By Peter Gambaccini
Kara Goucher, the 2007 World Championships 10,000-meter bronze medalist and third-place finisher in the 2008 New York City Marathon (2:25:53) and 2009 Boston Marathon (2:32:25), gave birth to her first child, son Colton, in September and will now return to the road racing at P.F. Chang's Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Half Marathon on Sunday (there is also a marathon on the day's schedule). Goucher was 10th in the marathon at the 2009 World Championships. She was 10th in the 10,000 meters at the Beijing Olympics in a personal best 30:55.16 and ninth in a slow-paced 5000. Her 5000 best is 14:55.02. The former Kara Grgas-Wheeler attended the University of Colorado and won the 3000 and 5000 at the 2000 NCAA Track & Field Championships outdoors and was the 2000 NCAA Cross Country champion. She and husband Adam Goucher, an Olympian and another Colorado alumnus, live in Portland, Oregon, and are coached by Alberto Salazar, the three-time New York City Marathon champion.
What are your expectations for the half marathon in Arizona and how would you assess your fitness going into that?
Kara Goucher: It will be the first time I have Colt with me (when she's racing), the first time I have raced in almost a year and a half. So I'm really just taking as an opportunity to go through my routine again and remember what it's like. I'm training a lot, but I'm exhausted. Up until a week and a half ago, I was nursing full-time around the clock, and I'm in the process of weaning right now, so I'm pretty fatigued, to be totally honest. I'm just looking forward to it more as the beginning of learning how to deal with Colt and all that kind of stuff and remembering what it's like to do a warm-up and go to the start line. It's more of a practice run than "oh, I want to run a certain time."
I think I can run in the 5:30s (per mile). I think that's pretty manageable right now. Whatever that is, it is. And whoever's there is there. I'm really just trying to take it as a way to shake off the cobwebs. I'm not at my racing weight. I'm still nursing. There are so many other factors going on. I just want to take advantage of a fairly low-key half marathon and get through the experience.
While you were pregnant, and after, you've gone to running events for various promotional reasons. But have you really missed the rituals of the racing scene, going through the motions leading up to the races?
KG: Yeah. I love competing and I love everything about it. I love the preparation in training and I love the taper and I love the actual getting to the event and your whole process there. I've missed all of that so much. Even though I'm not ready to necessarily put up a great time that's going to scare anybody, I'm ready to get back into that routine and to remember what all that's like and just get all that stuff going again.
Matt Tegenkamp, who's a new dad, mentioned in an interview last week that he's got an infant son who already sleeps through the night. Are you that lucky?
KG: Well, it depends on what your definition of sleeping through the night is. Colt goes down at about 10:00 and then he wakes up at around 4:00 for a feeding. Most people call that "sleeping through the night." As a person who used to sleep nine to 10 hours a night, I don't consider that sleeping through the night. But I've been told by other new moms that that is considered sleeping through the night, since he sleeps a good six-hour stretch. He's a great sleeper. He's been having issues as of late, but for the most part, we've been really lucky in that sense—really, just once a night getting up. And then he would sleep until 8:00 or 8:30.
I was going to ask you what was the first day in this process of coming back when you felt 'oh, I'm that Kara Goucher again,' but it sounds like maybe that hasn't happened yet, with all this exhaustion.
KG: Honestly, yesterday, I think, was kind of the first. I've been putting in 100 miles a week for the last three weeks but I feel like I'm just trying to stay afloat a little bit. But yesterday, Adam and I did a 20-miler and it was the first time where I was really like "I can do this." It's not that I've been totally discouraged, I've just kind of been like "I'm just so far away from where I need to be," and yesterday was the first time I really had a glimpse of "no, I could have kept going," and that felt relatively relaxed. I really started to be excited.
There probably shouldn't be any sense of panic about this, considering what the timetable is for the Trials (January of 2012) and other things coming up.
KG: No, I think I'm going to run a great marathon in April (in Boston), I really do. But my overall goal for my career is not the Boston Marathon 2011. It's always been the Olympic Games and around that. A year from now, I think I'll be completely the best that I've ever been.
In your blogs, you've mentioned that the toughest element of running to bring back since pregnancy is the speed. Have you tried to focus on that yet or are you going to wait a little bit longer, even, to bring that around?
