This past January, professional road runner Kara Goucher, a Nissan Innovation for Endurance athlete, finished third at the Olympic Trials Marathon in Houston and grabbed a spot on the women’s Olympic marathon team. She’ll be representing the US in the Olympic Marathon on August 5th. I spoke with Kara by telephone on the weekend of the Bolder Boulder in Colorado, where she was cheering and making appearances rather not racing. Here’s what went down.
Kara Goucher: I had a lot of fun. I had a lot of people come out and tell me good luck and swing by after they finished racing. It was a treat for me to come back here. I come back to Colorado quite a bit because my husband’s family lives around here, but I haven’t been back to Boulder and campus and things like that for a while; so it was really fun.
iRF: The weather turned out alright?
Goucher: Yes, it’s an absolutely beautiful day. Shalane [Flanagan] (iRF interview) and I did a run at 6 am and we’re going to do another run before we head to the airport. It’s a typical, beautiful, sunny, Boulder day.
iRF: Where did you run this morning?
Goucher: We just ran on the Boulder Creek path.
iRF: I’m calling you from another set of mountains up in Park City, Utah.
Goucher: I love Park City. I’ve trained quite a bit up there. That was with a different coach. I just switched coaches this past year, and the coach I was with before, we always went to Park City for our altitude training. It’s one of my favorite places on the planet.
iRF: There’s some altitude here.
Goucher: Serious altitude. The trails there are so well kept, it’s just gorgeous.
iRF: You used to train with Alberto Salazar, and I think some of his guys are here right now. I keep seeing them on the trails and roads going by at lightning pace.
Goucher: Yeah, they’re there. There definitely there getting ready for the Olympic Trials. Then they’ll probably be back there after the Trials [which took place from June 21st to July 1st] getting ready for the Olympics. That’s kind of Alberto’s spot. Like I said, I’ve been there many times; I really like it there.
iRF: Cool. I get to learn a lot about you from your Facebook page and your husband’s Facebook page. He also blogs about you. It’s fantastic. I just read that you spent some time training up in Mammoth.
Goucher: Yeah, it was my first time at Mammoth. I’m with a different group [the Oregon Track Club Elite] now and that’s where they tend to go. Whereas Alberto takes his guys to Park City, Jerry [Schumacher] takes his guys to Mammoth Lakes. So that was my first time ever being there, and I loved it. We were there for five weeks, and it went by really quick. It’s a typical mountain town with tons of dirt roads and great trails and a good environment with friendly people. It was a really good trip for me.
iRF: Since you were there pretty early in the season you probably got to see some snow, too.
Goucher: Oh yeah, we got dumped on one weekend, but it was really crazy because there was so much snow. As long as we could get out of the condo and drive down a little bit, it was gorgeous. We definitely had our fair share of snow though.
iRF: I’m a bit familiar with Mammoth Lakes. I used to live in the Sierra Nevada but on the other side of the crest. So we would go and sit in hot springs and visit Mono Lake. I know your training ground just a little bit.
Goucher: You probably know it better than me!
iRF: You’re in a really fun place right now. You’re in the final two months of training before the Olympic Marathon, is that right?
Goucher: Yes, the Olympic Marathon is nine weeks from today, so I’m in a really heavy period of training right now—a lot of miles, but we’ve transitioned from just plain miles to doing workouts, as well. So I’m in a place right now where I’m pretty much tired all the time, but it’s really rewarding and it’s been great training with Shalane. We get to train for the Olympics together which is a pretty unique situation. Things are good, just tired… working hard!
iRF: You had an injury in the months prior to the Olympic Trials Marathon. Are you totally healthy now?
Goucher: I am totally healthy now, and I was healthy at the Olympic Trials, as well. I was just really far behind, because I was injured last fall. I’ve been 100% healthy and I’m no longer behind everybody, because I’ve been able to train completely since then.
iRF: The marathon is a distance where you have to devote your entire life to this goal. Your training, the way you’re living, the way you’re socializing—can you comment on that?
Goucher: Yes, everything is focused around running in the Olympics right now. I went to school in Boulder and my husband’s family all lives in the Boulder area. I was coming out to Bolder Boulder for Nissan and my husband and my son came out on Thursday and spent three days with family and really enjoyed the trip. I wasn’t able to do that. I had to stay in Portland and train. I had to do a 22-mile run yesterday morning and then I hopped on a plane and flew in. There are times when I feel the sacrifice. For instance, this weekend when my husband is visiting family and I didn’t get to be a part of it.
But it’s all for a lifelong goal and a lifelong dream. As soon as the Olympics are over, I’ll take a little break and have my fun. But definitely right now I have no social life whatsoever and I’m in bed by 9:30 pm every night and I’m up by 6:30 am every morning. All I do is train and take care of my son and train and go back to bed. Day in and day out, it’s that routine. I enjoy it, but it’s very boring.
iRF: Talk about that for a minute, trying to keep your life in balance even though you have to let some things give to focus on your training. You’re a runner; you’re a mom; you’re a wife; you’re a friend. You probably have other things you do when you’re less running-focused. How do you keep those things balanced?
