ACCRINGTON road runner Sarah Ridehalgh was rubbing shoulders with Paula Radcliffe as she competed in the Great North Run on Sunday.
The 31-year-old qualified to be in the elite ladies race with a time of 1 hour 25 minutes over the 13.1 mile course and it meant she was on the starting line with the top female athletes.
"It was surreal really as I was looking around wondering what I was doing there," said Sarah, who lives in Oswaldtwistle.
"I had a quick word with Paula to wish her good luck and she said she was looking forward to the race.
"I was pleased with my race as you do wonder what you are doing there at the beginning but then I crossed the finishing line ahead of some of them and you begin to think you are not that bad!"
Sarah in fact crossed the line in a personal best of one hour 23 minutes and 12 seconds and finished 21st lady beating a number of the elite runners.
And it meant she finished 226th overall out of the 50,000 who started the popular race from Newcastle to South Shields.
"It was a really good experience and I had quite a few texts from people telling me they had seen me on television stood behind Paula at the start of the race," said Sarah, with her Accrington Road Runners vest clearly visible.
It is a huge achievement for Sarah who was a late starter to running.
"I only took it up about four and a half years ago as I took part in the Race for Life in Blackburn.
"I decided I wanted to do the Great North Run and got in to raise money for cancer research.
"I was going to train with my then boyfriend - who is now my husband - but he got injured so I decided to look for a local club, joined Accrington Road Runners and it has gone on from there.
"I qualified for the elite section by running 1 hour 25 at the Liverpool half marathon in March.
"I was hoping to get about the same again but it is a hard course - between nine and 11 miles it is uphill and then, when you turn onto the coast road, you can see the finishing post but it never seems to get nearer.
"So it was a pleasant surprise to get my personal best."
Paul Radcliffe finished second - after 18 months out having a baby and returning from injury - in 1 hour seven minutes and 53 seconds.
It has been a good year for Sarah who was a member of the Accrington Road Runners ladies team of three that won the All-England half-marathon national title championships last year.
Her next aim is to take part in the speedy Wesham 10km and she has entered next year's London Marathon.
Sarah got her best time for the marathon last year in three hours 22 minutes and she is keen to break the three hour 15 minute mark so she can once more line up alongside Paula in the elite ladies marathon race.
"The three marathons I have run have been for charity - the East Lancs Hospice - which treated my husband's mum," added Sarah.
- Accrington Road Runners train from Wilson's Playing Fields at 6.30pm every Tuesday. All abilities are welcome.