Brilliant sparks of potential always seemed to be doused by injury before Kara Goucher moved to Portland, Oregon several years ago with husband, Adam, and began training under legendary marathoner Alberto Salazar. In the space of a month starting in August at the 2007 IAAF World Championships, Goucher made history as the first American woman to medal (bronze) in the women’s 10,000m.
Following that she handed Paula Radcliffe a rare loss, winning her debut half marathon at the Great North Run in 1:06:57, one of the fastest half marathons ever run by a woman. The 2008 US Olympic Trials winner in the 5,000 and runner-up in the 10,000, Kara finished 9th in Beijing in the 5,000 and 10th in the 10,000, in a PR 30:55.16. Less than three months later, she finished third in the New York City Marathon in a time of 2:25:53, the fastest debut ever (by over a minute) by an American woman. Goucher started 2009 by running away with the Millrose Mile in 4:33.19 and a week later won the Reebok Indoor Games 3000m.
The following day, she ran the last 20 miles of the Boston course, noting that the undulating terrain suited her. Asked her goals for 2009, she issued a 10-word answer: “My goal for 2009 is to win the Boston Marathon.Û¢bCrLf This interview took place three months after the New York City Marathon and a week before Millrose.
NER: Is that husband of yours something of a prankster? We saw him in New York wearing a “Mr. Kara GoucherÛ¢bCrLf t-shirt.
KG: laughs. Well, yeah, that has been a joke between us for quite awhile. When I was injured and he was running well people would always ask me what I did and stuff. And I’d say, well I run too, and they’d say, Û¢Oh, that’s so cute.’ Adam has said that the tides have really changed the last couple of years. I didn’t know he had that shirt made until the race was over and done in New York. It was pretty funny, just Adam’s way of saying the weekend was kind of about me.
NER: Obviously you’d been a good sport when it was Adam in the spotlight.
NER: We were at the last turn into Central Park. You looked like you’d gone through a transformation during the marathon and were looking very much in distress. Had you ever felt like that in any other race you’d ever run.
KG: No. It was so hard. I can laugh now when I talk about it, but literally, we were coming up the street where you enter Central Park for the second time and I was looking for a place to drop out. I’d just run close to 26 miles and I was looking for a place to drop out. I mean, I was just in so much pain it was unbelievable.
NER: Yet you’d run such a good pace and were in such a good position at that point. I suppose mental toughness really takes over.
KG: Yeah, it was trying not to fight it. I looked over my shoulder and couldn’t see anyone and thought if I just survive I’m going to get third, all I have to do is survive this stretch. Still, it was really hard. Mentally, I was starting to go to dark places. Like I said, I was very, very seriously considering dropping out, but I continued shuffling. Even though the body was shutting down, it never shut down completely so I kept going as best I could.
NER: Was it a matter of stomach nausea, or not getting enough fluid early.
KG: I was very nauseous and I wasn’t able to take in any fluids after about the 10-mile mark. In my mind I thought, Û¢I’ll get to 20 miles and that’s when I’ll be ready. I’ll have all these energy stores that other people don’t have’-and I didn’t have any. The body just started going on me. I think it was definitely a lack of nutrition at that point.
NER: From what we’ve heard, you recovered well.
KG: I did. Everything went pretty well. I had some lower back pain as a result of all the cramping. The day after the marathon I felt beat up but not as bad as I thought I’d be. After that I was really fine. I did take two weeks off and my back was a little sore, but I think that’s because I took the two weeks totally off, no massage or anything. I think if I’d actually done that I would have been fine. I was surprised, actually.
NER: Before Osaka [World Championships], Alberto told you that you could medal. What did he say to you before New York.
KG: He told me I could win. Alberto is great and I love him, but he didn’t lie about the fact that he was disappointed, not in me but disappointed in the way things went the way they did because he really felt that I could have won.
NER: Hey, Paula’s a tough cookie. She’s run 10 marathons and only lost two.
KG: I know. In Osaka he thought I could medal, not necessarily win. Here I was going up against possibly the greatest marathoner of all time, but that’s OK. We have big goals and she’s a great person, I’m privileged to run against her. I’m glad that I run against the very best and I don’t duck out on anybody.
NER: In the past you’ve had a history of injury but have been relatively and consistently healthy since you moved to Portland. What do you owe the majority of that to.
KG: Well, I owe it all to Alberto and then it’s because of all the people he’s put me in touch with. I have chiropractic and massage appointments regularly. I work with personal trainers dealing with imbalances that have developed over the years. I have Pilates twice a week. Really, it was Alberto that turned everything around, basically broke down my body and rebuilt it-put me back in the weight room, put me back doing things I was basically afraid of doing before. My first year with him I ran 60 miles a week, then I ran 75, then 85, now I’m running 95 and we’ve been able to build more and more.
NER: And he gave you an Alter-G for the house. That’s pretty sweet.
KG: It’s amazing. I mean, at my house I have an elliptical machine, an Alter-G, a stationary bike and a weight set. There’s no excuse not to be one of the best athletes in the world. Every tool I need is right here. We owe that to Alberto, we couldn’t afford it. He gave that to us and with it the opportunity to train even harder.
