Published January 14, 2015
When Paula Radcliffe (search) dropped out of the Olympic marathon miles from the finish, she sobbed uncontrollably. Margaret Okayo (search) knew the feeling. Okayo pulled out of the marathon at the 15th mile with a left leg injury, and she cried, too. When she watched Radcliffe quit, Okayo thought, "Let's cry together."
Now both runners are hoping to erase the bad memories, competing Sunday in the New York City Marathon (search). They are among 17 Olympians in the field.
Okayo, the defending champion, decided to run in New York because of her Olympic disappointment. She was so upset with what happened, she left Athens (search) the day after the marathon because "it was too painful to stay around."
Radcliffe also made the decision to run in New York after the Olympics. She announced just last week she wanted to run after feeling good during training.
In Athens, Radcliffe had a leg injury that forced her to take anti-inflammatory drugs. The medicine, combined with stress and worry, was too much for her stomach to handle.
"I never experienced what I felt in Athens, probably because I've never been that depleted," she said. "It was a numbness. It still felt like I was running uphill when I was running downhill."
It took her awhile to get over the Athens heartbreak, but now all the world record holder wants to do is move on.
"I'm definitely here to win the race and race well," Radcliffe said. "It happened. I have to live with it. Nothing's going to make up for it but at the same time it's not going to ruin my life."
Winning could make it better, but it might be harder for the those Olympians who ran in the marathon. On Sunday, it will be 11 weeks since the women's race and 10 weeks since the men's race. But the short time to prepare did not deter them.
Some cited the appeal of New York; others just wanted to run again. Most scaled back their training, taking more time to rest after the games and cutting the amount of running they did each week. Deena Kastor (search), who won bronze, cut down her mileage from 140 a week to 100.
Meb Keflezighi, who won silver, did fewer long distances runs. When asked why he wanted to run in New York so soon after Athens, Keflezighi had a quick answer.
"The challenge," Keflezighi said. "People say you can't recover. According to who? Maybe that person can't recover but everybody's built different. Science varies, everything is on an individual basis."
Dan Browne, who ran in the 10,000 meters and marathon, also kept his workouts down since he was already in shape for Athens. He agrees with Keflezighi.
"People put up these walls around their life and they say I can't do this, I can't do that," Browne said. "But what you learn is these walls you put up, they're really not there. It's great to be a runner because I learn to break through those type of barriers."
The field for the women could be the strongest in the race's 35-year history. Aside from Kastor, Okayo and Radcliffe, Lornah Kiplagat, Benita Johnson and Ludmila Petrova are running. Kiplagat finished third in New York last year and also was in Athens, finishing fifth in the 10,000. Irish Olympian Marie Davenport withdrew Saturday with a leg injury.
Johnson, the world cross country champion, struggled through injuries in the Olympics and finished 24th in the 10K. She will make her marathon debut. Petrova, who won in New York in 2000, finished eighth in the marathon in Athens.
"They've really gathered a stellar field in a year where most of the best marathoners ran in the Olympic Games," Kastor said. "It will be interesting to see how people came off their Olympic experiences and how they do here."
Kastor believes the disappointment Okayo, Radcliffe and Kiplagat felt in August will provide extra motivation Sunday. She was not surprised to see Radcliffe running again so soon.
"There's an old saying when you get thrown off a horse you've got to get back on again," Kastor said. "This is Paula's getting back on the horse. She had a horrible experience in Athens, but I don't think that a poor performance in Athens can shatter her at all."