WRITTEN FOR SKYSPORTS
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.
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.”
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."
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.”
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.