Kara Goucher, along with 189 of her closest friends, will be doing battle on Saturday, January 14, 2011, on the streets of Houston, Texas. The battle between Shalane Flanagan and Desi Davila will be one thing. The real battle, in both races, will be for third place...
Kara Goucher Eyes Her Competition at the 2012 Olympic Team Trials
by Jon Gugala
Kara Goucher is quick to dismiss her performance at the 2011 Boston marathon. Her 2:24:26 PR--the second fastest time of all U.S. Olympic trials qualifiers, and tied for seventh on the all-time list--she chalks up to the weather. She sounds disappointed.
Only after prodding will the 33-year-old native from Duluth, Minn., grudgingly admit that a PR is a PR. But it's with such reluctance that it sticks sideways in your throat. So you turn it over in your head. You pry into it. You walk around it, inspecting it from different angles. And then, like one of those Magic Eye puzzles from the early 90s that, by moving back and forth, makes a sailboat appear, Goucher's reason emerges: it has nothing to do with time. It has everything to do with competition.
"I knew 10 miles in it wasn't going to happen," Goucher says of Boston. "It turned into a survival-type run."
A PR could and did happen--by nearly a minute and a half, even if it felt like survival. What Goucher speaks of with such longing was the win.
For Goucher, as you flip through her PRs, from the track to the road, you'll soon notice that they've never come from time trial-style races.
Her 5000m PR? Set in 2007, Goucher was chasing eventual 2011 5000m/10,000m world champ Vivian Cheruiyot for third in a Golden League meet in Berlin. Her 10,000m best? It was set in the final of the 2008 Olympics.
Goucher's crowning achievement from her early career could be her reckless move from the lead pack of the 2007 Great North Run half marathon, launching from world record-holder in the marathon Paula Radcliffe in what Goucher claims was an act of such novice audacity that she cringes when she thinks back on it. "Yeah, honestly, the reason I ran so fast is I found myself ahead of her, and I was like, 'Oh, my gosh, I'm such an idiot. How did I put myself in this position? I need to make this happen or I'm going to look like a fool,'" she says.
The result was 1:06:57, an American best by nearly 40 seconds (Goucher's mark would not supplant Deena Kastor's American Record of 1:07:34, as the course's net-downhill profile was deemed ineligible for record purposes). "I didn't know what a good half marathon was or wasn't. Now, looking back, I'm like, 'That was pretty damn good,'" she says.
For Boston in 2011, Goucher chalks her lack of contention to too much, too fast. "I wasn't ready, really, to run a marathon," she says. "I pushed quite a bit after coming back from Colt."
Goucher refers to her and husband Adam's first son, Colton Mirko, whom she delivered on September 24, 2010, a mere seven months before the Boston marathon. But Colt was only the first of many changes over the last year and a half.
After Boston, Goucher took her disappointment and training volume and funneled it onto the track. She was the runner-up to future training partner and American record-holder Shalane Flanagan at the USATF Championships in the 10,000m, eager for another World Championships contest, the site of her breakout performance in 2007 where she was the surprise bronze medalist in the distance.
photo by PhotoRun.net
The irony was that in 2007, Goucher was coming off an injury, and in 2011, as she prepared to compete in Daegu, South Korea, an injury was looming on the horizon.
Five weeks before Goucher's trip to the IAAF World Championships, what had been a nagging hip pain since her son's birth was diagnosed as a stress reaction in her femoral neck. Therapy and rest did little to curtail it, and the result was a disappointing 13th-place performance on the world stage. It was followed by five weeks completely off of running--a less-than-ideal circumstance while preparing for your first Olympic trials marathon.
During Goucher's convalescence was yet another dramatic change. On October 23, after several weeks of rumors, she announced she'd be leaving coach Alberto Salazar, whom she and Adam had been with since 2004, to make a parallel move to the Portland-based Jerry Schumacher group, which among others, was home to Flanagan and NCAA 10,000m record-holder Lisa Uhl, two of the brightest stars in U.S. distance running.
"I wanted to be held more accountable," Goucher says. "Alberto was taking on some big time athletes and has to travel a lot more than he used to, so I was by myself quite a bit, and it was just Adam and me (laughs). I could slack a little bit, or I could tell him, 'I was up all night with the baby.' He wasn't going to be, 'No, Kara, suck it up.'
"When I'm with a group of women, they don't care if I've been up all night. They're hitting the pace, and I'm going to get left behind if I don't have the pace."
For Goucher, who has depended so heavily on competition to stimulate her progression, her new training partners have put her in her natural environment in which to excel.
Goucher's other reason to switch was for the training group itself. For much of her post-baby training with Salazar, husband Adam was her sole training partner, whom she claims without, her Boston race wouldn't have been possible. "He saved me; he got me out the door," she says.
But while Adam responded admirably as the supportive husband, he's had his own goals in running. At the University of Colorado, Adam was a four-time NCAA champion (cross country, outdoor 5000m, and twice indoor 3000m), and later an Olympic trials champion in the 5000m (2000).
But Adam was also frequently plagued by injuries. After suffering yet another in the fall of 2011, which interrupted his plans of a marathon debut 2012 Olympic team trials, he announced his retirement. It was a huge decision, one that Kara empathizes for.
Besides her new training partners, Goucher has also had to acclimate to a new training philosophy. Schumacher's training differs in many ways from Salazar's. She's running higher mileage and longer workouts ("Mind-numbingly long. They go on for hours, and I want to kill myself," she says.).
But, when you're done, you're done, she says.
There are no more underwater treadmills or body weight-displacing running aids. There are no more gimmicks.
"I thought I was working as hard as anyone else, and I've learned that I haven't been," she says.
The focus for the trials is getting into a solid fitness level. "[Shalane and I are] just trying to get as fit as possible, to run as fast as comfortable, to know that we can run a certain pace, and then we have to see what other people do," Goucher says.
"I think that if I can get myself in 2:25, 2:26 shape, that will be good enough. If I run 2:25 and it isn't good enough, hat's off. That's an amazing team," she adds.
Goucher makes magic happen when she's fit, and though she says she has "crazy dreams" of time-trial races to plumb the depths of her limits, her history has shown that it's in competition that brings out her best. With the 2012 U.S. Olympic team trails looming with what could arguably be the deepest women's field ever assembled, those that write her off, comparing her to the injury-free Shalanes and Davilas and Hastings and Lewy-Boulets, are overlooking history.
photo by PhotoRun.net
Goucher is not good because she's fast--after all, the fastest marathoner in the world, Paula Radcliffe, has never won a medal in the Olympics. Kara Goucher is good because she's competitive. In fact, her competitiveness has outshined her times, and most importantly, has directly fueled them. It's something that will ensure that her impact will be felt at the finish line on January 14.