Goucher: My son keeps me balanced, because he keeps running in perspective. If I go to London and I get dead last in the marathon, he doesn’t care. He’s just going to be like, “Oh Mommy finished her race.” So he’s given me great perspective on the sport. I love spending time with him and I don’t like to not spend time with him. In the past, if I had a long run I could go home and sleep the day away. I don’t do that anymore. I come home and I play with my son. Maybe at times that costs me a little extra rest on the running side, but it’s worth it to me, because it makes me happy.
On the flip side, I do have to leave my son twice a day to go train, which, at times, is hard, because I don’t want to miss all those moments. I remember last year, I went out for a run and I came back and my husband was with the babysitter and my husband was like, “Colt pulled himself up for the first time.” I immediately started crying, because I had missed it. But that was a year ago, and I’ve learned to balance more and have realized there are going to be plenty of those little moments along the way. It’s kind of a constant battle though, giving as much as I can to my running and giving as much as I can to my family. But we’re in a pretty good routine where we appreciate the time we have together. When I finish my second run, I make dinner for my family every night and we have a couple hours together. We make the most of those times.
iRF: You must have a good support structure with your husband and probably a babysitter that helps you out, too.
Goucher: Yeah, my husband is incredibly supportive. He’s an Olympian himself, so he gets it. We have the most amazing babysitter, but actually this is her last week with us. She’s been with us since Colt was three months old, but she’s moving to Florida. We’re actually in a little bit of denial right now, because she’s been so fantastic with Colt and she travels to training camps with us and has even traveled to competitions with us. So we’re looking for a new—her name is Auntie Kate because she fits into our family—Auntie Kate.
I’ve just been fortunate. You know that’s really the story of my life is that I’ve been able to surround myself with really supportive people. My family was always very supportive. When I was at CU [University of Colorado Boulder], the people around me here were very supportive. I’ve found a community with my teams. I’ve just been really lucky throughout my life and career to surround myself with people who believed in what I wanted to accomplish and who wanted to see me succeed and who were willing to help me. I have a lot of help, there’s no way I could do this by myself.
iRF: Speaking of support, you and Shalane have a unique relationship that isn’t common in elite women’s running. You’re really close friends, you do a ton of your training together, and, now, you even have the same big goal. That also might be key when it comes to the running side of your life?
Goucher: Yeah, it’s been fantastic. The last few years, obviously, I didn’t race one year, because I had my son, but I just felt a little lost in my running. I wasn’t as motivated as I used to be. I only ran with men, not that there’s anything wrong with that. But joining this new team and training with Shalane day in and day out has really rejuvenated me. She was my biggest rival in the United States before we started training together, and she has even said publicly she used to train and picture beating me. But, for whatever reason, it just works. I think the respect for each other, it just has really works.
I’m a thousand times better athlete than I could have been without Shalane and she feels like I help her, as well. There’s a chance that me helping her is going to push her to a level I can’t beat and vice versa, but we both believe it’s worth the risk. We both believe we’re going to help each other get to better, bigger places with each other. We were rivals and we knew each other but we’ve really become, honestly, she’s like a sister to me now with everything we’ve gone through. I can’t thank her enough for being so welcoming to me.
iRF: It’s amazing how when you do difficult runs with somebody how quickly you bond to them.
Goucher: Yeah. I feel like when you run, you let your guard down because you’re too tired to keep your defenses up. I’ve met my closest friends through running and we’ve shared things on runs that I’d never share with others. I’ve absolutely had those conversations with Shalane that have bonded us for life, basically. When you’re running, you’re so honest.
iRF: And they probably hear you belch and talk about how your stomach is turning sour and your bathroom woes, too, right?
Goucher: Oh yeah, we share everything—some things we probably shouldn’t talk about, but you know runners, we’ve been through it all with each other. Runners know runners.
iRF: Being with Shalane at the Olympics later this summer is probably going to be a fairly emotional experience—for you to be there with somebody who has done the ins and outs of the training with you.
Goucher: Yeah, it’s going to be really special. We try not to put too much pressure on ourselves that it’s the Olympic Games, but, of course, there is that element that it is the Olympic Games and it won’t be around for another four years. So it’s just nice to have someone to go through that with and someone to help you keep perspective. We have big goals together that go beyond the Olympics, and you’re going to see us in more races together in the future. But, obviously, this is our first really big one together, and we’re just going to help keep each other level-headed and keep our eyes on the prize.
iRF: From another girl runner in America, good luck to you. I will be one of the millions rooting for you in August.
Goucher: Thank you so much! I really appreciate it.
[Thanks to Nissan’s Innovation for Endurance initiative for setting up the interview.]