CHICAGO -- Her short blonde ponytail bobbing to the relentless pace, Paula Radcliffe ran the fastest marathon ever by a woman Sunday in just her second effort at the grueling distance.
The 28-year-old British runner's triumph in a chilly, windy Chicago Marathon in 2 hours, 17 minutes, 18 seconds was 88 seconds faster than the previous world best set by Catherine Ndereba of Kenya in the same race last year. Ndereba was a distant second on Sunday.
"It's rounded off a brilliant year for me," Radcliffe said. "I was really just concentrating on my race, waiting until I got to 15, 16 miles until I ran a bit quicker."
Although she is the two-time world cross country champion, Radcliffe's greatest international exposure, until Chicago, had been as an outspoken opponent of performance-enhancing drug use.
At the world track and field championships in Edmonton last year, where she was the British team captain, she held a sign reading "EPO Cheats Out" to protest the participation of Russian Olga Yegorova in the 5,000-meter heats.
Yegorova had tested positive for the performance-enhancing drug EPO but was allowed to compete on a technicality.
After a career of near-misses in her biggest races on the track, including a fading fourth-place finish in the 10,000 meters at the Sydney Olympics, Radcliffe trained this year for the first time for the marathon.
On the track, her lack of a late kick cost her in the major international championships, but her toughness, determination and endurance are perfect for the 26.2 miles of the marathon.
In remarkable condition after training in the Pyrenees mountains of southern France, she won the London Marathon in her debut at that distance April 14 in 2:18:56.
"Ever since London, I knew I was capable of doing it," Radcliffe said. "This is what I've been working towards."
Working with her husband and coach - former 1,500-meter runner Gary Lough - Radcliffe has six victories this year. She defended her world cross country title, won the 5,000 meters in the Commonwealth Games and took first in the 10,000 at the European championships.
"This year means so much to me because everything has gone so well," Radcliffe said. "I can remember being told that I should put one egg in one basket and I should just give up on running cross country and focus on the track."
On Sunday, with temperatures in the 30s, she simply wore down the competition, running the second half of the course a minute faster than she did the first, even though she was facing a stiff wind over the last few miles. Radcliffe broke away from Ndereba in the 17th mile. Ndereba, who won the race the last two years, finished in 2:19.29.
At 5-feet, 2-inches and 98 pounds, Ndereba was at the mercy of the brisk wind blowing off Lake Michigan.
"I was just like, 'Oh my goodness. I'll be blown away,"' she said. "I was struggling a little there. The last mile was tough into the wind, but the last mile you know you're near the end."
Yoko Shibui of Japan finished third in 2:21:22 - more than two minutes behind Radcliffe.
Khalid Khannouchi, born in Morocco but a U.S. citizen, won the men's race in 2:05:56 - his fourth title in Chicago. He missed the world record he set last April by 18 seconds.
Daniel Njenga of Kenya finished second in 2:06:16. Japan's Toshinari Takaoka finished third, in an identical time.
Takaoka was originally announced as the second-place finisher, but race officials later ruled he was edged out by Njenga.
At the finish, Radcliffe seemed fresh and ready to run another 24 miles, even though she said she exhausted. Along the course, she heard the cheers of support.
"I did hear my name. I even got a marriage proposal out there," she said. "When somebody shouted out to me that I had a lead in the women's race, that was the first time I knew. I hoped I would close strong and I wouldn't die."
Radcliffe wears a red ribbon when she races to show her support for compulsory blood testing, which is more revealing than standard urine tests.
When a French magazine article hinted this year that she too was using performance-enhancing drugs, she asked that her last 10 drug test results be made public, and authorized release of her blood tests from last year's world half-marathon championship and this year's London marathon.
All were clean.
She chose to be tested on Sunday, also.
"I just wanted to make sure that that was done so there could be no questions and no issues about this one," Radcliffe said.
Khannouchi fell to his knees after crossing the finish line, then rolled onto his side and wept.
"This is a magical place to run. That's why I love Chicago. It's just awesome," he said. "The conditions weren't too good and the wind was blowing hard and I just wanted to make sure I won."
Khannouchi considered quitting the sport in 1994. He was living in Brooklyn and washing dishes to make money at the time and credits his wife and coach Sandra Khannouchi for helping turn his career around.
He said there was no disappointment in falling short of breaking his own world best.
"I'm not going to be too greedy. I got and win and you can't ask for more than that," he said. "The conditions weren't good. We could have run for a world record but it was really windy and cold."
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