Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Great Scot


Britain’s top finisher in the 2010 Virgin London marathon Andrew Lemoncello reaped the rewards of years of hard graft in America last weekend and is now looking forward to his championship debut over the 26.2 mile distance this summer, writes Nicola Bamford.

For 27-year-old Lemoncello, stepping up to the marathon this year was a ‘calling’ of sorts. After years of dedication only to be left disappointed by his results in his first love; the steeplechase, the Scottish runner decided to swap the barriers for the miles with immediate success.

Originally from Fife but now based in Flagstaff, Arizona, Lemoncello took advantage of a tired world-class field following the recent airline chaos to place an unprecedented eighth in the British capital in a time of 2:13.40.

With his debut being one of the most eagerly anticipated by a Brit for a few years, Lemoncello lived up to the pressure by exceeding expectations; apart from his own that is:

“I'm frustrated," Lemoncello explained after taking on arguably the world’s finest marathon field.

Coached by Greg McMillan, the new British number one had been hoping for a time closer to 2:10, but learning the event and setting a credible benchmark for the future was the main priority.

The tall runner went through the half-way mark in 65:27 but felt the pace-makers did not do their job accurately: "I wasn't looking around at all because I had the numbers in my head. I knew what I wanted to run, but you trust the pacers, and to realise you're 10 seconds off the pace so early on is just so frustrating.

"It wasn't so much difficult, but it was hard to focus. Running on my own from 11 miles was just too much - it was basically a 15-mile tempo on my own in the wind."

Continental champs

Averaging 135-miles per week in the three months prior to London; with his highest training week reaching 152-miles, Lemoncello certainly had logged the miles in the bank to warrant a strong performance.

Indeed, he has now set his sights on his second marathon at the European Championships in Barcelona this coming July:

"Yes, I'm now planning to do the European Championships marathon," Lemoncello said soon after London. "My plan had always been to race 10,000m at the Europeans, followed by an autumn marathon, but now I think, ‘Why not?'

Sponsored by Mizuno, Lemoncello continued on his decision to run in the continental championships: "I've done a lot of training and I don't feel any different today than after a long Sunday run, so physically I have no problems at all. I also want to run in a race - in a pack - so yes, that's now my plan."


His lifestyle, too, is evidently conducive to achieving top results. Training in a year-round mild climate with the Adidas-sponsored McMillan Elite group, Lemoncello has top medical and facility access in addition to Irish half-marathon record-holder Martin Fagan as one of his many top distance-running training partners.

Being able to combine part-time work in a sushi restaurant with training as a full-time athlete also allows the Scot to focus on achieving his athletic dreams of competing in 2012; though his time is presently being taking up by preparations for his forthcoming wedding this autumn and the building of his dream home.

Such is Lemoncello’s resolve to represent Britain proudly, he has turned down the chance to run for the USA despite owning an American passport and also the opportunity of a modelling career. He has even recently been baptised as a Catholic, as it is his faith which helps him through the arduous training runs and sessions.

Bold bid

Indeed, Lemoncello has come a long way in the past year since tackling the longer distances. As a teen, he took a plethora of national junior and under23 medals over the ‘chase and 5000m before accepting a scholarship to the States in 2005.
During his three years at Florida State University, Lemoncello reduced his personal bests on the track and each summer, returned to the UK to win the British senior steeplechase crown.

Though his 2008 Olympic qualifying time of 8:22.95 for the 3,000m steeplechase was the fastest by a Brit for 14-years, it was placing 12th and 10th, respectively in the heats of the 2007 World Championships and the Beijing Olympics that prompted the move up in distance for Lemoncello.

A few months after finishing 79th and 29th, respectively in the World and European cross-country Championships, Lemoncello’s bold bid paid off with a 27:57 clocking for 10km on the roads and 61:52 for the half-marathon – going number twelve on the British all-time lists in the process.

