World record-holding long distance runner Paula Radcliffe studied French at university and moved to Monaco in 1995. She tells Carolyn Boyd what she loves about living in the principality and her training trips to the Pyrénées.
How did you come to live in Monaco?
We’ve been there for almost ten years now. We moved there in 2005. Up to that point we had been spending a lot of time in Font Romeu in the Pyrénées at the altitude training camps, and we wanted a base nearer to there. At that stage we thought that it might only be for a year or so but we really liked it and stayed. We became more ingrained in the community; both children were born there and now it really is home.
What do you like about it?
I love being close to the sea; I never grew up by the sea but my husband did and he’s glad to be back by the sea. The weather being great means we can do lots of things outside with the kids. I can be running in the mountains in 20 minutes, or I can run along the coast. You can do so many different things; you can go skiing or just go off into Italy or France and wander around. I like Antibes, parts of Nice as well, Cannes, down towards St Raphael and places up into the mountains such as Saint Paul de Vence and Sospel.
You do high altitude training in Font Romeu. What do you like about the Pyrénées?
Yes, it is very different to the Cote d’Azur It’s one extreme to the other. But at the same time it’s not so different from the arrière-pays behind Monaco if you go up into the mountains there. I’ve always just loved running in the mountains and I came up here for the first time in 1995, and stayed in the high altitude training centre here. I’ve just been coming back here every year since and we got a training apartment here in 1998. It’s just beautiful. You can come and relax here, focus on training and enjoy the countryside and nature.
Have you done many races in France?
No, I haven’t really. I’ve done some cross country races early on in my career and a couple of track races very early on, but I’ve never really done the Paris diamond league. The Paris marathon always coincides with London, and if I had the choice, I would run the London marathon because I’m British and I’ve got the home crowd.
You became fluent in French at university, was speaking the language part of the appeal of moving over there?
Yes, definitely. I studied French and German at university and I actually came to Font Romeu for the first time on my year abroad. I went there as part of a six-month stint in France and then worked in Germany to get enough money to stay in the training centre here in Font Romeu and just to experiment with altitude at the same as working on my French. I think then that my French probably developed from the time I was spending here.
Are your children bilingual?
Yes, when it came to having the children I felt like that was a big advantage to be born bilingual and to be raised bilingual. They don’t know that they’re learning it and they’re given another skill, another asset. I look at my daughter, who is seven, and she hasn’t got a trace of an accent in English or in French and she can just flit from one to the other, and she’ll say to me: ‘Yeah Mummy, your French is good, but you can tell you’re English’.
If your athletics career hadn’t taken off, do you think you would have pursued a career involving your languages?
Yes, definitely. I love travelling and I love spending time in France. I love visiting different countries and learning about different cultures, trying to learn bits of the languages. Maybe I would have opted for international business or something that had contact with France and Germany.
Are there any French athletes that you admire, follow or look up to from history or even in present day?
Gosh. I guess there’s been quite a few going back to Annette Sergent for cross country and then Blandine Bitzner-Ducret who was one of the first athletes to take a big stand for anti-doping. I really identified with her and worked with her there on trying to raise the anti-doping issue and do more from an athlete’s point of view. There are a lot of French athletes now who I like, such as Renaud Lavillenie, who I really admire for what he has achieved in the pole vault.
Are there any other sports based over there or French sports teams that you would follow?
I love to go and watch the tennis when it’s there. I go and watch at Wimbledon as well but I think it’s an amazing setting there in Monaco and it’s truly nice to go and watch the tennis. I’ll watch a bit of swimming and a bit of cycling on the TV.
Where would you go to relax in France? Do you have a favourite holiday destination?
When I’m in the Pyrénées I like to go to the local hot springs or head down to Collioure. They’ve got a lovely beach down there and if we want to escape for a day then we’ll just head down there. Around Monaco there are lots of really nice beaches too; we’re spoilt here in Monaco. We can just go down the coast and my parents are camping at the moment near Toulon, in the Lavandou. The kids have just been there for a long weekend and had a really good time on the beach there. It’s a really nice place to just lie on a sandy beach and relax.