Author: Mara Yamauchi
Mara Yamauchi holds the second fastest time by a British woman over marathon distance, completing the 2009 London Marathon in just 2:23:12. Having enjoyed a successful international racing career Mara retired in January 2013. We were privileged to have her as a guest speaker at our marathon and endurance training seminars held earlier this year.
I’ve hung up my racing flats and decided to call time on my career as an elite athlete. It’s been a wonderful journey, and I’m now looking forward to enjoying running and a “normal” life. My motto in life is always to do my best to look forward and see the positive in everything. But now that I’ve retired, I want to pause for a moment and reflect on what I’ve learned along the way. It’s looking back in order to look forward, if that makes sense!
Running is a unique sport in that all runners, from absolute beginners, joggers and recreational runners, to club runners and elite athletes can all line up on the same start line and compete against each other. You can’t do that in tennis, boxing, rowing, sailing, swimming, nor in most other sports. But it’s also unique in that what elite athletes go through is the same as what any other runner goes through – the only thing that is different is your speed. We all have to do the training, see the physio, listen to a coach, fuel ourselves up with good nutrition, get plenty of sleep, and so on. This is what makes running so universal and appealing. So I hope that what I’ve learned will appeal to runners from all walks (or runs?) of life.
Tip no. 1: never let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. If you want to take on a running challenge, whatever it may be, then just get on and do it! Family members, colleagues, or others might cast doubt on your ability, commitment or determination, but all it takes is the will to do it and then the training & preparation. Running is a simple sport in terms of necessary kit, the time it takes and places where you can do it. I decided when I was 11 that I wanted to become an Olympian. It took me 24 years, but eventually I did it, twice over. So if you want to run, all you have to do is do it. What are you waiting for?!
Tip no. 2: look after yourself. I’ve had times in my running career when I was simply doing too many other things. I did my training, but neglected the looking after myself bit – sleep, injury-prevention, eating properly, massage etc, so I know that you will only last so long doing this. Eventually your body will protest. I’ve also had times when I’ve really looked after myself properly, and the result has been rapid improvement! So tip no. 2 is always give your body what it needs so that it’s in good shape to tackle the training you put it through.
Tip no 3: always figure out how to reach your goal. People talk about setting goals in running, and of course that is important. But it’s no good saying I’m going to do “x” if you don’t figure out how; you simply run the risk of finding yourself disappointed. So once you’ve decided on a goal, think carefully about what you have to do by when to reach it. And it’s not just training – things like mentally visualising your goal, resting up in advance, experimenting with food and drinks etc can also help to ensure you achieve your goal.
Tip no. 4: don’t underestimate yourself. Human potential is a terrific, incredible thing and yet we all waste our talents so often! The way we are brought up, social expectations, habits and other things mean we often don’t fulfill our potential. So try thinking outside the box and really challenging whether your expectations for yourself are high enough. If you give something a go and you don’t make it, what does it matter? You will have learned a lot doing it, and maybe next time you will achieve your goal.
Tip no. 5: enjoy yourself! As I look back on my running career, one thing I wish I’d done is to have worried less and enjoyed myself more. Life is short and you never know what’s round the next corner, so enjoying every minute we run is so important. Running gives you self-confidence, good health, fun with your friends, the chance to be out in fresh air and plenty of other good things. So make sure you enjoy yourself, and make running enjoyable, for example by training with your friends.