Twenty-sixth place in the World half-marathon Championships in Birmingham six-months ago followed, ahead of swift road runs in the US and Japan earlier this year, but it was his performance in London that was the real eye-opener and perhaps just the beginning of much more to come for Britain’s new top marathon man.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Mara-thon Test


After a gruelling six-day journey from her high-altitude training base in New Mexico, Britain’s Mara Yamauchi has successfully returned home in time to start this Sunday’s Virgin London marathon as one of the hot contenders for victory, writes Nicola Bamford.

The 36-year-old 2009 runner-up travelled with husband and coach, Shigetoshi to Colorado last Thursday only to find there were no flights to London due to the cloud of volcanic ash which recently forced the unprecedented closure of airspace around northern Europe for almost a week.

The duo then travelled to New Jersey and attempted to board a flight to Ireland before eventually flying to Lisbon, followed by a six-hour taxi ride to Madrid. When they discovered there were no seats available on ferries to Portsmouth, the Yamauchi’s rented a car and drove for two days to Paris, before taking a taxi to the French coast where the race organisers hired a private Piston propeller plane to fly them to London.

Interesting journey

Yamauchi indeed, will be hoping the arduous trip from Albuquerque has not taken its toll on her body since arriving only four-days prior to the world’s most popular 26.2 mile test, as the Japan-based runner expects to make an impact over a stellar field on the capitals’ streets this weekend.

The 2008 Olympic marathon sixth-placer revealed: "It's been an interesting journey to say the least and hardly the best way to prepare for the race. I am tired but most of all just happy to be here.

Now at least I have time to relax and begin to focus my mind on the race. I am confident I will be fully recovered and ready to run by Sunday morning."


Explaining how mixtures of emotions and scenarios have flown through her mind in the past few days, Yamauchi continued:

"There were times when I thought I wouldn't make it. There were also times when I thought I'd be the only person to make it and then I would win the race by 10 minutes," she added. "It's been such a mental roller coaster.”

If I run well on Sunday it will be the icing on the cake. Now I am just relieved to be here and to be able to switch my brain from transport logistics to running fast.”

Remaining positive

Despite the unorthodox preparation for her biggest race since the 2008 Olympics, the Briton explained how she has chosen to take a positive outlook from the ordeal:
"I've been on flights and cars pretty much continuously since we left. I didn't have much time to sleep and hardly did any training because there wasn't time while we kept figuring out what to do next. We didn't have much time to eat either; we just kept grabbing sandwiches.

It was mentally pretty tiring, as well. But on the positive side, I didn't have time to think or worry about the race. It was also fantastic weather and I saw some fabulous scenery.

If it hadn't been for this trip I would never have seen some of these places. I'd never have travelled from Lisbon to Madrid by road, or seen the country between there and Paris, or flown in that amazing plane the London Marathon arranged to get us to Shoreham. And we stayed in a lovely hotel in France."

Tough task

Even without the travel chaos, Yamauchi’s countdown to the 2010 London event has been a rollercoaster experience in itself. After missing the 2009 World Championships and last autumn with a double foot injury and an illness, the British number two behind world-record holder, Paula Radcliffe bounced back to form with victory in the New York half-marathon last month to prove she has rounded into fine shape in time for arguably the most competitive race on the calendar outside of championships.

Now, the Oxford-born 2006 Commonwealth Games 10,000m bronze-medallist is hoping the large volumes of hill running she has been doing in New Mexico will help her to become the first Briton to win the prestigious London race since Radcliffe took the crown in 2005.

A tough task lies ahead, however in the shape of last year’s winner, Irina Mikitenko and other world-class competitors including Denna Kastor, Berhane Adere and Lyudmila Petrova.

Yamauchi revealed her feelings on the past few months:

"The injury was a signal, a warning sign that I was overdoing it. In that way it was useful and I've made some changes to my training since. New York was a great confidence boost.”
Home support

Named after the Mara River in Kenya where she lived as a youth, Yamauchi has strong aspirations of turning her presence in London into a tidal-wave of excitement for British fans this Sunday, as she further embarks on establishing herself on the global stage.

