Kiwi French Heads for France

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From Tokyo Track to Paris Marathon

When Camille French (née Buscomb) crossed the finish line at the Valencia Marathon last December, she not only nailed the Olympic qualifying time she was aiming for but also etched her name in the record books. With a time of 2:26:08, French became the fastest Kiwi woman ever in a marathon debut.

It was a remarkable achievement for an athlete who, until then, had been known as a middle-distance runner. Notably, she'd competed in the 5000m and 10,000m at the Tokyo Olympics just two years earlier, in circumstances she recently revealed were far from ideal. She'd been unlucky enough to be seated (only briefly, mind) next to someone with Covid on the plane over and was forced into quarantine and largely unable to train in the lead-up to race day.

“I knew I could do the time. There was no way it could be harder than my preparation.”

Camille French on running an OQT at the 2023 Valencia Marathon

3000m time trials, Hamilton, NZ, 2020. Photo: Michael Dawson.

Bouncing back, French's transition from track to marathon was driven by a desire for a new challenge. "I've always wanted to run a marathon in my life – and not just run one but do well," she explains.

"I wanted to create a new structure rather than just jumping back into the 5K or 10K game, so I think part of turning to the marathon was to create something new and different – I wanted a different target.

"And the timing was good after having Sienna, getting back into training. I kind of wanted something different to focus on."

Sienna is French's first child; her daughter with husband Cameron French has just turned two. Cameron knows well the travails of being an elite athlete; now retired from sport and working as a project manager in construction, he remains New Zealand's fastest-ever 400m hurdler with a national record he set in 2018.

Sharing advice with New Balance amateur Travis Ovalsen, 2024. Photo: Michael Dawson.

Camille's shift from middle distance to the marathon came with some adjustments. "The general structure of the training week has been quite similar, but there's a block of about two to three months out from the marathon that's changed quite a lot," French says.

"That's something I tried to ask for advice from the other girls in the group or from Nic, just to try and make sure I was getting that aspect right, the difference between being prepped and ready for a 5K versus doing a full marathon," she says.

"Nic" is coaching legend Nic Bideau, and "the group" is, of course, the Melbourne Track Club.

"So, I train with a lot of girls who have done the marathon. And I've also paced quite a few marathons, but I'd never physically done it myself. I think the longest I've paced is to about 23km and at the time I thought, 'Oh man, this is pretty hard.' But everyone would say, 'No, you just need to train differently to be able to complete the race.'

TMP 3093
Melbourne, 2021. Photo: Riley Wolff.

"Obviously, you have different things like gels and nutrition and hydration that go into running a longer race. You can't just start and finish and be fine, because it's too long."

French had originally hoped to be OQT-ready well before Valencia. She had aspirations to pace the Nagoya Marathon in March 2023, but Bideau told her she wasn't ready. "From then it was like, 'Okay right, we've really got to nail this down now. How do I get from here, not being able to even pace a marathon, to December to race one and qualify?'"

One milestone along that journey was the Gold Coast Half Marathon in July. "In my head I was like, 'If I can run under 70 minutes in July, then I can run the full and hit the qualifying time. I had between July and December to recover from that race and to add the volume and the longer sessions.'" At Gold Coast, French came in at 1:09:58 or 1:09:59 depending on which website you look at. "I literally did it by like a second or two," she says of the goal she had set for herself.

TMP 2926
Melbourne, 2021. Photo: Riley Wolff.

When it finally rolled around, the Valencia Marathon was French's opportunity to put her training to the test and secure her Olympic qualifying time. "I knew I could do the time," she recalls. "There was no way it could be harder than my preparation."

French's confidence was well-founded. Her debut was not only a personal triumph but also a significant moment for New Zealand athletics. It now stands as the second-fastest time ever by a Kiwi woman, behind only the legendary Kim Smith.

Smith's records in the 5000m, 10,000m, and marathon have stood for nearly 15 years, a testament to her incredible talent and the challenges of producing elite female distance runners in New Zealand. Smith's appearance at the 2012 London Olympics was the last time the country sent a female marathoner to the Games.

“Maybe one day I'm hoping to get that New Zealand record, obviously. But for now, I'm just proud of how far I've come in a short time after having Sienna.”

Camille French


As such, French's achievements put her in rarefied company, not that she's thinking about it much. "It's something that maybe in a few years I'll look back on, but at the moment I'm just busy trying to improve and get faster. Just trying to get to the Games myself."

"Maybe one day I'm hoping to get that New Zealand record, obviously. But for now, I'm just proud of how far I've come in a short time after having Sienna.”

While her national record for fastest marathon debut no doubt gave the Kiwi selectors plenty to think about, it didn't automatically land French a spot on the Olympic team. She then backed Valencia up with a run of 2:28:23 in tough, windy conditions in the Nagoya Marathon in March and in April was named as New Zealand’s only marathoner to go to Paris.


Of course, French's journey to the top of New Zealand's distance running scene is all the more remarkable for the fact that she's done it while navigating the challenges of motherhood. Sienna was born in June 2022, and her mum returned to training just a couple of months later.

"It's been definitely quite challenging but then, in some other aspects, it's gone better than I expected," French says of balancing elite running with parenting. "It doesn't allow you a lot of time to process things or think about training, but, if you make it your routine, you just get it done."

She credits her support system of Cameron, his parents, and her mum, Cheryl, for making it all possible. "It's really cool they're all such a part of it, and they have such amazing relationships with Sienna. She loves it, and it all kind of works."


This family contribution has been especially crucial given the limited pool of pro or elite training partners in New Zealand. "You sort of create your own network," French explains. "It's sometimes a bit hard trying to get people to train with, but I've been able to get some people helping on the bike. And a friend of mine, who's an athlete herself, she's going to train with me for basically this whole marathon block."

Despite the challenges, French wouldn't have it any other way. "I feel like the last year has been very rewarding," she says.

Hamilton, 2020. Photo: Michael Dawson.

"Sienna's been amazing, and I've been able to race, travel and achieve goals, and also have her alongside." The whole family will shift to Europe in late July, when French will set up base for her final training push before Paris.

It's a journey that has required immense dedication, but French's passion for running makes it all worthwhile. "Sometimes it can be frustrating or tiring, but the reward is more. It's definitely gone really well."

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