News27 May 2009

Yamauchi looking to continue Mara-thon breakthrough in Berlin


Mara Yamauchi celebrates her second place finish at 2009 London Marathon (© Getty Images)

Named after the Mara River in Kenya where she lived as a youth, British long-distance star Mara Yamauchi has been working hard on causing some ripples of her own on the athletics radar, and now has strong aspirations of turning her presence into a tidal wave of excitement in the Marathon at the 12th IAAF World Championships in Athletics, Berlin, Germany (15 to 23 August).

2008 marked a breakthrough season for the Oxford-born 2006 Commonwealth Games 10,000m bronze medallist, as Yamauchi won her first international 26.2 miler in Osaka, followed up by an outstanding sixth place finish in the Beijing Olympics – missing out on the medals by just 20 seconds.

London runner-up finish boosts confidence

Determined to make the leap up to the podium, the 35-year-old – who is currently on unpaid leave from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office whilst living in Japan – improved her training and mental strength to finish a superb runner-up in last month’s London Marathon. Recording the second-fastest time by a Briton ever – behind World record holder Paula Radcliffe – with a huge 2:23:12 personal best (her previous best was 2:25:03 from 2008) Yamauchi capitalised on the home support to push Germany’s Irina Mitikenko for the majority of the race and breaking through into not only the world class but also into a Berlin medal contender.

Believing her steady improvement over the past four or five years could put her in the spotlight for the London 2012 Olympics, the Tokyo-based diplomat explained: “It was a big breakthrough and so much of it is mental. If you consider yourself to be a really top athlete, then you go and do the training required with no questions asked.”

“I was very happy to come second in what was a very strong field, and to finally take a big chunk off my PB. It also lifted me to third in the world rankings, the highest I’ve ever been.”

Continuing, Yamauchi insists, “But I know I can run faster, so it has given me the confidence that I can be right up there in world class races. The crowds and support in London are always fantastic and this was the first time London hosted the Marathon as Olympic host city, which made it extra special.”

Blossoming with age

With the average age of the top 10 women in London being 33, the Japanese cuisine enthusiast divulges, “Because you can only run two or three competitive marathons per year, it often takes longer for marathon runners to reach the top of their event, compared to athletes in other events. But I think advanced age can help in the marathon, because mental strength is crucial, it can take a while to build up the volume of training required to be a top marathon runner, and sheer speed is less important than in shorter events so age is less of a hindering factor.”

Berlin focus

Post-London, with her husband and coach, Shige, Yamauchi re-acquainted herself with family and friends back in England and – such is her professionalism and focus – inspected the route for the global Championships in the German capital.

With high hopes for another scintillating performance, Yamauchi explains, “I want to finish in the top three. I’ve been very close to the medals before, and this time I really want to win a medal as I know I can – I just have to deliver on the day.”

Refusing to entertain talk of potential team tactics with her illustrious countrywoman (Radcliffe), Yamauchi remains focused on an individual medal, rather than a team honour and has already re-focused on her major goal of the year.

“We will train in Japan (Tokyo and Nagano) until early July, and then in St. Moritz, Switzerland. We’ve been to all these places before and they are excellent for training. I am building up again now and I have one race planned before Berlin – the Sapporo half-marathon on 5 July in Japan.”

Living in Japan and looking to the future

Evidently content with her life in Japan, Yamauchi enthuses, “Living in Japan has definitely helped my running. Of course there are things I miss about the UK such as training with my friends, but the level of competition here is probably the best in the world, which has to have a positive impact. Japan makes you raise your game - they have so many athletes training full time for the marathon, the depth is unbelievable."

When questioned on her strengths and weaknesses, she responds, “My strengths are that I am consistent and gradually improving all the time. I hope my experience in championship marathons (Helsinki 2005, Osaka 2007, Beijing 2008) will serve me well in Berlin too.  I need to work on improving my speed over shorter distances and at the end of marathons.”

In typical style, Yamauchi will undoubtedly put in the hard work required to step out of the shadow of Britain’s number one Marathon star and produce a Mara-vellous display come the big day to finally achieve the championship recognition she deserves.

Nicola Bamford for the IAAF
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