A full-time athlete currently on unpaid leave from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Yamauchi will be looking to capitalise on the home crowd support to push her into the medals and even revise her 2:23.12 best from the 2009 race.

Surviving such a tiresome and expensive journey to even get to London Marathon HQ will undoubtedly have strengthened Yamauchi’s focus and mental strength, too, for the event in which she additionally hopes to feature prominently in at this year’s European Championships (Barcelona, July) and Commonwealth Games (New Delhi, October).

Blossoming with age

With the average age of the top-ten women in London last year being thirty-three, Yamauchi has experience on her side to reap the rewards this weekend and few would bet against this gutsy runner producing a Mara-vellous display on the streets of her home nation.

"Obviously, I've never prepared like this before so I just have to optimise my preparations between now and Sunday," explained Yamauchi. "I need to rest as much as possible, catch up on sleep and do a bit of running to get my muscles moving again.

I think taking a big chunk from my PB is unlikely, but if the weather is favourable - if it's not too hot and the wind is good - I think I can perform well."

If she does, the accomplishment will certainly be all the more satisfying considering such an unusual build-up.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Marathon Mum


With the Virgin London marathon just over a week away, Nicola Bamford spoke to Britain’s first female finisher from the 2008 event, Liz Yelling about returning to fitness since the birth of her daughter and how she now copes with being a marathon mum...

For 35-year-old Yelling, life is no longer just about juggling the miles with her successful journalism and coaching careers, but also combining new motherhood around her family home in Dorset.

Originally from Bedford, Yelling and husband Martin; a former international distance runner, Ironman triathlete and her advisor have formed a formidable partnership where they work from home (on , and editorial for media outlets) in addition to sharing babysitting and training duties.

Such a supportive home environment has evidently aided Yelling’s swift return to fitness since the birth of Ruby last summer, as the reigning Commonwealth marathon bronze-medallist successfully made her competitive return last winter and already has a couple of half-marathon times in 2010 akin to her 2004/5 form under her belt:

“I have enjoyed the racing and it has provided me with benchmarks to where I am at and (it has been) a real reality check,” explained Yelling.

“Knowing how unfit I am really motivates me to train and give me focus. My training has gone well - I have been super cautious and very progressive in my build up, as I want to avoid injury and create a strong base to build on this summer. There is some way to go before I’m back to full fitness.”

Priorities change

Coached by Alex Stanton; the man who has guided Yelling and marathon world-record holder Paula Radcliffe since their teenage years, Yelling has all the inspiration she could crave as she pounds daily along the Bournemouth seaside promenade with only the fresh sea air and occasionally, her new addition in the running buggy, for company.

Priorities change but Yelling is determined to combine enjoying motherhood with running her way back to her 2008 form; the year Yelling truly made her mark on the athletics scene. The sister-in-law of Hayley Yelling; the 2009 European cross-country Champion, Yelling followed up her 5th place in the continental championships with capturing her fourth English National title before placing 15th in the global cross championships.

A plethora of half-marathon victories in eye-catching times followed in the spring before Yelling’s finest hour; finishing first Brit and ninth overall in a world-class field in the Flora London marathon with a lifetime best of 2:28.33.

Rollercoaster year

Such a breakthrough performance however, was followed by a devastating low four months later, as Yelling; with high hopes, was accidently tripped at the 15km point in the Beijing Olympic marathon and struggled on to finish with bruised ribs in 26th place; albeit seven-minutes faster than her Olympic debut four-years earlier in Athens:

“I was totally gutted post-race, as I was in the shape of my life and ready for a great run,” revealed Yelling. “No one wants to break a rib through hitting the deck in the Olympic Marathon. It was a very hard last 16-miles.”

