SIR ROGER BANNISTER – LOCAL HERO
Runners of all ages and abilities will have the opportunity this weekend to salute one of the great global achievements in athletics history – the breaking of the four-minute mile barrier by a local hero.
Sir Roger Bannister was born in Harrow in 1929, lived in Butler Road and was a pupil at Vaughan Primary School. Later on, he lived in Whitmore Road, overlooking the grounds of Harrow School. He trained locally and ultimately went on to set that piece of sporting history on 6th May 1954 – his time 3 minutes 59.4 seconds. This Sunday (September 17th), his achievement will be marked with the inaugural running of the Sir Roger Bannister Family Mile, which is being staged in the grounds of Harrow School, alongside the Harrow Half Marathon.
It will be a particularly special occasion for those children from Vaughan School who will be running the mile. As the Head teacher Andrew Griffin points out, “It’s a fantastic honour for the school to have such a recognised person, a true hero to lots of sports people. His achievement was one of the most momentous occasions we have seen in sporting history and for the children themselves, they’re also honoured to be part of that legacy.”
Sir Roger was a member of the school running team (Front row, third from left) and that athletics and sporting tradition goes on. Vaughan is a lead school for PE in the borough and every year has its annual sports day at the Bannisters track in Harrow Weald. Participation is encouraged and indeed the school has adopted the ‘Daily Mile’ when pupils run outside for up to 15 minutes as part of the timetable. They seem to enjoy it. “When you get up in the morning and you feel really tired, you run and you feel a lot fresher.”
No excuse then for anybody when it comes to Sunday’s mile. All runners will have the incentive of getting a medal and a ‘chipped time’– plus the inspiration and motivation that comes courtesy of Harrow’s greatest sportsman, Sir Roger Bannister.
OLYMPIAN TO START HARROW HALF
How often do you get the opportunity to race alongside an Olympian? The answer is rarely unless it’s a big city marathon. However those who are entered in the Harrow Half Marathon will get that chance alongside the second fastest British female marathon runner in history. Mara Yamauchi will be starting the ‘Harrow Half’ on Sunday 17th September and running in it too! A life member of Harrow Athletics Club, she is returning to run on the streets where she laid the foundation of a very successful international career.
© marimo images
Mara has an impeccable marathon pedigree. That personal best of 2.23.12 was set when she came second in the 2009 London Marathon. The year before, she had come sixth in the Beijing Olympic marathon, the joint best ever placing by a British woman.
Her link to Harrow began when she moved to London in 1995 after her time at Oxford. She teamed up with renowned coach Bob Parker and his group. He had guided the legendary Dave Bedford in the early seventies to his successes, including the 10,000m world record. Mara joined local club Parkside AC, which eventually became Harrow AC and recalls moving to Wellesley Road, Harrow to be closer to the training group. “The regime was intensive; hills on a Monday night, track sessions at Bannister on Tuesdays, road repetitions on a Thursday, Saturday runs on the grass at Harrow School or in the woods on Harrow Weald Common with Sunday runs too.”
Being coached by Bob Parker, believes Mara, was key to her future success. “Training with him wasn’t marathon training, it was cross-country focused on the shorter distances but it built a good foundation for the later success I had in the marathon”.
In 1998, she won the English National Cross-Country championships. Meanwhile her career had taken her from the LSE to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and learning Japanese. Work then took priority with a four year stint at the British Embassy in Tokyo. On her return to London in 2002, she was able to run seriously again, running her first Marathon in London in 2004. Success quickly followed including World Championships Marathon Team Bronze in 2005 and Commonwealth Games Bronze in the 10,000m a year later.
Mara retired from competition in 2013 but has lost none of her enthusiasm for the sport. She’s a qualified coach, does motivational speaking, writing and still trains four to five days a week, supplementing her running with swimming and cycling. “I am definitely not elite level anymore I’m not even elite level for my age but I just try and stay fit so that I can coach and still enjoy running”. She’s been doing parkruns and her times in the last year are more than respectable, with a best of 18.20.
She’s also open to new challenges and tough ones at that. In June this year, she tried trail running, competing in the Cortina trail in the Italian Dolomites. It had a rise and fall of 1000m. “At 19k, it was just short of a half marathon but it took me 2 hours; so in time and effort it was really longer than a half marathon”. Her efforts were rewarded with a win and a three litre bottle of wine!
Mara’s half-marathon personal best of 68.29 was set eight years ago in Japan, but she doesn’t expect her finishing time in Harrow to be anywhere near that. She does however have the key advantage of local knowledge. “I’ve had a good look at the course map and all the roads are familiar. Apart from the start and finish, it looks like a reasonably flat course.”
Her advice to first-timers is “go very steady at the beginning as you don’t want to end up with a stitch or cramp and just save something in the tank for the final few minutes.”
One first timer will be another Olympian – Laura Turner-Alleyne, who competed at the Beijing Olympics, World Championships and Commonwealth Games as a sprinter. She’s now Head Coach at Harrow AC. Mara expects Laura “to be fit and robust and her body will hold up no doubt. But doing a totally different event from what she was training for will be a challenge. So I would say just go off steady and try and enjoy it”
How far in front of Laura will Mara be? “Really no idea. I don’t know what training she’s been doing but we might end up finishing together, who knows!”