News & Updates

15 December 2023 • High Performance

Kiwi duo impress on marathon debuts

Cam Avery and Camille French have both made hugely exciting marathon debuts. Credit: Alisha Lovrich.

The past month has witnessed two impressive overseas marathon performance by a pair of Kiwi athletes. We reflect on their respective successes by speaking to Cam Avery and Camille French.

Cam Avery

Cam Avery climaxed what he termed “a dream year” by recording a handy 2:12:30 marathon debut in Shanghai last month. Yet, if 2023 was a fantastic all-round year for the Christchurch-based endurance athlete, the past 12 months has given him the motivation for taking the next steps in his running journey next year and beyond.

The 26-year-old Whippets athlete began his year by placing top Kiwi in 47th at the World Cross Country Championships in Bathurst, Australia, and backed this up by obliterating his PB to run 1:02:50 for third at the Gold Coast Half Marathon. 

Avery continued his excellent form by taking out the New Zealand cross country title in Taupo, and after a good showing at the World Half Marathon Championships in Riga, where he came within ten seconds of the time recorded on the Gold Coast, he then made an encouraging marathon bow in Shanghai.

“I’ve come along leaps and bounds since the start of the year,” explains Avery, who is coached by Chris Pilone. “We used to go into big events hoping to do well, but that’s now the expectation I have of myself”. 

A big part of this desire is to qualify in the marathon at major championships, and an outing which saw the 26-year-old climb to 15th on the all-time New Zealand lists for the distance in Shanghai offered genuine hope.

Feeling he was in shape to run a 2:10-2:11 marathon debut, he was a little unfortunate to be part of a group of pre-dominantly Chinese athletes who were more concerned at chasing a lucrative cash bonus as the first domestic athlete to finish rather than pursuing a time. 

This meant for the majority of the second half of the race, Avery was forced to take the pace.

“It was a game of cat and mouse, and unfortunately I was the mouse,” he explains. “I didn’t get the bonus points I wanted from the Platinum Label event, but now that I’ve taken more time to reflect I can look at it more positively. I’ve identified what I could do better, and at the end of the day – it makes things more clear cut – I need to run the auto standard time of 2:08:10 to have a hope of making it to Paris (Olympics).”  

His next big target is competing in a European marathon next April – where he feels confident he can make key improvements. 

Unable to access a working altitude tent in the buildup to Shanghai, he hopes to rectify this as he prepares for Hamburg. Concurrently, he admits to implementing very little gym work in his preparation for the debut, and plans to be less “lazy” on this front moving forward. In terms of race execution, he also intends to adopt a more aggressive approach when he next tackles the iconic 42.2km distance.

“I know I can make some tweaks for that magic to happen,” explains Avery. “Although 2:08:10 sounds like a massive jump, in reality, I don’t think it sounds too crazy as I’ll likely be competing alongside a large group of European athletes also chasing the Olympic qualification mark. There are many things I feel I could have done differently in the build up. My race execution could have been better. There are minutes in the bank there. I felt I ran my first marathon quite conservatively. Next time I’ll run with the reins off.”

Praising the role of Camille French as the standard-bearer of New Zealand marathoning following her stunning marathon debut of 2:26:08 in Valencia earlier this month – an Olympic entry standard mark – he hopes to follow in her footsteps in 2024. But that is not before a more low-key appearance in the 5000m B race at the Daikin Night of 5s this Saturday (16 December). 

“I have lots of friends running in the B heat looking to run personal bests. If I can help them out achieving that, then that is my goal,” he adds.

Camille French

Camille French enjoyed a near perfect marathon debut to secure the Olympic entry standard mark for Paris and proved to herself she has an exciting future over the classic 42.2km distance.

The 33-year-old mum, who gave birth to her daughter Sienna in June last year, stopped the clock in an outstanding 2:26:08 to dip 42 seconds under the Paris entry standard mark and climbed to number two on the all-time NZ lists behind Kim Smith.

“I was really confident in my training block but it’s always an unknown standing on the start line knowing I had a huge goal ahead of me,’ said Camille. “It was great to know I could execute when it mattered. I was rapt. It was a great race and great experience “

Camille, a Tokyo Olympian in the 5000m and 10,000m, has long harboured a desire to step up to the marathon but her plans were delayed after starting a family.

However, shortly after marrying long-term partner Cam French, a 2018 New Zealand representative in the 400m hurdles at the Commonwealth Games, in January the Hamilton-based athlete opted to step up her training to focus on the marathon.

Hugely encouraged by scalping almost four minutes from her lifetime best when fifth at the Gold Coast Half Marathon in a time of 1:09:58 in July she then opted for the Platinum Label Valenica Marathon for her 42.2km debut.

As one of the world’s leading marathons and the nature of the flat, fast course – Camille believed this would best enhance her chances of securing her goal of an Olympic entry standard mark – and it was not a decision she has regretted.

“The way I would describe running in Valencia was like a really intense track race over 42.2km,” adds Camille, who is coached by Australian-based Nic Bideau. “There was cheering from the fans throughout the race, music pumping it was one of the best events I’ve ever been a part of.”

Attaching herself the pacemaker who was asked to go at a 2:26:00 pace, the race ran like clockwork.

She went through every split almost bang on target goal. Hitting halfway in 1:13:01 – as the race progressed her confidence soared.

“I felt really comfortable at 25km and when I got to 28km I thought, I can 100 per cent do this (get the Olympic entry standard mark). It was only when I got to about 39km I started to feel fatigued. At that point I knew the final ten minutes of running would be a long way but up until that point I really enjoyed the experience.”

Supported in Valencia by husband and daughter, her debut marathon could not have gone much better, and she can look forward with optimism for the future. 

“It has given me a lot of confidence,” she added. “I didn’t know when the fatigue would hit, so to get to 39km before feeling it makes me excited to run another marathon. I think there are a few little things I can do better. I enjoyed the training, I like the period of recovery and planning for a new race. I’ve enjoyed the whole process, it has been fun.”

After posting an Olympic entry standard mark it is now up to selectors to determine whether she in the plane for Paris. But bolstered by her performance in Valenica, and hoping in the future to target Kim Smith’s national marathon record mark of 2:25:21 what next for Camille?

“I’m not 100 per cent sure,” she says. “Before Valencia I was leaning towards a no for a marathon in March/April if I ran an Olympic entry time, but now I’m leaning towards a yes. Whatever I do I can’t jeopardise running another marathon if it impacts on Paris. I have a lot to think about but as soon as I finished the race, I thought I want to do another marathon and I want to go faster.”