As part of an England Athletics initiative to encourage more women to take up coaching, some tenacious Eagles arranged for British athletics legend Mara Yamauchi to lead a guest coaching session for the club on Wednesday 13th July.
Mara competed for Team GB in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, and she currently holds the second fastest marathon time for a British woman ever, behind Paula Radcliffe who is still the world record holder.
The session was brilliant – we began with a 10 minute jog around the park to warm up and then we went through some useful drills designed to allow us to focus on our running action before completing a set of intervals. The intervals were 1 x 4 minutes with 90 seconds recovery, and then 4 x 1 minute run and 1 minutes recover. We then had 2 minutes recovery and repeated the same set in the opposite direction. Running backwards around Lammas was harder than you might think!
The session was challenging but well designed to get the best out of us and Mara herself was a sincere and encouraging coach.
Following the training session we de-camped to the Forresters for a Q&A session in which Mara spoke to us about how she got into athletics, her athletics career, and her current transition into the world of coaching.
Mara had realised she was good at endurance sports when she was at school and had always dreamt of being an Olympian, but she originally worked as a civil servant. She spent 10 years working for the foreign office, before deciding to go part time at the age of 29 and focusing more on her sport. She decided that the marathon was the distance for which she could reasonably expect to compete at the top level, and first qualified for the World Championships in 2005 by running a time of just under 2:32. By 2006 she had reduced this to 2:26 and went on to compete in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Between January and June 2011 Mara struggled with hamstring issues and was told she needed to stop running. Not taking no for an answer she got a second opinion from a different coach who told her she had a problem with her glutes not firing properly (this sounded familiar to at least half the people in the room!). The new coach, Dan Pfaff, helped Mara to correct the imbalance and by November 2011 she was running well enough to qualify for London 2012.
Mara retired from elite athletics in 2013 and now gives back to the sport by coaching athletes of her own, some of them on a voluntary basis.
Mara spoke about her experience with coaching and how it is interesting to hear about the different reasons why people run – whether it is from a place of competitiveness, or to cope with stress, or in some cases for mental health reasons. She does coach semi-elite athletes, but described one of her greatest coaching successes as a person who she helped to achieve a half marathon PB at our very own local half marathon, the Ealing Half!
Mara also shared some of her insight about training and racing with us, stating that the ultimate goal is to have a plan within which it’s possible to improve. She also illustrated why it’s important to learn from your mistakes; she told us how during the World Championships at Osaka in 2007 she got a bit carried away at 29k and found that she was going at a pace she couldn’t sustain. In January of the following year she took the lessons from what happened, made adjustments, and won a race on the same course.
Mara does still run but rarely races. She admitted to missing the exhilaration that comes with competing and being at the peak of your fitness, but doesn’t miss the stress and pressure of competition. She spoke about being realistic with your goals as you grow older and coming to terms with the fact that your fastest times may be behind you, and how this can be a difficult adjustment. Coincidentally, yesterday Jo Pavey was picked for a spot on the Team GB athletics squad for Rio. Jo will compete in the 10k distance at her fifth Olympic Games at the age of 42. This earned a round of applause and a small cheer in the room when Mara named Jo as a personal sporting hero during our chat.
We had a fantastic time spending the evening with Mara. The actual training session was hard but achievable, and she gave us so much encouragement. The athletes she is working with are very lucky in their coach.
Thanks to Mara and to the Eagles who arranged the session!