Paula Radcliffe on her kids’ love of running and why you can’t beat tackling a fun run as a family
Paula Radcliffe started running as a child with her father, and quickly developed a passion for the sport which led to her becoming one of the world’s greatest ever long-distance runners.
But although she retired from competitive running more than five years ago, Radcliffe, who held the women’s world marathon record for 16 years, has by no means hung up her trainers. She’s on a mission to get not only children but whole families out running together, just like she does with her own children.
“I’ve always been a big fan of families getting active together,” she says. “My own family love running and I want to spread the pleasure we get from it to other families.”
To share that running joy, Radcliffe – spurred on by her now 14-year-old daughter Isla, who was the first person to ask if a family running initiative could work – created Families on Track, in which teams of three to five people, including at least one person aged over 18 and one aged between four and 16 years, complete 10km continuously in a relay by running loops of various distances.
“It’s about making it much easier for families to run 10k together, and have some quality time,” says Radcliffe. “Even youngsters of five or six can run 250m. We wanted young kids to be able to work hard and be really active. At the first one we did it was pouring down all day, and it was lovely to see the big smiles on everyone’s faces despite the weather. They really enjoyed it – particularly the kids.
“It’s not really a race, it’s more about the whole family completing 10k together. It’s important to make sure everyone – and particularly the kids – have fun.”
And it doesn’t just have to be mums, dads and kids – anyone can take part, including grandparents, and Radcliffe’s dad, Peter, joined the family for the first Families on Track event in Durham in 2019. Sadly, Peter died last year, at the age of 73. It was a tough year for Radcliffe, as Isla was also diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. However, after chemotherapy she has been given the all-clear.
Radcliffe, 47, won a host of races during her illustrious career, including the London Marathon, the New York Marathon and the World Cross Country Championships three times each. She retired from competitive running in 2015, but says: “I still run pretty much every day – I’m not really strict, it’s just what I can fit in. I think I was lucky to have as long and as healthy a career as I did.”
Isla and her brother Raphael, 10, are also keen runners and are members of an athletics clubs in Monte Carlo, where Radcliffe and her husband Gary Lough, a former Northern Irish 1,500m runner, moved to in 2005.
“Isla likes to listen to music when she’s running – I don’t,” says Radcliffe, who proudly says both children are competitive runners and Isla has already won a regional cross country title.
“I’m really keen that they do a sport they enjoy, and don’t just do it because their parents did it. But I would love it to be running,” admits the proud mum.
Thankfully, Isla has been well enough to resume sport – but after what the teenager has been through with cancer, Radcliffe is keener than ever to make sure her kids get plenty of exercise and eat well.
“As far as nutrition goes, it should be everything in moderation, and I try to make sure my kids eat a balanced diet,” she says. “I try not to say ‘You can’t have that’, but the one thing they can’t have is coke, because they’re still young.”
Living in Monte Carlo, Radcliffe’s family often eat a healthy Mediterranean diet packed with fish, vegetables and fruit, and Radcliffe says one of the first solid foods Raphael ate when he was weaned was calamari.
Both children are bilingual, and Radcliffe studied French at university and is also fluent in the language. Just like children in the UK, both kids missed a lot of school and had to be home-schooled during the pandemic, and Isla missed even more because of her illness.
“It was more challenging for Isla, but I think a lot of kids, including mine, have done really well during the pandemic,” says Radcliffe.
“It’s been hard for so many people, and I feel lucky that my sport is one I’ve been able to do throughout it. I try to take the positive out of everything – I think it’s made us appreciate what we have. Being able to spend quality time with your family is so important – I think it’s made families stronger.”
The next Families on Track fun run events are at Newcastle Try on the Tyne on August 21-22, Run Fest Run at Laverstoke Park on August 27-29, and Worcester City Run on September 4-5.
“My message is to get running as a family,” stresses Radcliffe. “Spend some quality time together, and not only will it be fun, but it’ll be so good for everyone in so many ways.”
Paula Radcliffe is the brand ambassador for children’s smartwatch brand Xplora (myxplora.co.uk), which is also the official Families on Track tech partner.