Monday, 2 February 2015

Learning from an evening with ex GB Athlete Mara Yamauchi

Last week, I was very lucky to get one of a handful of invitations from English Athletics to come to the Institute of Sport and Exercise and Health at Tottenham Court Road to attend a workshop entitled "Preparing for a Spring Marathon", hosted by former GB Athlete, Mara Yamauchi.

Now I must admit, I'd heard Mara's name before but I didnt really know that much about her so as always, Google came to my rescue.  Click here for her details on Wikipedia.  Now thats what you call a proper athletics career.  The only GB woman quicker than her over 26.2 miles was Paula Radcliffe.  Mara retired from competitive athletics at the age of 39 in 2013.

Mara setting her 2:23:12 Marathon PB at London in 2009

Mara spoke to us for the best part of two hours, sharing her experiences, her tips and advice and then held a lengthy Q&A session at the end.

I regret not taking a notepad now but I done my utmost to note the key points down on my iPhone (if you ever read this Mara, apologies, I was sitting right at the front appearing to be playing with my phone most of the evening but thats because I was listening to your every word and noting down what I could)...

So here's my notes on Mara's talk...(apologies for the bullet points but thats how I make notes and they sort of make sense to me...if anyone would like some clarification, get in touch!)

If there's one thing that Mara recommends that anyone does is running a lot of training at 85% of your marathon pace, what she calls her 'fast jog' speed which builds the Anaerobic system (ie) improves Lactate Threshold.

Remember the acronym...


Never increase by more than 10% otherwise you will risk injuries.  10% increments is the accepted general rule.

There are 3 key sessions in a weekly training plan

1 - Long Run
  • Vary long runs with pace
  • 3/4s of long run at 85% then surges teach body to cope with 'the wall'

2 - Thresholds
  • 4 x 5km with recovery between
  • Races good alternative

3 - Fast Jog

  • Improves mechanics and excellent form of strength training for the legs.
  • Try and incorporate hills into training at all times.
  • Hill Sprints - up to 10 second sprints up hills at max intensity from rest. Increases heart strength.  Will pump more blood per beat, increases Oxygen flow to the body.  Slow walk down.  Too short to be a stand alone session, so build into shorter sessions.  (good warm up needed - do it at beginning of workout!)
  • Uphill runs - on treadmill on incline for 20 mins at a time.
  • Use hills on a loop (like on my Watling St - Park Grove loop)
  • Strength training for injury prevention. Keep it simple. Targeting main muscles groups - gluts, quads, calves, hamstrings, core. 

  • Gluts are nemesis of distance runners. Glut training important - squats, clam, glut bridges.
  • Are they firing?  Lay on your front.  Lift your legs up.  Does the but muscle contract?  If so, the gluts are working.  If its the leg/back muscles doing all the work, you know the gluts arent firing.
  • Gluts misfiring leads to knee, calf, hanstring injuries!
  • To strengthen Gluts, Heel first on steps ups with a little jump.
  • Anything that pushes heel into the ground will fire the gluts!
  • Target gluts by stretching bending the knee to isolate the muscle when stretching.
Cross Training
  • Stationary cycling - use HR. 10 beats below what you use running. so 170bpm on run = 160bpm on bike.
  • Aqua running
  • Elyptical trainer
Mental training
  • Use training sessions to practice tips for using in marathons.
  • Just get to the next water station/mile marker. Set goals. Practice a positive mind set.  This is fine, not hard. When it does get hard, you're still in positive mind set!
Draw up training plan
  • Must have a plan.
  • Dont need to stick to it.  Things will come up (illness etc).  Dont panic.
Mara used 3 month build VO2 max early, mileage middle then race pace at end.