After a long enforced break, Yelling’s rollercoaster year took a turn for the better, though, with the announcement of her first pregnancy:

“I love being a mum. It is the most amazing experience. I really have been blown away by it,” exclaimed Yelling. “Martin and I have a great routine and I am very lucky that we have more flexibility than most couples. Martin is very supportive, encouraging and understanding of what is required for me to get back to my old running self again.”

Under no pressure
Insisting she feels under no pressure to return to fast times straight away and that she feels excited yet patient about racing again, Yelling continued:

“(During pregnancy) I ran easy 5-6 times a week up to 20-weeks then I was diagnosed with placenta previa, which meant I was not able to run during the second half of my pregnancy. Once I had given birth and recovered, I had not run a step in eight-months. You can imagine I was very unfit when I started back.

After I gave birth, I had 2-weeks resting then I then slowly built the frequency and duration of running and just kept the pace very easy for 6-months. I know that (the quality) will come and by the summer I hope to be back to my old training ways.”

2012 the target

Having competed internationally for the past twenty-years, Yelling may have lost some time as an athlete but she certainly has not lost any of her ambition.

Preferring to focus on her new family unit and getting into top shape for this year, Yelling has already entered the Edinburgh marathon next month as a ‘fact finder’ and states making the top-ten in the 2012 Olympic marathon as the main target for the remainder of her career.

On her aspirations away from racing, Yelling revealed:

“I really enjoy my coaching and helping others achieve more from being active and participating in running at every level. I’m putting on a beginners running day for women in Regents Park on June 25th.

Full days

Enjoying her sport in a new way, this marathon mum is clearly embracing running and being a working mum; a lifestyle certain to see her achieve her goals in both sporting and personal aspects of life.

On her potential future protégé, Yelling continued:

“I want Ruby to enjoy being active and have positive experiences of exercising and having fun in the outdoors. If she chooses to run when she is older, I will support her and help where I can. I don’t want to be a pushy parent and I want her to follow her own dreams not mine for her!

My days are full, but I am enjoying every moment working, being a mother and wife and a runner.”

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Meadows in Bloom


For British athletics’ new queen of the track, the past 12-months have been a dream; courting new-found fame and fortune and medals and records galore. For ‘Pocket-rocket’ Jenny Meadows has truly broken through to global glory in such outstanding fashion of late - and she does not intend on waking up anytime soon; writes Nicola Bamford.

For 28-year-old Meadows, life used to circle around working as the head athletics coach for Manchester Leisure whilst fitting in intensive training sessions around the fatigue. Husband and coach Trevor Painter would also squeeze what precious time left from his sports development job into devising training plans – world domination indeed, seemed a mere pipe-dream for the duo.

Born and based in Wigan, the turning point though, finally came in 2009, when Meadows sped to 800m bronze in the World outdoor Championships in Berlin; catapulting herself to global status and the Lottery funding ladder – the tiring days were over; ‘Jenny from the block’ was now a full-time athlete and her partner in crime could switch to part-time hours.


Their latest haul was that of the silver kind; this time from the global indoor championships in Doha, Qatar last month. Meadows also broke the British 800m record – with 1:58.43 - held by none other than her heroin Dame Kelly Holmes, proving that a little more rest and support was all that was needed for Meadows to reach her full and mesmerising bloom.

So how has the former 400m runner taken the transformation in her (very fast) stride?: “I am not working any harder - I have worked hard for years as an athlete but it is just that it is coming to fruition now,” she explained.

Evidently just as modest and unassuming as ever, the outgoing Meadows continued: "It is bizarre. It is great for me as an athlete to build that confidence but sometimes I read about it and I cannot believe everyone knows who I am. I try and believe what the press write about me and I try and what the commentators are saying. I think just because I’ve had so long in the sport and I haven’t been a household name and I haven’t been used to getting on the podium – it’s still quite hard for me to get used to.”

