By  on November 7, 2007

Paula Radcliffe looked remarkably relaxed Tuesday for someone who spent Sunday running through New York with a challenger at her shoulder for almost 26.2 miles.

Radcliffe, the top women's finisher in the New York City Marathon, said she never allowed herself to feel the race was over before it actually was. "I don't ever let myself think I have won a race until I break the tape," she said. "I was telling myself that down the homestretch. I didn't know how far back Gete [Wami] was or how many strides I had on her."

Throughout the five boroughs, the cheering throngs made it impossible for Radcliffe to measure her lead. "The crowd was so amazing — I couldn't hear a thing," said Radcliffe, a Nike-backed athlete from the U.K. "It really helps you. It gives you a lift, but usually I can hear the foot strikes and breathing of the person behind me."

And she never looks back — something her father told her was a sign of weakness when she was a child. "And I know it costs you time," she said.

Radcliffe, 33, holds the women's world record for the marathon with a time of 2:15:25. But New York was her first marathon in more than two years and her first since giving birth less than 10 months ago to a daughter, Isla. Radcliffe said she was not dissuaded by friends who encouraged her to just use Sunday's race to qualify for the Beijing Olympics. On the plane to New York, she said she was thinking, "I can win and I want to win."

After staving off Wami of Ethiopia to finish in 2:23.09, a whirlwind overtook Radcliffe.

Lying on a massage table after the race, her husband, Gary Lough, gave her a gift, a black denim Louis Vuitton bag. Back at the hotel with Isla, the couple celebrated with Radcliffe's parents, Pete and Pat, and her physiologist before attending the New York Knicks home opener, where Knicks City Dancers peppered her for marathon training and recovery tips.

Later, Radcliffe moved on to a Nike-sponsored dinner where she ran into another marathoner with a gaudy athletic pedigree — Tour de France record-holder Lance Armstrong. "He did really well last year and he did superwell this year. For a cyclist, to run 2:46 after being cramped down on a bike for all those years...," she said, shaking her head with disbelief. "He said he enjoyed it better this year but it still hurt and he wasn't like me. But I couldn't imagine getting on a bike and riding like him."

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