  • Always eat within 20 mins at the end of training - nutrient depleted, dehydrated etc to start recovery
  • Use recovery drink. Milk, Chocolate Milk are good alternatives.
  • After drink, have proper meal as soon as you can! quicker you refuel the better
  • Variety is important over time increases vitamins and key nutrient.
  • Highly nutrious food - green veg, coloured veg, oily fish, different meats. Not cake and sweets.
  • Good hydration ALL the time not just before training.
  • Drink before bed. If not needing a wee in the morning, you're likely to be dehydrated.
  • Practice race nutrition.  Practice on long runs.
  • Dont drink too much on marathons.
  • Practice meals on race day.
  • Get the basic right before taking supplements. Food in its natural state is better than supplements.
  • Lets people off the hook of having a good diet if relying on supplements.
Rest & Recovery
  • Training doesnt make you fitter and faster. Rest does!
  • Training is a negative experience and then it adapts in the rest periods. Rest is therefore essential.
  • Find a cycle of adaptation that suits you.
  • Train...Rest...Body Adapts
  • If it works, stick to it!
  • Less is more. 
  • Sleep is paramount. Maximise sleep where you can!  Good sleep hygiene - no gadgets in room - condusive to good sleep.
  • Rapid hydration/refueling
  • Massage, stretching, ice baths, compression for recovery!
  • Easy week every 4-5 weeks and applies to all year round!  You need to have down time. Pro athletes take Sep/Oct off before winter training.
  • Injury = enforced rest = better performance
  • Extra factors require rest eg heat/altitude acclimatization. And Jet Lag.
  • Travel = enforced rest & extra stress
  • Dont panic if training plan goes out of the window!
Injury Prevention
  • Know your body
  • Use common sense - 10% increment etc.
  • Keep it simple/dont be dazzled - injuries can be cured simply, dont get caught up with physios, surgery etc.
  • Tackle pain early - listen to body. Pain is a warning sign.
  • Gluts - 2nd most important thing to work on! Like driving a car with flat tyres otherwise.
  • PF, Hamstrings
  • Learn the course
  • Can you run the course beforehand? Makes huge difference mentally.
  • If cant run it, cycle it, walk it, google map it!
  • Goal and plan ahead - make a goal, have a goal. Makes the race worthwhile rather than plodding along. Often plans go out the window, maybe have a plan B
  • Drink & Food - Plan (Have recovery drink at end!)
  • Kit & Shoes - Plan
  • Logistics - think ahead
  • Always Plan ahead - wasting mental energy otherwise
  • Nerves - get rid of them!
  • Can you control the nerves?! figure out what makes you nervous then deal with it.
  • If you cant control them and are out of your hands then dont worry, no need to!
  • Possibly write down worst case scenrarios and how you'll deal with them. Helps puts things into perspective.
  • Drinking at 40km is a waste as it takes 20 mins for the nutrients from the drink to hit the blood stream!
  • Lactate threshold handheld monitor.  y axis lactic acid, x speed = where lactic starts to go up, thats fast jog speed!

  • Road cycling on the road not ideal cross training as cant get HR high enough. Only on turbo trainer!!!
  • If time limited, make every session count.  If 3 times a week, threshold - intervals - long run. Focus on what makes you run faster.
  • Focus on quality as you get older.
  • Races are good substitute for threshold runs as tend to run races faster!
  • 85% fast jog is key to developing speed over distance
  • thresholds/tempo - say 10 miles at HM pace. Eyeballs out but can keep going on and on!
There were several more questions from beginners and sub 3hr marathon runners but I deemed them irrelevant for what I was there for.

Mara setting her Marathon PB at the 2009 London Marathon...

One tip that Mara did mention which raised a few laughs.  Always practice your finishing pose.  After her first few marathons, when she'd been pictured not looking her best when finishing the races, her husband (also her coach) made her practice her finishing pose to make sure she smiled on the finishing line.  The picture above was from the 2009 London Marathon when she set her PB and she said it was her favourite picture as she remembered her 'pose' for the line!

Mara as great company and we all listened intently to every word she said. She definitely had the full attention of everyone who had turned up on the evening.  A huge thanks to Mara and Julia Bailey at England Athletics who made the event possible.  A thoroughly enjoyable evening.

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