New territory

Currently training in the South African sunshine, the diminutive Meadows is having a well-earned break from the constant press demands and pressures of racing as she prepares for the forthcoming outdoor season.

2010 will be new territory for the now often-named ‘favourite’ as she attempts to crack the two-lap event at the European Championships this July. Holmes’ national best of 1:56.21 from 1995 (the year in which Meadows took the English Schools’ 800m title before switching to sprinting) may be a little far-reached for Meadows this year but judging by her current rate of progression, a medal will surely be hers for the taking and the time will most likely come sooner rather than later.

“I put in a great performance (in Doha) so I think my goal at every championships now is to try and get on the podium and, if I don’t, it’s going to have taken three very good girls to beat me,” Meadows revealed.

Thrilled with time

Exuding confidence and seemingly enjoying carrying the hopes of a nation in the countdown to 2012, Meadows has turned into a completely different athlete in the past year. Inspired to turn to the half-mile by Holmes’ double gold-medal-winning display in the 2004 Athens Olympics, it is quite apt that Meadows would mould herself into her successor.

“I knew I didn’t have the basic speed to be a world-class 400m athlete and you go and see a British athlete win at a global event and it makes you think ‘maybe I’ve got a chance’. She’s definitely a huge role model for me,” Meadows explained.

“Breaking her record (in Doha) was amazing! I knew from the week before at the UK Champs (where she ran 1:59.11 to initially break the seven-year best) that I was in good shape and it just felt really, really easy. You look at the record and someone like Dame Kelly Holmes owns it, you think ‘I’ve got no right to try and target that! I’m very, very honoured and very, very thrilled to just get that sort of time.”

Overcoming adversity
It is intriguing wha
t Meadows and Painter have achieved since fully-devoting their time to the sport. Previously a mere semi-finalist in the Worlds and Olympics in 2007 and 2008, respectively, Meadows improved to fifth in the continental and global indoors before taking fourth in the European indoor Championships in the spring of 2009 – yet her tiring lifestyle was clearly restricting her to the non-medal ranks.

Attaining sponsorship with Asics helped but ultimately, it was overcoming adversity with the loss of her father to cancer in 2008 which became the main motivating factor to make the step up in class.

“I just look at things a lot more rationally now," Meadows explained. "Life's for living. I'm sick of stressing. 800m is twice round the track outdoors or four times indoors. How can that cause me so much stress? If I'm not enjoying this then what am I doing it for? After my dad passed away there wasn't an instant change, but it sparked a reaction in me."

Sadly, his death came a mere three days before Meadows qualified for her first Olympic Games: "Everybody said 'Don't worry we don't expect you to race,' but I did and I got my qualifying time for the Olympics and it was so good. It just allowed my family to have a bit of a smile on their face, at least for the one minute 59.67 seconds it took. All of a sudden running became this powerful tool I could use to help us get through life. It is hard that my dad is not here to see the successes but wherever my dad is he'll be looking on, really proud that we've carried on."
Dreaming big

Proud he certainly will be as Meadows now finds herself as one of Britain’s ‘faces of 2012’ and developing at the same rate as her impressive track speed.

"The time (I’ve done) says it all. Hopefully there are big things in me to keep on building,” Meadows continued. “Berlin was so special. Doha was very different, learning how to handle my nerves and expectations I put on myself. Silver is fantastic but more the time. My target for the outdoor season is to run 1:57.50 and I am very sure I can achieve that."

With a taste for success, should Meadows grasp gold at the European’s in Barcelona this summer, it will be an achievement that even Holmes herself could not match. And with only 840 days to go until London host the 2012 Olympics, Meadows can-not help but dream bigger about replicating her role-model’s accomplishments:

"I'd love to say yes (I can get the gold). But gosh, just one medal, one gold medal; that would be amazing. My bronze is amazing, but to go one further and get a silver or gold, well, that would be the dream way to end my career."