NER: I can see where the Alter-G is a delight to use, but what was your reaction when Alberto first had you use a weighted vest.
KG: It was funny because at the time my longest run had been about 17 miles. We set out on an 18-miler but at a faster pace. He was on a bike riding along wearing a backpack. With about three miles to go he pulls over and says, Û¢I know you’re going to be mad at me but you’ve got to put this on.’ I was tired; I couldn’t even fight it.
NER: Laughing. I guess that’s when you have to put your trust in your coach.
KG: Yeah. The last three miles were all uphill to his house and I was just fuming by the time I was done. I went from 6:40 pace to 7:40 pace and I was just dying. The next weekend he gave it to me about four miles out and it wasn’t quite so bad, and the next week it wasn’t so bad, and by the fourth or fifth time I actually liked it cause I felt like it was making me really, really tough.
NER: So now we go from New York to Boston-out of the frying pan and into the fire. People might question Boston as a second marathon but if you want to start a family, a sabbatical after running Boston makes perfect sense. How did the discussion between you and Adam evolve.
KG: We’ve been really open with Alberto on everything. Originally we had talked about right after the Olympics and then Alberto convinced me to run the marathon. Right after New York he’s like, Û¢We need to have a serious conversation.’ He said, Û¢I believe that you should have a child. I believe it’s the right thing to do with your life, but I also think for your athletic career, it’ll be almost two years before you run a marathon again. If you can put off your personal life five months and we run another marathon, we are going to gain so much from that.’ That was fine, so then it was do we run Boston or London. Honestly, it wasn’t a very difficult decision because Alberto’s heart is in Boston. And for me, I want my first major marathon win to be in the United States. Everyone tells me that Boston beats you up, but that’s OK.
NER: Would you perhaps have run the 2012 Olympics and then retired and started a family if not for some prime examples of women who’ve recently been very successful and have had children or are competing in their upper 30s. A prime example would be Paula and then Dita winning the Olympic Marathon at age 38.
KG: If I thought I was going to retire after the next Olympics, then I would wait, but I have no intention of retiring. I want to run right through 2016 and I think, just what you said-Dita and Paula and [Gete] Wami-these women have shown you can keep your career going, especially as you move to the marathon. I’ll be 34 at the next Olympics and I’ll be 38 in 2016. That’s probably a realistic point to look at retiring, but if anyone asks Paula what her plans are four years from now she’ll say winning the gold medal. I’ll be the same age. If I thought I was going to retire after London [2012 Olympics] then I’d look at things differently, but I have no intention of retiring then.
NER: So after Boston you’ll have some down time. What do you enjoy doing outside of running.
NER: I mean, you know, hobbies, travel
KG: Outside of running.
NER: You do get to do some things outside of running, occasionally, right.
KG: Laughing. Occasionally. Actually my favorite thing to do is visit my family and my friends, especially my friends that don’t run. I don’t get to see them very often and when I do it’s really quick. I’m hoping we can go spend long weekends with a lot of my friends around the country. I love to cook, stir fry’s, pasta dishes, I do all the cooking. Adam and I love to try new restaurants. Ever since we moved to Oregon we’ve gotten really into wine, we love wine tastings. I have hobbies, arts and crafts; I make homemade cards to send to people, things like that.
NER: After the indoor track season subsides and you start training for Boston, what will that entail.
KG: I’ve been running around 95 miles a week for the last seven to eight weeks. We’ll rest a couple days before Millrose and before the Boston meet. After the Boston meet is when I switch over fully to marathon training. The day after the Boston race I’ll do a 20-miler and my mileage will probably be between 105 and 110.
NER: Will the taper for Boston be different than New York
KG: New York wasn’t quite as much of a taper as we’d have liked it to be. There was a very short period that we trained for that. I took a week off after the Olympics, then we had a week of build-up and then we had five very intense weeks, and then one semi-hard week followed by an easy week.
For Boston we’ll do more of a two-week true taper. I’ll be running 105-110 and then I’ll come down to like 70 and then maybe 40-just a real taper. For New York I just had a week at 70 and then I raced.
NER: Has Alberto given you some cautionary tales about the course from his experience, like don’t go out too fast in the first few miles, what to do with the hills, that sort of thing.
KG: He said you’ll go out six seconds a mile faster because of the downhill nature of the course at the beginning and then, when the hills hit, your quads are already sort of beat up. We’ll incorporate that into our training when we get back from Boston the first time, to get my quads ready to handle the hills. He thinks it’s a pretty fast course, you know, that’s it’s very hard and it beats you up but you have the ability to run pretty fast there.
NER: It’s early on but you had a clear-cut strategy in New York. Stick with the leader who’d probably be, and was, Paula. Would this hold with Boston or would strategy evolve due to the nature of the course, there’s always people who’ll go out too fast.
KG: It doesn’t matter. The one thing about me is that I don’t really care about time. Obviously you want to run as fast as you can, but I’ve never really cared what my time is, I just want to be competitive. Whether the pace is fast or slow, I’ll be right there. Maybe not as intense as in New York where I felt I had to make a statement and I was right on Paula’s shoulder, but the leader [at Boston] will never get more than a few steps on me.
-Interview by Bob Fitzgerald