SUPERWOMAN Paula Radcliffe devastated her rivals as she set a new world half marathon best time in yesterday's BUPA Great North Run.

The 29-year-old clocked 65 mins 40 secs - four seconds quicker than the previous best, run on a faster course in Lisbon - making it two records in two weeks after recovering from injury.

And in near perfect conditions previous men's winner Hendrick Ramaala won a breathtaking final sprint to finish in 60 mins 1 sec, the fastest time in the world this year and only three seconds outside the course record.

But it was world marathon record-holder Radcliffe who captured all the headlines - and a $5,000 course record bonus - with a fantastic performance in the world's biggest race over 13.1 miles.

And afterwards she revealed: "I think I could have run harder if I had been pressed in the middle of the race."

Radcliffe, who broke her own world marathon record when she ran 2:15:25in London this year, had set a new world 5K road record in London's Hyde Park earlier this month and underlined her complete return to peak fitness before the World Half Marathon Championships in Vilamoura, Portugal, in two weeks.

After shopping the day before in a local supermarket for the right pre-race breakfast ingredients, she ran from the front straight from the gun and totally destroyed a world-class field, which included Kenyan Susan Chepkemei, who set the previous world best time in the 2001 Lisbon Half Marathon.

But Radcliffe, who had broken six world record in six races over the previous 12 months, admitted that she had not joined the 47,000 running from Newcastle to South Shields, with aspirations of a world best time.

She knew the Tyneside course did not qualify for world records and she maintained she would have been content with a winning performance.

But as the race progressed she slipped into a relaxed, relentless rhythm, collecting world bests for 15K (46.41), ten miles (50.01) and 20K, and it was obvious that something really special was on the cards.

Radcliffe, who won the 2000 race in 67.07, said: "I wanted to run fast, but it was breezy and a bit up and down.

"Once I got away I was relaxed and I was trying to beat the course record - but I didn't realise I was on for a world best time.

"The crowd were all cheering me on and I was running as hard as I could. The support was tremendous - it was a good day but I'm sure they would have come out in the rain. They were amazing all the way.

"I don't think anything will be as loud as the London Marathon but it was pretty close.

''I knew I was on schedule to break the course record and picked up in the last half mile because I saw the clock on the timekeeping car.

''But it was only with 30 metres left I realised the world best was possible and I gave it everything I had.

''The crowd were magnificent right through the race and particularly in that last mile.

''But the most important thing was just to win the race. The training sessions beforehand had all gone really well.''

She added: "It was nice just to get out and win, but this will be a great confidence booster before the World Half Marathon Championships in Vilamoura, which is rated as a faster course."

Radcliffe realises that she is now expected to produce something special every time she turns out. She said: "It is all good fun because I have managed to pull it off all the time.

"I don't feel under any special pressure but I have got to be realistic and I know it is not going to happen every time I race."

Radcliffe effectively disposed of the challenge from Ethiopian Berhane Adere - holder of gold medals from track, road, cross country and indoor championships - and 2001 winner Chepkemei by the five mile mark, when she had a 100 metres lead.

The two athletes left trailing in her wake were left to scrap it out for second place - and Adere beat her Kenyan rival along the sea front, finishing in 67.32, with defending champion Sonia O'Sullivan, of Ireland, fourth in 68.40.

Houghton and Peterlee's 46-year-old former World Veterans Championships double gold medallist Sheila Allen, defied a mid-race foot injury to become the first North-East finisher in 17th position, timed at 81.25, a minute and a half ahead of Elswick's Judith Nutt, nearly 20 years her junior.

The men's race was a much tighter affair with late entry Ramaala only beating Kenya's Jackson Koech in the last 150 metres. Realising he had broken his rival, the South African raised his hands in triumph and eased off - costing him a couple of seconds.

But Ramaala, winner in 1997, said: "I eased off because I was tired. I celebrated a little too early - it probably cost me two seconds but not the course record."

The course record holder, Paul Kosgei, who won last year in 59.58, fell victim to the pace after six miles and was outpaced along the seafront by the Ukraine's three times European cross country champion, Sergey Lebid, for third place.

The first Briton home was seventh-placed Mark Steinle, of Blackheath, who clocked 62.55, while Morpeth Harrier Mark Hudspith was the first North-East man home in 65.26.

* Morpeth Harrier Nathan Shrubb won the Junior Great North Run, clocking 15 mins 20 secs over the three miles. He beat Jarrow and Hebburn's Martin Wilson by five seconds. Third place, in 15:39, went to Lewis Moses of Newton Aycliffe.

The girls' race was won by Kenndal schoolgirl Cloe Rodham, who beat Gateshead's Mary Ferrier.

Scotland's Eilish McColgan found herself in the limelight when finishing third.

It might be a little early making comparisons with her mother Liz, one of the world's greatest-ever distance runners.

But against older opponents, McColgan showed all of the guts and determination of the former world 10,000 metres gold medallist and London Marathon champion.

Still only 12, McColgan - in a massive 6,000-strong field - finished in the very respectable time of 18 minutes and 04 seconds on the fast 4km course.