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Saturday, Nov. 15, 2008

Husband's support crucial for Yamauchi


Staff writer

Six pieces of "mochi" pounded rice patty in miso soup are an excessive amount of carbohydrate, and Atkins diet believers would freak out if they even thought about consuming that amount. In fact, that would even be too much for even normal adult males to have in a single meal.

News photo
Team effort: Mara Yamauchi and husband Shigetoshi stand inside the Bird's Nest Stadium during the Beijing Games. Yamauchi, who finished sixth in the Olympic marathon, will run in Sunday's Tokyo International Women's Marathon. MARA YAMAUCHI PHOTO

But mochi is a source of energy, necessary and easily digested by diplomat-turned marathon runner Mara Yamauchi.

"I eat lots of carbohydrates two or three days before marathons," said the 35-year-old British woman, who lives in Tokyo's Ota Ward with her Japanese husband. "I like them in miso soup because it helps digestion."

In recent weeks, Yamauchi (nee Myers) has been training for the Tokyo International Women's Marathon, which will be held on Sunday.

She took six pieces of mochi and a cup of instant miso soup with her from Tokyo to Beijing in August.

The result?

She placed sixth in the Olympic women's marathon, an accomplishment she is most proud of in her four-year marathon career.

"That is the biggest achievement for me because many strong marathon runners from the world participate in the Olympics," Yamauchi, who ran on the British team, said in fluent Japanese in a recent interview.

Her second biggest achievement was victory in the Osaka International Ladies Marathon in January. It marked the first time she grabbed the top spot, she said.

Yamauchi realizes that she has climbed to stardom in a relatively short period of time, and she credits her husband for helping this happen.

"I am British, but I owe it to Japan a lot to have done well in Beijing; healthy Japanese food, support from my husband who is a Japanese and good influence from strong Japanese female marathon runners," she said.

"Many top athletes are born to be No. 1, but I began training only after (completing education and) having office work and became a good marathon runner," added Yamauchi, who ran a career-best 2 hours, 25 minutes, 10 seconds in the Osaka race.

"Dreams can come true but I could not have reached where I am if I were alone."

The masters degree holder in politics and economics at the London School of Economics, who tried various sports including tennis, field hockey and triathlon as a student, first came to Japan in August 1998 as a British diplomat until she was transferred back to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London in January 2003.

She met Shigetoshi Yamauchi, 37, via common friends in Tokyo in May 2001 and married him in October 2002. He quit a major Japanese securities firm to move to London with his wife.

As soon as she moved to London, she switched her status to part-time worker to start running marathons.

"I have liked running since childhood," she said of the reason she began training for the grueling runs.

She was a 3,000-meter and cross country runner as a student, but she thought young people are better suited for these sports and marathon is the best option for her age, when she decided to become a marathon runner at the age of 29.

Her first full marathon experience was in 2004. As she thought she should become a full-time marathoner in order to run faster, she took non-paid leave from the office in January 2006. In the same month, the couple came back to Japan as Shigetoshi found a job in his native country.

Shigetoshi then quit his day job to become a full-time manager to prepare for the Beijing Olympics in April 2007, accompanying her everywhere she goes for training, cycling with her as she runs, giving her massages, doing housework and other tasks.

"I like cooking but I cook only when I have time and energy," she said.

Her favorite food includes sukiyaki, tempura, seaweed and clams, but the best is katsudon, or a bowl of rice topped with tonkatsu deep-fried pork cutlet, egg and condiments, she said.

As Shigetoshi was taking good care of her personal life, Yamauchi had concentrated on bringing herself to the optimal condition for Beijing.

"I had the best practice period for Beijing," she said. "I had the best condition on the very day."

And she capitalized on the opportunity, placing 2:27.29 in the Olympic marathon.

When she's in Tokyo, though, Yamauchi's usual training routine in Ota Ward includes running on Tama River banks and working out at a gym near her apartment.

In mid-March, she ran a half-marathon in Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, and immediately after that she went to Albuquerque, N.M., for high-altitude training for a month.

Marathon runners often conduct training at a place where air is thin to strengthen their lungs.



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