"How to achieve your goal as an A-Level student": a talk by Paula Radcliffe

Paula Radcliffe Talk

As marathon world record holder for an astonishing ten years running, Paula Radcliffe knows a lot about aiming high. Alongside her sporting commitments, she also passed her A levels and went on to achieve a first-class honours degree from Loughborough University. We were honoured that she was kind enough to share some of her experiences and speak to our A level students about the determination, motivation and organisation that have enabled her to succeed and how they can achieve their goals in lives with these qualities. Her career has not been without its trials and, in places, students and staff were moved to tears by her honest account of the struggles as well as the glory.

Paula's philosophy

Paula's philosophy is that there are five key components to life: health, family, friends, integrity and career, which must be in good balance in order to achieve happiness. It is like juggling five balls in the air. The first four balls are delicate - students are advised to look after and treasure them. The career ball on the other hand is something Paula asked students to imagine being made of rubber, the idea being that they could take risks with it and bounce it if they want; sometimes it is only by facing challenges that the ball will be able to drop low and achieve the bounce it needs for great success.

Race with determination

Paula compared A level courses to preparing for a race, with all of the preparation they will need to undertake as they are near the starting line or the exam hall. She also encouraged sixth formers not to be disheartened by adversity. Using an emotive video, Paula was brave enough to share with us the most disappointing moments of her career. Expected to succeed and with all of Britain watching, she dropped out of two important races due to injury. It showed a very human side of a successful athlete and for a generation who were probably not aware at the time of Paula’s efforts, it puts her obvious success into perspective. It was the determination not to give up and the drive to succeed that got Paula back on track.

Goals for gold

Paula also impressed upon the students the need to always aim for something and to keep a list of personal goals which they could refer to and focus on. She has made a list each year for many years and showed us a slide of her goals from when she was our students’ age. As well as some longed-for sporting achievements, Paula’s list included the A level results she wanted and her dream to get into Loughborough University which of course she was to later realise. She encouraged our students to make a similar list of aspirations as a tangible record of what they would like to achieve.

Although no-one would detract from Paula’s personal efforts towards her achievements, she was quick to acknowledge the team around her. Again, she related this to the students themselves, showing them how their families, friends, tutors, Directors of Studies and others in their lives were there to support them and how they too have team of people who are as keen as they are to help with their studies this year and who care about their aspirations.


The talk took a moral turn when Paula touched upon integrity in sport and cited an example from the world of cycling to demonstrate the importance of rewards being deserved and honest. Taking performance-enhancing drugs is the sports equivalent of copying someone else’s test paper in the classroom: you cannot celebrate success and if you are discovered the consequences will be considerably more serious than dropping a grade that had been achieved honestly.

Finally, Paula explained the importance of exercising and keeping fit. She told us that physically active people are likely to score 40% better on test scores and 15% more likely to go to university than people who are not active. The students were able to speak to her at the end and their insightful ponderings included questions about Paula’s own role models and how she juggled her training with her work (a lot of organisation and sleeping in small bursts). They clearly enjoyed the time that she spent with us and we will look forward to hearing from Paula again next year.