She says she’s fitter than she was last year.
Like many of her Ethiopian compatriots Koren Yal’s success in marathoning has been fueled by a desire for a better life. The 24 year-old returns to Toronto for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon on October 16th, chasing a fast time and another hefty pay check. A year ago she finished 4th in this IAAF Silver Label race with a personal best time of 2:24:32 but claims she is ready for more.
“My fitness and preparation has been better than last year,” she said. “My target will be to run my personal best, under 2:24, but to do it everything depends on the weather conditions and if I have a good pacemaker like last year. I’m training daily under the supervision of my Ethiopian coaches, Gemedu Dedefo and Gebeyehu Berihun. They follow the technical advice and programs of an Italian coach, Gabriele Nicola.”
Yal says that the summer months constitute the rainy season in Ethiopia and for that reason they sometimes skipped either the evening or morning training session. Still, she has been consistently running 160 to 170 kilometers a week. The training group includes Aberu Kebede , Aselefech Mergia, Tirfe Tsegaye and Atsede Habtamu. Habtamu was fourth at last Sunday’s BMW Berlin Marathon in a personal best 2:24:25.
They do most of their training on the roads around Sabata and Sendafa at altitudes of roughly 2,500m and sharpen up with speed training on the track inside the Ethiopian national stadium. Her 2011 form is apparent.
Already this year Yal has competed in two marathons. On January 16th she won the Mumbai Marathon in a new course record of 2:26:56 earning USD 36,000. Then on April 10th she finished 3rd in Paris with 2:26:56. Though she is well traveled she can’t say she enjoys the experience.
“Due to language problems (I speak little English) I have had a hard time traveling around the world,” she explained. “It was quite stressful, but now I’ve more experience and feel comfortable while traveling. I’d like to point out I was lucky enough that I never faced problems as some of my athlete friends did and I never spent the night lost around the world, waiting for the next flight, simply because they were not able to communicate and ask for help.”
Koren Jelila Yal grew up in a family of six children born to farmers in the Shewa area of Ethiopia. As a young girl she admired Derartu Tulu the two-time Olympic 10,000m champion and former London and New York Marathon winner.
“I have two brothers and three sisters,” she said. “Nobody followed me into running, some are students and some are farmers. Until now I did not win many races, not a top race. I hope I’ll do it in Toronto and I’m ready to organize a nice party with family and friends to celebrate this achievement and share my joy with them.”
Despite her young age Yal has much international experience. As a 20 year-old she represented Ethiopia at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Mombassa, Kenya finishing 19th in the senior women’s race. A year later, in Edinburgh, she finished 14th. But she realized that her future lay in road racing and not as a national team member.
Being a full time athlete means there is little time for anything but training, physiotherapy and rest. Yal concedes she likes to watch television or read a book when there is time to do so. Spending time with friends is also high on her list of pastimes. And there is another priority in her life.
“I’m engaged to Shumi Gerbaba (2:09:03 marathoner),” she revealed. “I believe he understands my condition and feeling as athlete and this is great as life with an international level athlete is not always easy.”
Gerbaba won the 2011 Stockholm marathon and helps inspire his fiancé with his performances.
Yal knows that the Toronto course is conducive to fast running and she will also benefit from the fact the race is three weeks later than in past years. If the competition develops, as it should, we can expect Yal to be in the thick of the battle. Could a course record be in the offing? That would be something that Koren Yal would surely enjoy.