Born in a blizzard in December 1973, it was similar conditions in which Paula had her first taste of global success. Back in 1992, Paula won the junior title at the World Cross Country Championships, beating the likes of Wang Junxia and Gete Wami by a significant margin. But the transition from junior to senior was never easy.
Placing a very respectable 7th place at the 1993 World Championships at the age of 19, Paula looked ahead to the following years' European Championships and Commonwealth Games. But 1994 started with a foot injury; an injury that was misdiagnosed, forcing her to miss the entire season. At one point, Paula considered quitting, thinking the problem would never get better, but she continued with the recovery and kick-started her career again in 1995.
Back on track, Paula improved on her previous World Champs performance by finishing 5th over 5000m at the 1995 World Championships in Gothenburg. At the end of the year, her times for the 3000m and 5000m were amongst the five fastest in the world for that season.
The following year saw another 5th place finish, this time at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. Wang Junxia won the race, avenging the defeat suffered to Paula four years prior. Paula had missed out on the medals again. The disappointment at missing out on a medal was somewhat lessened by the first-class honours degree she achieved that year in French, German & Economics.
That was soon to change though, as in early 1997 she won the silver medal at the World Cross Country Championships, having to succumb to the finishing pace of Derartu Tulu. Tulu was to become one of Paula's long-time rivals. That year saw progress on the track too, as Paula got one step closer to a medal, finishing 4th at the World Championships over 5000m, being beaten by the fast finishing Gabriela Szabo, Roberta Brunet and Fernanda Ribeiro. A step-up in distance was on the cards.
Early in 1998, Paula set the fastest debut time over 10,000m, covering the 25 laps in 30:48.58, the second-fastest time in the world for the 1998 season and a British record. However, suffering from a virus in the European Championships that year, Paula finished 5th over 10,000m, knowing she hadn't done herself justice and knowing there was more to come.
After taking time off to recover from the virus, Paula returned later that year to end the season on a high, winning the European Cross Country title, her first senior international title.
The 10,000m at the 1999 World Championships in Seville was then hailed as the greatest ever confrontation over the distance. Unfortunately for Paula it wasn't quite so great. Despite setting a huge personal best (30:27.13), Paula missed out on the gold by a few seconds and had to settle for silver behind Gete Wami, who unleashed a lethal sprint over the final 200m. A pattern was beginning to emerge...
Sydney wasn't much different, apart from the fact that this time three athletes sprinted ahead of Paula in the final stages, leaving Paula out of the medals. Her new British and Commonwealth record (30:26.97) wasn't much consolation. After ending the year with a European record in the half marathon and a win at the World Half Marathon Championships, Paula went away to work on the thing others said she lacked - sprint pace.
Sure enough the work paid off as, in a captivating twist of events, Paula sprinted away from Gete Wami in the final 50 metres of the long course at the World Cross Country Championships. Paula returned the next day to win the silver medal over the shorter course, losing out to a more determined Wami. Overall, Paula was extremely pleased, saying "Every time I've dreamed of winning this title it's been with a sprint finish because people keep telling me I haven't got one."