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After Long Layoff, Yamauchi Set To Race Tomorrow

She's been sidelined for ten months.


Mara Yamauchi leads the elite women’s race at the start of the 2010 Bupa Great North Run. Photo: David Monti

She’s been sidelined for ten months.

By David Monti
(c) 2011 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

GATESHEAD, ENGLAND (17-Sep) — Still a long way from the fitness which allowed her become the second-fastest British woman ever at the marathon distance, Mara Yamauchi is nonetheless feeling optimistic these days.  Sidelined for over ten months with a hamstring injury, the 38 year-old Yamauchi will run the Bupa Great North Run half-marathon here tomorrow, her first race since last November’s ING New York City Marathon.

“I’ve had sort of stiff hamstrings all of my career,” said Yamauchi, whose hamstring woes became critical last February.   “Even at the end of last year it bothered me more than normal, but I just managed it.  But, it kept getting worse and worse.”

Yamauchi, who had been based for years in Tokyo with her husband and coach Shige, realized that they needed to come back to Britain to get treatment.  So last February she packed up house and the couple moved to Teddington in London.

“I tried to sort it out in Japan with the staff who were helping me there, but it really didn’t work out,” she continued.  “So we moved back to the U.K., and I had various types of treatment and physiotherapy, basically trying just to strengthen the hamstring.  I started running again in April, but it was still really painful.”

Again, Yamauchi realized that another change was needed, so she consulted the American sprints coach Dan Pfaff who guided the careers of Donovan Bailey and Obadele Thompson, amongst others.  Pfaff has been employed as a coach by UK Athletics since 2009.  Under Pfaff, Yamauchi began to focus on improving her biomechanics to get at the root cause of the problem.

“His approach is really getting you to run as you should run, naturally,” Yamauchi said.  “So, getting rid of any biomechanical problems which cause injuries.  Since I’ve been doing that, I’ve been able to gradually build up, and build up, and I’m almost back at my usual regimen.

Yamauchi, whose sixth place finish at the 2008 Olympic Marathon in Beijing equals the best performance ever by a British woman in an Olympic Marathon, will use tomorrow’s run from Newcastle to South Shields to test her preparations for the Yokohama Women’s Marathon on November 20.  She isn’t sure what tomorrow will bring.

“It’s difficult to say,” said the former Oxford University student who finished fifth here last year in 1:10:39.  “This is my first race in nearly a year.  But, the times I’ve been doing in training have been OK.  I wouldn’t say I’m in PB shape, but I’m reasonably confident. Mentally anyway, I’m looking forward to the race and feeling positive about it.”

A late bloomer, Yamauchi’s name was essentially unknown to British sports fans until she won a bronze medal at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne at 32 years-old.  Thirty-three days later, she finished sixth at the Virgin London Marathon, clocking 2:25:13 and shaving more than two minutes off of her personal best.  She had her best seasons in 2008 and 2009 when she won the Osaka Women’s Marathon, finished third at the discontinued Tokyo Women’s Marathon, sixth at the Olympics, and reached the second step of the podium in at the Virgin London Marathon with a world-class time of 2:23:12.  Paula Radcliffe is the only British woman who has run faster.

Before enduring her recent injury struggles, her 2010 season was mostly disappointing, despite winning the NYC Half-Marathon in March.  She finished tenth at the Virgin London Marathon after famously enduring a five-day trip to make it to the race after all of the flight cancellations caused by the Icelandic volcano eruption (she and Shige had to travel all the way from Albuquerque to London).  She also finished 13th at the ING New York City Marathon, a race she had hoped to win.

Yamauchi is both a hard worker and relentlessly optimistic.  She credits her methodical approach to training to getting over her injury.

“A lot of athletics is mind over body,” she said.  “So that’s good.  With injuries you’ve got to be patient.  You spend days, weeks months getting treatment and not feeling better.  You’ve just got to stick at it.”

One of the things keeping her going is the possibility of running in the London Olympics next year.  If Yamauchi runs under 2:31 at Yokohama and is amongst the three fastest British woman at the end of this year, she will likely be selected for the team.  If that’s the case, her next marathon would be at the Olympics.

“It’s something I can’t pass up,” she said of the London Olympics.  “I have to try and be there.  If the Olympics weren’t in London I might have retired by now.”

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Tomorrow’s 31st Bupa Great North Run sold out at 54,000 entries.  Last year’s race had 39,439 finishers, making it the largest half-marathon in the world.  The leading contenders for the men’s title are Emmanuel Mutai (KEN), Jaouad Gharib (MAR), Micah Kogo (KEN), Juan Luis Barrios (MEX), and Martin Mathathi (KEN).  On the women’s side (women run in a separate all-women’s race with an early start), the key athletes are Birhane Adere (ETH), Yamauchi (GBR), Jo Pavey (GBR), Helen Clitheroe (GBR), Irene Jerotich (KEN), Jessica Augusto (POR), Marisa Barros (POR), and Rene Kalmer (RSA).  The race is carried live on BBC 1, with coverage beginning at 9:00 a.m.  The actual race starting times are 10:15 for the elite women and 10:40 for the elite men/mass start.