World-record holder, Paula Radcliffe, MBE, talks about the mental and physical benefits of running at any age…

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Why do you feel running is so important for the younger generation?

‘The benefits are huge – getting to know yourself, self-confidence, mental health, physical health, working together as a team and working to your strengths (working on your weaknesses, too), working towards a goal, helping to manage external stress… there’s not really anything negative about it! A lot of kids who get involved in sport go on to do better in school and, later in life, are better under pressure at work because of what sport teaches you.’

…and what about for older runners?

‘The great thing about running is you can start at any age. If you’re coming to it later in life, your endurance will be naturally good but for women, especially through menopause, it’s strength you need to work on. So little tricks such as bodyweight squats will prep your body for running, then, it’s good to mix up the pace – walking for a bit then running, 100m strides then walking or jogging back, doing faster hill work.

‘You’ll get more bang for your buck if you do anaerobic surges because you’re building up the muscle and stopping the muscular decline as you get older.’

Your daughter was recently diagnosed with cancer. How did you find the strength to support her?

paula radcliffe and family

Paula Radcliffe with her family

‘Things that sport taught me helped, like sticking to a plan, seeing the plan work, keeping focused on the end-goal – which was getting the tumour removed – and recovery.

‘Once we could see the chemo was shrinking the tumour, that helped. Having a great support team of friends and family really helped, as did making time for me to stay healthy. Being able to escape for a walk or a short run just to refresh and recharge and be able to come back in and give her more energy was really important.’

What exercise do you do now?

‘I’m very relaxed about running, and just do what I feel like on the day. I might go out for 35-40 minutes, or it might be an hour and 25. Sometimes I arrange to meet someone, other times I’ll bump into a friend while out so I’ll run with them for a bit.

‘I like the freedom of not knowing where I’m going. Also, there’s no structure – it’s not hill reps, tempo runs or a steady run. If I feel like doing some strides or hills in the middle of a run, I do, but it’s very much just for me now, and more for the mental side of it than the physical training.’

What are your plans for this year?

‘I’m particularly concerned at the effect of the pandemic on children’s activity levels. We’re used to seeing girls drop out of sport between the ages of 13 and 16 but, generally, kids keep up their fitness levels because they’re always doing something.

‘Those who couldn’t stay active during lockdown will struggle to get back into sports, so I want to make sure my Families on Track initiative continues to grow. We’re looking at ways to get schools involved and, so far, it’s been great to see families getting out there and spending quality time running together.’

Words: Eve Boggenpoel | Radcliffe held the Women’s Senior World Record for the marathon between 2003 and 2019

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