KG: It's just coming along slowly, honestly. I've been able to get down to high 33-seconds in the 200s, but I used to able to whip out a bunch in under 30. And in the past, I've sort of gone with a "bottom up" approach, where I go run the Millrose Mile and maybe a 3K and really work my way up to the half (marathon) before a marathon. This time around, we're doing a little bit more traditional entry into the marathon. We really are going strength-based this time. My speed continues to come along; it's just really slow. I'm just trying not to stress about it, because I have no intentions of going to try and run a fast mile or anything like that. By the time I really need my speed, which will be this summer, it should be back.
When I was pregnant, I did train quite a bit, and I did stay aerobically really fit, but I did no speed in those last two months, really the last four months, So that part is just not there yet.
Do you know much else about what your race schedule between Arizona and Boston will be?
KG: I have a couple of races planned out, one of which I'm really excited about but I can't talk about it yet. I'm going to run (USA) Cross Country (on February 5). I've run with a couple of men, and Adam's been running with me, but I think getting in a race with women will carry me so much further. Even if I go there and I can barely can break the top 10, that's going to carry me so far. I'm thinking about going up to Seattle for an indoor 5K but it depends on how Colt's doing and all that kind of stuff. I've also tossed around the idea of running that World's Best 10K in Puerto Rico (in late February), so that's still in the back of my mind, too – to see how things are going, and run a couple of races that in the past would have been long for me but would be considered speedwork for me now.
What was the operation you had while you were pregnant?
KG: I had a bone spur on my right big toe, and I'd had it for years, and I had just learned how to run with it, basically. I got a stress fracture during my pregnancy in my sacrum and I decided I had to take at least a couple of weeks off. And I thought, "well, let's just take advantage of it and finally get this toe fixed."
And your form and 'foot plant' are fine with that?
KG: Yeah, it's funny, I had to sort of learn how to reuse it (the toe). It doesn't hurt me at all anymore, but we had people watch me run and I didn't actually run through my big toe anymore, because I had just adapted to it. I did some physical therapy to learn how to reuse it. It's doing great.
Do you have any residual lower back problems from the sacrum stress fracture?
KG: No. I've been really lucky with it since Colt was born. Knock on wood, but I've been really lucky with nothing being sore—except for overall fatigue.
And you do think you can run a really good marathon in Boston this time? Do you imagine yourself being in contention for a victory?
KG: I honestly wouldn't run it if I didn't think I could challenge. I'm certainly not going to predict a win or anything like that, but I think I could be as ready as anybody else. That's how I envision it, that it's similar to last time, where I'm in contention and I'm challenging with a few other people. That's what I'm hoping for, definitely.
While you were away, the sport did continue. As you watched Shalane Flanagan's race in New York City in November – which was similar to yours in Boston, with a slowish first half and then people got moving and she stayed in the hunt until very late – did that produce a deja vu feeling you could relate to (Flanagan was ultimately the runner-up to Kenya's Edna Kiplagat)?
KG: Yeah, just everything, It was her debut and there was so much tension, so much pressure. I thought she handled it really well. You know, the more that the race went slowly, I thought "she's going to pull this off." They're very different courses and different competition, but just the way it played out, with them waiting until the last 5K or 6K before they really started churning it, was a little bit similar to a situation I've been in. But when they went cranking, they were cranking. I thought it was a great race, a great performance by her. I was impressed by how when she got dropped (by Kiplagat), it looked like she was third and she was suffering and then she somehow found it to fight her way back into second. I was really impressed by her race.
There have been other things going on, too—new stars on the track like Lisa Koll and the improving Molly Huddle, and Desiree Davila showing some real consistency in the marathon. Do you watch these developments and feel challenged and motivated by them or are you just happy to see the rise of American distance running in general—or some combination of the two?
KG: I think it's a combination of the two. It makes me think I need to step up my game, but I'm also just thrilled for everybody. I think Desiree's someone who has so much more potential than she's even shown and it's been fun watching her kind of grow and get more confidence. And to see Molly Huddle this summer just really go for it, I thought that took so much courage. And Lisa Koll, I really think she's the next big, big U.S. star. So it's been exciting to watch them, but it's not that I feel threatened by it. It's more motivating for me. I just want to be out there with them.
