Former international marathoner Mara Yamauchi shares the killer session she undertook before running the second fastest time ever by a British woman
Clocking a 2:39 debut marathon in 2004, Mara Yamauchi went on to improve it by a further 16 minutes by the end of her career. A 2:31 clocking at the London Marathon in 2005 saw her selected to represent Great Britain at the World Championships in Helsinki where she finished 18th and took team bronze.
Turning to marathon running only in her thirties and with a firm focus on the 2008 Olympic Games, Yamauchi made the decision to take some unpaid leave from her demanding job in London and relocate to Tokyo in 2006. It was a move that paid off as she became the equal highest ever British finisher in the Olympic women’s marathon, taking sixth place in 2:27:29.
Having already run 2:25 on four separate occasions, Yamauchi was determined to dip under that elusive time which had become a barrier. With a VO2 max test suggesting she was in 2:21-2:22 shape, she began to prepare for the 2009 London Marathon. Sixteen days before the race, Yamauchi took to the track for her last killer session – 3x5km with a three-minute, one-lap jog recovery in the high altitude training base of Flagstaff, Arizona.
“Long intervals and long tempos are the bread and butter of marathon training”
Being unfamiliar with the surrounding area, Yamauchi decided to do the session on the track. “Usually with this session, I tried to increase the speed of the last kilometre, within each 5km, up above my marathon race pace to prepare for a change of pace at the end of the marathon,” she recalls: “Although on this occasion, I didn’t do that because the week before I had taken three days off as I was feeling unwell.”
While the session was just outside of her targeted marathon pace, she says it took place during a heavy block of training.
Coming down to race after a stint at altitude can sometimes be a fine line for an elite athlete to tread. Yamauchi, however, felt confident heading into racing in London just 11 days after the high-altitude killer session.
“You also need a bit of luck in the marathon – things like the weather, mishaps like blisters or stumbles, how the pace pans out – these can have a big impact on what you actually deliver on the day,” she says. “My training had gone really well and finishing sixth in the Beijing Olympics the previous summer was a big confidence-booster, so I knew I could run well and knock a bit more off my PB.”
She wasn’t wrong, setting a personal best of 2:23:12, a time that still places her second on the British all-time list behind Paula Radcliffe’s 2:15:25.
APRIL 10, 2009, FLAGSTAFF, ARIZONA
3x5km on the track. three-minute jog, one-lap jog recovery. Times: 17:18, 17:23, 17:28
Essentially the session is a long tempo of 15km split up into shorter chunks. “It’s a typical session that most marathoners do – long, sustained efforts,” Yamauchi says. “The marathon is obviously just one long, sustained effort and so long intervals and long tempos are the bread and butter of marathon training.”
She says she found it much easier mentally, and more beneficial physically to split her tempos up this way. “I judged that taking two lots of 90 seconds rest really wasn’t going to detract much from the quality,” she says. “And the last 5km is so critical in the marathon when you need to be able to run hard when you are tired.”