U.S. Women Look Podium-Bound in Boston By M. Nicole Nazzaro, note by Larry Eder

Mary Nicole Nazzaro has written three stories for RunBlogRun's coverage for Boston in the last 24 hours. This is her third, on the U.S. women running the 2013 Boston Marathon this coming Monday, April 15, 2013. It may be her best, after writing on Jacqueline Hansen, 1973 Boston winner and Jason Hartman, 2012 Boston fourth placer...

Shalane Flanagan, Kara Goucher, Stephanie Rothstein-Bruce, Serena Burla, Alissa McKaig and Joan Benoit Samuelson, the 1983 Boston champ and first woman to win the Olympic marathon for women, in 1984. 

I would not be surprised to see four to five US women in the overall top ten, they are that good. Shalane Flanagan's recent 31:04.5 for 10,000 meters shows she is ready ( I pick her for top three), and Kara Goucher ran a conservative 31:46.5. I find Kara is one who races way above her current shape, so I am picking her for top five. Burla, Rothstein-Bruce are on rolls right now and McKaig is fit. 

See you all in Boston tomorrow. I am heading to my red eye from Portland to SFO to Boston. More on that tomorrow....

Shalane Flanagan, 2012 London Olympic Games, 
photo by PhotoRun.net

Kara Goucher, 2012 London Olympic Games, 
photo by PhotoRun.net

U.S. Women Look Podium-Bound in Boston

By M. Nicole Nazzaro

Three minutes. That was the margin between the medalists at last year's London Olympics and American marathoners and training partners Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher, who finished 10th and 11th, respectively, after surging for the first half of the race. While Ethiopia's Tiki Gelana took home gold in 2:23:07, Flanagan clocked 2:25:51 and training partner Goucher was right behind her in 2:26:07. The third American entered, Desi Davila, did not finish.

Those same three minutes, give or take, now separate Flanagan and Goucher from the fastest women entered in Monday's 117th Boston Marathon. The fastest woman entered is Ethiopia's Meseret Hailu Debele, with a PR of 2:21:09, making her Boston debut this year. But if the U.S. women have anything to say about it, she will have plenty to contend with on Monday.

Goucher (PR 2:24:52) returns to Boston after a heartbreaking near-miss in 2009, in which she lost the race in the final sprint on Boylston Street, and a sparkling personal best in 2011 when son Colton was only six months old. She followed that the next year with her Olympic race and returns to Boston for a third shot at the laurel wreath.

"I want to win here very badly!" Goucher enthused at today's elite athletes' press conference. "I love this race, I love this course, I feel like I can win here." 

Distance has given her perspective on her London experience. "At first, I felt like we failed the U.S. and failed our coach, but he (coach Jerry Schumacher) put it in perspective. The women who won (in London) have run sub-2:20. And we did make mistakes. We were probably going at it a little too much in practice, and we trained too long. If the Olympics had been four weeks earlier, we might have seen a different result."

This time around, Goucher and Flanagan added altitude training to their preparation, training in Colorado Springs for January and part of February, and returning to Monument, CO after a two-week hiatus back home in Portland, where they trained until last week. Goucher is centered, calm and confident as she approaches race day. "Anyone who's counting me out is going to have a surprise," she says.

It may feel a bit unusual for top American marathoners to be training together with identical goals for Monday's race, but Goucher and Flanagan have found a friendship that transcends their goals as marathoners. Goucher credits Flanagan, the 2008 Olympic bronze medalist at 10,000 meters, for injecting a new energy and professionalism into her training. 

"I was thinking about retiring (in 2011)," Goucher remembers. "I was not loving running - and Shalane was kind enough to invite me into her training group a year and a half ago," says Goucher. "She's become a sister to me. She's like an aunt to (son) Colt - he adores her. 