Molly Huddle may not have had doldrums that lasted as long as your postcollegiate ones did, but she's somebody who struggled for a while before finding her footing again. I salute anybody who does that. She never gave up, and you never gave up during your fairly difficult years. You never lost your desire or your belief in yourself, did you?
KG: Yeah, and it's hard, sometimes, to keep that belief alive. I respect all of my competitors, but I really respect the people for whom the rise to the top really hasn't been a smooth one. It's tough to make it, and it's tough to keep giving yourself reasons to keep trying and keep putting off "the real world." I'm just really excited for her (Huddle)—a sensational year, and I think it's just going to lead to even more success.
During your pregnancy and right after, did you get to do some things that perhaps you hadn't been able to do in the previous three years of racing?
KG: I stayed really busy throughout the pregnancy. I traveled a lot to races, and I got to just see the other side of it, the non-elite side. When you're racing and you're training so hard and you become so hyper-focused, you may go to a race and do a little Q&A but you don't really get to interact with the general public as much. I really took advantage of that, to go to the expos and be around just everyday runners. To me, it was so refreshing because it really just reminded me of why we all love the sport. We all do it for different reasons, but at the end, a lot of it is just your of running, and it doesn't matter if you're a five-hour marathoner or a 2:20 marathoner, you still love it. That was really fun for me.
Is there a story or two from any of the people you met that stands out in your memory?
KG: I just met so many people, honestly. I was pregnant at the time, so I heard from a lot of mothers and their struggles with trying to accomplish everything they want to accomplish. It inspires me to meet people who have full-time jobs or they have two or three kids and they're finding time to run. It makes me feel like I've been given such a great opportunity and I don't want to waste it or ever complain because there are other people who are juggling a lot more than I am.
These people just find the time. It just really impresses me, and it's a reminder that there's so much heart out there from so many people. That's really been the greatest thing for me about going to the roads. I met this whole new community of people that I never met through track.
Did you find that you had a high recognition factor among those runners?
KG: Yeah, it's actually a little bit shocking, because nobody knows who I am here in Portland (laughs), but I go to Grandma's Marathon (in Duluth) or to Rock 'n' Roll San Diego and I'm just walking around the expo and people are like "oh my gosh" and they know what I've done and they're so excited and they knew I was pregnant. It's amazing to me. It was kind of what I needed, a time away from hard training and hard racing to just recharge the batteries and really get in touch with the whole reason why I began running anyway. And the best things I've gotten out of running are the relationships I've formed, and so it was really fun to meet more people and more more relationships and get back in touch with my roots.
The last time I saw your husband Adam, who'd been hurt again, he said he'd try and get it together and give elite running one more shot. What is his status right now?
KG: He hosted a high school camp for Nike this summer and jumped into a soccer game, and his knee was sore after, and he found out about six weeks ago that he'd torn his ACL and he was just running on it all fall. He had surgery on that about six weeks ago. Now he's just determined to help me get through Boston, and at that point, if he's still healthy and doing well, then he's going to focus on himself. But right now he's just helping me with all my hard days. I ran 20 miles yesterday (last Thursday) and he ran 18 of it with me. I did a 10-mile tempo on Tuesday and he ran that with me. I always have someone to train with, especially when the weather's bad here and it's hard to get out the door. He still has aspirations of running the (Marathon) Trials in Houston. If he can get through April and be perfectly healthy he's like "well, then I'll start thinking about myself."
I follow your blogging. Have you found that to be an interesting tool for understanding yourself and the process you're going through?
KG: I really like it, especially since becoming a new mom and sort of doing this "comeback." I just wrote one today about Colt and everything that's going on with him. It's a way for me to relieve some pressure and some stress. The feedback has been really good. Sometime I think "who's going to want to read this?" But I always get positive feedback, especially from mothers. For me, it's been a good way to get some things off my chest and explain some frustrations or positive things, things that I'm excited about. I really like it (Goucher's blogs are archived at competitor.com).
This could depend on how things go in Boston and how you feel after, but do you think there's a likelihood you'll be running on the track and would try to get to the World Championships in Daegu in the 5000 or the 10,000?
KG: Yeah, I really would like to make the track team in the 10K. I would really love to run a final at that level again in the 10K, because after that, it really will be all focused on the marathon. It will just depend on how Boston goes and how quickly I can turn it around. But I would really, really love to be on the U.S. team in the 10K this summer.
Article Courtesy of Runner's World