I had asthma as a kid and still do. I started blacking out a little at the end of training runs. Then, at 14, I was diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma by a brilliant doctor who told me, “This isn’t going to stop you doing any of your sport, you’re just going to have to learn to control it.” I have inhalers in pretty much every bag.
What makes me sad? Losing people I care about – I lost my dad in 2020. And hearing stories about kids who weren’t as lucky as my daughter, who beat cancer last year. I burst into tears when the doctor gave us the initial diagnosis, but she’s been so brave. The chemotherapy made her hair fall out, which was obviously difficult for a teenage girl. But she’s bounced back so quickly.
I could probably beat my kids in a race, but it depends on the distance. If it’s more than 100m, yes – any less, probably not any more. They’re getting faster all the time. I got funny looks when I was chasing them around the supermarket when they were younger.
The most famous person I’ve met is probably the Queen. I was awarded an MBE and was invited to lunch with about eight others at the palace. She was friendly, welcoming, genuine – an inspirational lady. I once saw Muhammad Ali sitting on the other side of an airport lounge. My husband was starstruck and staring, so Ali started jokingly punching the palm of his hand, then called him over and asked if he wanted anything signed.
I remember coming out of hospital in New York after giving birth to my son and being in a shop, looking for a handbag. A lady looked over and started saying what a cute baby he was. When I looked up I realised it was Sarah Jessica Parker. She said, “I know you, you run the New York City marathon, we live on the route, my husband’s a big marathon fan.” I couldn’t believe it. I thought she was winding me up.
The last mile of a marathon is easier than the couple of miles before it because you can almost see the finish. The biggest dangers at that point? Lurching spectators – and dogs, of course. When you’re running on very tired legs towards the end of a long run, it’s hard to react to a loose dog and move yourself out of the way quickly.
The etiquette with needing the toilet during a run is probably try not to, but be prepared. If you can find a Portaloo in time, then that really helps. Obviously, it’s something that happened to me, but it’s not the highlight of my career.
Being the best in the world at something is a surreal feeling. But it’s very much a team effort, it’s not all down to me. You haven’t seen me on roller-skates! I think I’m definitely better at running marathons.
Paula was a team captain at last year’s RunFestRun, which returns 20-22 May. See runfestrun.co.uk