New York:Most people would consider running 30-45 minutes every other day to be strenuous exercise even if they weren't carrying around another human being.
To Paula Radcliffe, those workouts during the last two months of her pregnancy qualified as taking it easy.
The marathon world record-holder felt so good leading up to the birth of her first child in January that she expected to quickly return to competition.
Radcliffe couldn't have predicted that Sunday's New York City Marathon would mark just her second race since welcoming daughter Isla into the world.
"To be honest, I never suspected it would be 7 1/2, 8 months to get back racing, especially for the fact I was back almost ready to race in May," Radcliffe said Friday.
Instead, May brought the need for an eight-week layoff resulting from a stress fracture in her sacrum, the bone at the base of the spine, sustained during childbirth.
The 33-year-old Briton will run her first marathon in more than two years against a deep women's field.
Her competition includes two-time defending champion Jelena Prokopcuka of Latvia, world champion Catherine Ndereba of Kenya, Berlin Marathon winner Gete Wami of Ethiopia and Boston Marathon winner Lidiya Grigoryeva of Russia.
A somber note was struck on the eve of the race with the death of Ryan Shay during the Olympic men's marathon trials. Shay, a top distance runner, collapsed about eight kilometers (5 1/2 miles) into the race.
Although the top American marathoners will skip Sunday's race, Brazil's Marilson Gomes dos Santos returns to defend his men's title.
Other contenders include Olympic gold medalist Stefano Baldini of Italy, London Marathon champ Martin Lel of Kenya and 2004 New York winner Hendrick Ramaala of South Africa.
Radcliffe, the 2004 NYC Marathon champ, continued to run twice a day during the first five months of her pregnancy.
She made sure her heart rate didn't rise above a certain level, but she didn't exactly go for leisurely jogs, either.
Radcliffe kept up with her husband and coach, Gary Lough, who's no slouch himself. He finished last year's NYC Marathon in two hours, 41 minutes.
Over the next two months of her pregnancy, Radcliffe ran once a day while also biking or jogging in the pool in the afternoon.
She returned to competition in late September, placing second at the BUPA Great North Run half-marathon in Newcastle, England.
Radcliffe has won six of the seven marathons she has entered in her career. Her mind-set heading into this weekend was to win again.
"I made a decision to come, because I think I can be competitive," she said.
Radcliffe said she feels stronger than before her pregnancy and that her husband's help has made balancing childcare and training easy.
"Generally, the happier I am, the better I run," she said. "Certainly I'm a lot happier with Isla in our lives."