We took time out to talk to Mara Yamauchi, 37, who’s overcome plantar fasciitis, and continues to be one of the UK’s top marathon runners…
She talked to Malcolm Bradbrook
What is your earliest memory of running?
“My family lived in Nairobi, Kenya, when I was growing up. I remember running around in the garden because the weather was so nice all year round.”
Were you the best in your school or did you develop later?
“At school in Oxford I sometimes won the distance races on sports day, but not always. I only took up running seriously when I went to University, aged 18.”
When did you know that you wanted to be a professional
“When I left full-time education I was improving a lot and thought I could make it as an elite runner. But I wasn’t good enough then to afford to run full-time. So, I put my dream on the back-burner and decided I would come back to it when the opportunity arose.”
You weren’t well known until 2005, what did you do before?
“As I wasn’t good enough to earn a living as a full-time athlete when I left Uni I had to get a job and joined the Diplomatic Service. I worked in London and Japan for several years, and tried to maintain my fitness during that time on top of work. In 2003 I switched to part-time work so that I could train more and return to my dream of becoming a top class runner.”
Did you ever doubt that you would make it to the top?
“Yes, often! Of course it’s very enjoyable and I am very lucky being able to live my dream. But very few people who dream of being at the top in their sport actually make it. You have to overcome injuries and other obstacles along the way.”
What is your best memory of your running career so far?
“Winning The Osaka Marathon in January 2008 and finishing 6th in The Beijing Olympic Marathon.”
Where is your favourite place in the UK to go running?
“My home town has got to be the best place for a runner. I’m from Oxford. It is such a beautiful city – it takes my breath away when I return having been away. There are so many green, open spaces right in and around the city. It also has a good running track, hills, tow-paths, manicured cricket pitches – everything a runner could want!”
How many miles do you run every week?
“110 when in full swing for a marathon, but less than that when recovering from a race or gearing up again after a lay-off.” What does the diet of an elite marathon runner look like?
“Variety is everything – without it you cannot get all the nutrients your body needs. I try to eat plenty of carbs, meat, fish, fruit, vegetables and wholefoods such as nuts & seeds. But, I also love chocolate and cakes now and again! My secret weapon is home-made fruit & vegetable smoothies every morning for breakfast.”
What are your goals in running – and how long do you think you have to achieve them?
“To win a medal at the 2012 London Olympics, and to win at least one more major city marathon. Given my age, (37) I’m not sure I will have many top class marathons in me after that, but you never know! I also want to break my PBs for the marathon, half-marathon and 10k.”
Is there camaraderie among elite marathon runners?
“Yes, there’s lots of camaraderie amongst elite runners – we often meet at races or at training venues. We all face similar challenges and share the same dream and love for running. And we’re often team-mates at championships.”
Do you have any running tips you can pass on to our readers?
“Always set yourself a challenging but realistic goal. This helps with motivation and gives direction to your training. And look after yourself! Running is hard on the body and not taking care of it is a recipe for injury and other setbacks.”
Can you describe last year’s injury, and why you think it came about?
“I got plantar fasciitis (painful inflammation of the tissue connecting the heel to the toes) as I resumed training after the London marathon in April 2009. It happened because I started training too hard before my body was fully recovered.”
The injury came after a couple of very strong years – how frustrating was that for you?
“Very! My time in London was the second fastest in the world in 2009 so I felt that I could realistically hope for a medal at the Berlin World Championships, but I had to withdraw. The injury was also a wake-up call – I was pushing myself too hard continuously, and it made me realise you cannot do that, and hope to perform well.”
How did you maintain your fitness through the injury?
“I did cross training: weight training, elliptical training, cycling, aqua-running and swimming.”
Of all the injuries you have suffered as a runner – what one has been the worst?
“Plantar fasciitis is definitely the worst! It’s hard to heal because it’s almost impossible to stay off your feet. And tendons need just the right amount of loading to heal – not too much and not too little. Getting that balance right is very difficult. My biomechanics make me prone to plantar fasciitis and it’s an injury that drives me nuts! But, fortunately, there’s plenty that can be done to prevent it: sleeping with a night splint, and keeping calves, glutes and hamstrings stretched. And there are foot exercises you can do – a golf ball massage on the sole of your foot does the trick!”
How important is your mindset when it comes to recovering from an injury?
“It is everything! Being injured is psychologically very tough – it’s easy to get down in the dumps and lose motivation. But you just have to keep your faith, find ways to stay positive, and work hard on your rehab. Human bodies will heal if given the right amount of love and care!”
What support do you have as an elite runner?
“I receive excellent support from UK Athletics and The English Institute of Sport, and from my sponsors, for which I am very grateful. But I couldn’t train and race as I am now without the help of my husband, Shige. He works with me full-time on marathon training. He does pretty much everything in our household: cooking; shopping; massage; coaching; organising our training camps; and my participation in races; plus all our domestic admin! For any runner, support from people around you is crucial if you want to reach your goals.”
Mara Yamauchi - The Lowdown
- Born: 13 August 1973
- Height: 5’4’’
- Mara was born in Oxford but lived in Nairobi until 1983. She was named after the Mara River which runs through Kenya
- Education: Oxford University, St Anne’s College, Politics, Philosophy and Economics; London School of Economics, Politics and Economics, Masters
- Club: Harrow AC (UK)
- 5000m: 15:28:58, 24th July 2006, Solihull, UK
- 5k Road: 15:52, 2nd June 2007, Freihofer’s 5k, USA
- 10,000m: 31:49, 21st March 2006, Melbourne, Australia
- 10k Road: 31:43, 19th February 2006, Ohume10k, Japan
- Half Marathon: 68:29, 1st February 2008, Marugame Half Marathon, Japan
- Marathon: 2:23:12, 26th April 2009, Flora London Marathon, UK