"Now I love running - I cannot see a finish line - and I owe so much of that to Shalane. I would never have made the (2012) Olympic team without her. There is no way. After giving birth, I had a hip injury, and I found out I had a stress fracture in my hip. It was just a very bad time for me, the fall of 2011. I didn't run at all for five weeks. Shalane pushed me so hard. She held me accountable. She made me meet her for practice at 8:30 - I was used to going to practice at 10. It made me become a professional."

For her part, there may be no better prepared athlete in Boston than Flanagan, who hails from nearby Marblehead, MA. Her father Steve ran Boston, most recently at the 100th Boston in 1996. Flanagan is a rare breed among this era's elite marathoners - a second-generation world-class female marathoner. Her mother Cheryl was among the sport's very first trailblazers in the 1970's (racing against, among others, 1973 Boston champion Jacqueline Hansen, who will be the official women's starter on Monday).

"My dad always used to tell me - 'Dare to be different.' I feel like that's been a family theme. You don't have to conform to be accepted. My mother was a pioneer in distance running. We've had very different experiences, to be honest. I have really tough competition. But she knows more than anything the work that's required to be at your best."

Her toughness should serve her well on a course she's never competed on, but grew up around, cheering on runners from the time her parents were running competitively. And she's done her homework to prepare for the 

"From 16 (miles) on, that's the tough part of the course," she says. "I'm looking forward to those hills and seeing what people are made of. It's a gut check. I know I'm going to have to be really prepared for those last ten miles. It really comes down to, who wants this? This is my fourth marathon and I've wanted to run this race forever. I think this is the year I was meant to run this marathon. I feel like I'll be able to nail the race of my life, hopefully."

Joan Benoit Samuelson, who returns to Boston to celebrate the 30th anniversary of her win in 1983, notes that Flanagan is in the same position she was in back in 1979 in her Boston debut. "It's in Shalane's backyard, and that's the way it was for me. I have very high hopes (for Flanagan and Goucher) - I'm sending all my positive vibes their way. They're wonderful people and they represent our sport well. I love to be on the sidelines watching them."

The American story here is more than a tale of two women. Serena Burla (PR 2:28:27), Stephanie Rothstein-Bruce (PR 2:29:35) and Alissa McKaig (PR 2:31:56) are all making their Boston debuts on Monday, rounding out a field of 18 elite women representing nine countries on four continents.

Burla, whose marathon debut in 2011 came after treatment for a synovial sarcoma in her right hamstring, is approaching her first Boston like any other race, but she's aware of the formidable group of women who will line up next to her in Hopkinton.

"Obviously, this field is incredibly talented, so you have to be able to hold your weight," she says. "There's a feeling of gratefulness in having really good competition. As a marathoner, you spend a lot of time alone, so it's good when you get in really good quality fields and can get in packs to have people to run with or aim for."

Stephanie Rothstein-Bruce, who trains in Flagstaff, Arizona, notched third-place finishes in the 2012 Honolulu Marathon and the 2011 Houston Marathon. She is coached by her husband, Ben Bruce, and credits her altitude training with giving her the patience she thinks will be essential to running well on Monday.

"I do a lot of my big marathon tempo runs at altitude," says Rothstein-Bruce. "If you go out too hard at altitude, you're done, and it's very much similar to the marathon. Your legs are running slower, but it has the same effect on your heart, and I think it helps us a lot. For Boston, we looked at the course and knew about the downhill running with the hills and wanted to be prepared - I'll race it knowing that you want to have a lot of energy in that last 10K."

Alissa McKaig makes her Boston debut after an 8th-place finish at last year's Olympic Trials marathon in Houston. She represented the U.S. at the 2011 Daegu World Championships, placing 32nd. "It's Boston - that's just pressure in itself!" she says. "I think just managing that (pressure) is going to be huge." She trained last month in the Newton hills to give herself an opportunity to preview the course and while she's not a favorite for the podium, she sees this race as a potential breakthrough. "My training has gone really well," she says. "As long as I do what I set out to do and finish strong, I'll be happy with it."

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