to-earth the queen of long-distance running really is.
It's now been a week since the Berlin Marathon. How do you feel about your third place finish; relief or disappointment?
I'm feeling so-so. I'd have liked to run faster and I'd definitely liked to have won the race, but given where I was six weeks ago, I'm feeling okay with the result. I'm not jumping hoops over it but I'm not gutted either. I've ticked it off, qualified for London 2012 and I can now focus on being in much better shape for next year. I feel like I recovered really well, so that's good.
You've been nursing a few injuries recently - the back injury in the Bupa London 10000 and the bone spur during the Berlin Marathon. How do you push through the pain barrier when you're running injured? (Question from RW UK Facebook fan Len Marten)
I wasn't injured in Berlin, everything was fine, but because of the thyroid problems I'd had post-pregnancy, I wasn't able to do enough of the hard tempo sessions I needed to run really well. It was only in the last four weeks that I've started to feel myself again. I have a bone spur that needs to come out from my ankle, but it wasn't sore during the race. It was very different to when I was running in May. In May [the Bupa London 10000] I wasn't running properly, it hurt and I didn't enjoy the race. Obviously I didn't enjoy being beaten in May but I still loved the first half of it - it was great to be back out racing and I'd really missed it.
When you've achieved so much in your career - all the race wins and world records - what keeps you competing? Especially when you have had injury problems in the last few years, no-one would blame you for retiring...
The fact that I love it. You have times when you're injured or ill, when things go wrong and you think, "Why do I beat myself up, why do I put myself through this?" Then the minute everything is going well again, you forget all of that because you love it. It totally depends on your motivation. I'm convinced the reason my career has been so long and has overcome so many obstacles and hiccups is because I've enjoyed doing it. There isn't anything else I'd rather be doing, so of course I'm going to keep pushing on. I've come to accept that at some point my body won't be able to do this any more but until that point, I'm going to keep enjoying it as much as I can.
Has your training regime changed since you secured your London 2012 slot?
I haven't trained since then, because I always take time off after a marathon. Usually I take two weeks of complete rest, the third week is running every other day and then it's back to normal training. That may be put back an extra week because of the operation on my bone spur, so I'll have three weeks of complete rest.
When you start training again, what will your average week look like?
It will look the same as it always has, except that I have to listen to my body a little more now. Sometimes I do a hard workout, and where I used to be able to do another hard workout two days later, sometimes now that has to be three days. I've always listened to my body and taken resting heart rate polls to see whether I'm recovering or not, but it's pretty much the same as it's always been.
What's your average mileage? (Twitter question from @runningbloke)
I do seven days on and then I have a rest day, with an average mileage of approximately 130 miles. Coming up to a marathon that mileage will drop off a lot.
With London 2012 now on the horizon, will you be happy with any medal or just gold?
I'll be happy if I'm healthy going into the race and if I'm able to give it my best shot. Of course it would be a dream come true to win, but you can only go in and do your best, you can't have regrets. I'll be very happy to get a medal and really happy to win.
And like Mo Farah last year, you're heading to the Rift Valley in Kenya to train at altitude. What makes that particular training camp so effective?
Results speak for themselves in terms of how well the Kenyans from there [the Rift Valley] run. The altitude and the weather during the winter months are the main benefits. It's also great because the UKA have their training camp there and as I get older I'm a little more injury-prone, so it's better to have the physio care and support close by.
What will it be like leaving your young family?
That's going to be the hardest thing for me. I've never left Raphael for more than five days or Isla for more than ten. I think it's a sacrifice I'm going to have to make this year, because we can't take Isla out of school. Both of the kids will be fine because they'll be with their dad, it'll be me that it's hardest on.
There's so much media focus and scrutiny of your performance in every race. How do you deal with that? Does it make you want to prove the critics wrong or do you just ignore it?
To be honest I just accept it and I think the biggest pressure comes from the pressure I put on myself to perform as well as I want to. The outside pressures you can't control. I accept the media pressure will be there and it doesn't make it a lot harder or a lot easier, you just have to deal with it.
After London 2012 do you plan to continue racing?
Definitely. I accept that at some point I will have to retire, but while I can still be competitive, there's nothing else I'd rather do. I've already said I want to run the New York Marathon afterwards and I'd like to keep going maybe until the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
Can you conceive of a career beyond running?
I can conceive of it and I'm starting to think of things that I would like to do. I definitely want to stay involved in sport - it's given me a lot and I definitely want to give something back. I'd like to do something that encourages more people to take up sport, though I'm not ready to give up racing just yet.
If all the training goes to plan, how fast do you think you can run the marathon in London 2012?
I definitely think I can get in sub-2:20 shape and then you just have to see how things go on the day. I don't think it's impossible that I could get back to 2:15 or 2:16 shape but it's more possible to get back to 2:17 or 2:18 shape. That might be good enough and then I'll just need to stay healthy.
How do you feel about the IAAF's ruling changing all women's records set in mixed races to 'world bests'? Do you have any plans to contest this?
I'm trying - if the secretary ever calls me back - to go and meet with the president of the IAAF, Lamine Diack, to discuss this because I really don't think they've thought this through.
That's not just sour grapes because it's my record that has gone [Paula Radcliffe set a world record in the 2003 London Marathon with a time of 2:15:25]. I just don't think running in a mixed race makes that much of a difference and I would have run the same time with or without men. Some people need to have other people around them to run fast but I've always been able to produce those results on my own, so it hurts that my record has been taken away.
I also think they haven't thought through the practicalities because so many women's PBs are set in those races, so how can you suddenly say they don't count? They still ran those times, they still worked really hard and it's not a fair decision. There are many men's races where you see blatant pace setting - think back to the four-minute mile. It feels like they're picking on women in road races a little. I don't know if I can change anything, but I'm definitely going to try to have discussions about this.
Paula Radcliffe is working with Nike to rally support for #HISTORYSTANDS. Paula is campaigning for the IAAF to reinstate her 2003 marathon world record title. To show your support please tweet using #HISTORYSTANDS.