NEW YORK Paula Radcliffe sat in the stands at last year's New York City Marathon, cheering on her husband and realizing just how much she missed competing.
She recaptured the thrill of racing at the same event Sunday, but with a new twist this time, when she won, she celebrated as a mother, holding her 9-month-old daughter Isla.
Radcliffe and Martin Lel each pulled away during the final mile to win a second NYC Marathon title on a cool, sunny day with 39,085 runners starting.
"I've really, really missed it," Radcliffe said. "It's way more fun than cross training in a pool or cross training in a gym, and that's what it's all about. That's what keeps me motivated to work hard and to cross train hard is just getting out there and enjoying the atmosphere."
Radcliffe, the world-record holder from Great Britain, made a triumphant return in her first marathon in more than two years. She outlasted Gete Wami of Ethiopia, who was running her second marathon in 35 days.
Radcliffe won in 2 hours, 23 minutes, 9 seconds, beating Wami by 23 seconds. Two-time defending champion Jelena Prokopcuka of Latvia was a distant third in 2:26:13.
Lel had a better finishing kick than Abderrahim Goumri of Morocco, as they reprised their showing in April's London Marathon, when the Kenyan edged Goumri by 3 seconds.
On this day, Lel's time of 2:09:04 bested Goumri by 12 seconds in the first NYC Marathon without a pacesetter. Hendrick Ramaala of South Africa was third in 2:11:25.
"What I was doing is, maybe during the last sprint, sometimes you can lose, sometimes you can gain," Lel said. "So I said, 'Let me try to see."'
A day after elite distance runner Ryan Shay collapsed and died during the U.S. men's marathon Olympic trials in Central Park, officials held a moment of silence for Shay before the start of the men's race.
For Radcliffe and Wami, running neck and neck is nothing new. While this was their first meeting in a marathon, they've had lots of duels on the track and in cross country over the years.
"I've been there so many times with Gete on my shoulder coming into the final 400 meters," Radcliffe said, "and I was determined that this was my turn, this is the marathon this time, and I think a little bit to my advantage the last 400 meters because it's uphill, not like a track race."
Wami briefly passed Radcliffe in the final mile. But when Radcliffe surged back past her, Wami didn't have the legs to catch up again.
"She was just too strong," Wami said.
It was still a victorious day for her. By beating Prokopcuka, she captured the inaugural World Marathon Majors title, worth $500,000.
Radcliffe won $170,000 for winning, including a time bonus; Lel earned $160,000 with the bonus.
Robert Cheruiyot, who didn't run in New York, had already clinched the men's title.
Lel won his second NYC Marathon, adding to his 2003 championship. Goumri, who had never run a marathon before London, said fasting during Muslim holy month of Ramadan limited his training. Because Ramadan will be earlier next year, ending in early October instead of the middle of the month, he hopes to do even better in New York.
Olympic gold medalist Stefano Baldini of Italy was fourth and defending champ Marilson Gomes dos Santos eighth.
Seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong finished 698th in 2:46:43.
New York has now twice been the site of a triumphant comeback for Radcliffe. In 2004, she entered this event less than three months after enduring heartbreak at the Olympics, the only marathon in eight tries she hasn't won. The image of her sitting on a curb and crying in Athens after health problems forced her to drop out of the race was replaced with Radcliffe crossing the finish line victoriously in New York.
She beat a deep field Sunday, with the top five runners Lidiya Grigoryeva was fourth and Catherine Ndereba fifth coming in with 19 major marathon titles among them.
The event's top finishers seemed unconcerned by the lack of pacesetters, though Ramaala said it probably contributed to a slow start in the men's race.
"It didn't make a big difference when it comes to winning times," he said. "But it made a big difference coming to tactics."
Said New York Road Runners president Mary Wittenberg, "Our philosophy in New York is we're a championship-style race, an Olympic-style race. It's not only the course. The sport is about competition, winning titles, person against person. You lose that with pacesetters. The focus is on time. The race is a little more exciting if you don't know what's going to happen from the gun."