Healthy and fit again, “Mr. Kara Goucher” is ready to make his doubters eat crow.
Interview by: Matt Fitzgerald
To qualify for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Team, you need three things: world-class talent, relative youth, and freedom from injuries. Adam Goucher has all of these things. His talent is unquestioned: He’s won national cross country championships in high school, in college, and as a pro, he’s run 13:10 for 5000m and 8:12 for two miles, and in 2006 he finished sixth in the World Cross Country Championships, just eight seconds behind the winner (and best runner of all time), Kenenisa Bekele.
As for youth, Goucher turns 35 tomorrow, and while that no longer qualifies him as a spring chicken, age 35 still falls within the prime years for most elite marathon runners.
Regarding that third requirement, Goucher has always had more than his share of injuries, including a series of breakdowns stemming from an original foot injury that have taken him out of competition almost completely for two years and very nearly forced him to retire. But Goucher is in fact fully healthy now and has been training injury-free since last fall.
To summarize, Adam Goucher is almost peerlessly talented, he’s still young enough, and he’s sound in body. Yet he’s on few people’s short list of contenders to earn one of three tickets to the 2012 Olympics on the U.S. men’s marathon squad. That’s partly because Goucher has been gone so long that some fans of American running have simply forgotten about him. But others have just plain written him off, believing that he is indeed too old to come back, or too brittle to stay healthy, or less talented than younger runners who have emerged in his absence.
Like many great athletes, Goucher is strongly motivated by doubters, and so, ironically, those who predict his failure may in the end help him succeed. After conducting the following interview with Goucher, who lives in Portland, Ore., with his wife and fellow elite runner, Kara, and is coached by Alberto Salazar, I do not count myself among the doubters. Predicting Olympic marathon qualifiers is too dangerous a game for me to play, but I will confidently project that some of Adam Goucher’s greatest race performances are still in front of him.
RunNow.com: When is the last time you raced?
Adam Goucher: I raced a couple of times last year but they were—well, I guess you can call them races. I ran a 10K and I ran 28:4-something. It was a race/workout type of thing, but I was definitely hoping to run faster than I did. And then I did a 5K . I was fighting through injuries and things really weren’t coming together.
You must be champing at the bit to race again.
I am, but now more than ever, patience is my mantra. I’ve said it a number of times throughout the years: “I’m trying to be patient. I need to be patient.” But typically when I said that I would still push through things and I really wasn’t living up to that. So inevitably I was always fighting through something—a little hurt here, a little hurt there. So like I said, now more than ever it’s just about taking my time. Because that’s all I’ve got now is time. I have to do it right. There’s no point in working as hard as I’m working to rush back and screw up again.
What does patience look like in terms of how you’re training and planning future races?
Alberto and I have discussed the best way to get to our overall goals for 2010, and like I said, that’s taking it slow. In December things were going good and I said, “Hey, what do you say I open up at the Houston Half Marathon?” Alberto said, “Yeah, that could be good.” But we thought about it a little and decided we didn’t want to go there. We felt like, had we focused on trying to really get ready to race well there, we would have to make sacrifices. And he was like, “This isn’t the time to do it.” At this point in my career, making sacrifices to get ready to race is just not worth it.
So at that point we just decided that, no matter how bad I want to race, we’re not even going to think about it until we have two or three months of solid, uninterrupted, pain-free running. I’m already well on my way to that.
This year is going to be very strategic, because I’m going to focus on a fall marathon. That’s what I really want to do. I will do some track races, but the overall goal is to have an excellent debut marathon.
If all goes well, what will be the pinnacle of your comeback?
I have so much unfinished business in my mind. That’s been both a positive thing and a negative thing for my comeback. More negative than positive toward the end of 2008, when I was like, “You know what? I may be reaching my end. I don’t know if I can keep doing what I’m doing—always fighting through things.” Now that I’m healthy and I’m training good, and I feel like my support system is there, where it has lacked before, my pinnacle this year is going to be coming out and reestablishing myself as Adam Goucher. I’m not done. I know it’s going to happen. I know it’s there.
Before this interview I googled your name and came across some of the most recent forum threads about you on letsrun.com. One appeared under the heading, “Is Adam Goucher done?” Another was titled, “Can Adam Goucher medal in 2012? He is getting pretty old.” Does that kind of talk bother you?
It’s not hard for me anymore. I definitely struggled with that. But now it’s about me. Now I’m doing this for myself. I know that I definitely have some strong supporters out there—people who believe in me the way I believe in myself. But worrying about what other people think is just not there for me anymore.
I can’t blame people for saying I’m a has-been. I haven’t done anything in a long time. The issues I’ve come through over the past couple of years have been enough to knock 10 or 15 people out of a career. For whatever reason, it’s become my legacy: fighting back from the bowels, essentially.
Am I too old? No, I’m not too old. Age is not as much of a factor as it was back in the day, with medical advances and training methods [that] have evolved so much. The longevity of a runner, and especially a male runner, is five or six years greater than it was before. Case in point is Bernard Lagat. He’s older than me. Meb Keflezighi was a huge inspiration to me last year, watching him win New York. Meb and I are the same age. We’ve been racing against each other since high school. To see him fight through all the problems he’s had and win New York was nothing short of amazing for me.
Age is definitely a limiting factor, but it’s more about adapting. I’ve adapted my training, realizing I am older and I can’t do the same stuff I could do when I was younger. And that’s okay, because I still have the 15 years of base in me.
I think it’s possible for me to be a factor for at least the next three years, and I 100 percent fully intend to be in London and I 100 percent fully intend to be competing for a medal. It’s just going to be in a different event; it’s going to be the marathon.
So you’re confident now, but not long ago you were in a state of despair. What changed?
The most important thing for me was to be healthy and pain free. I am running pain free for the first time in three years. Even walking around in my daily life I was in pain, and after a while that chips away at you. I worked my ass off to try to get better and get healthy, but it was just one thing after another, all stemming back to a navicular fracture that I ran through in ’07 and subsequently a surgery that fucked my world up. It was a bad surgery, and I lost two years from that.
So I’m pain free, and I also just feel stronger. Thanks to our strength program, my body feels more like it did when I was younger. Being pain free in itself is rejuvenating. To be able to go out on a run and enjoy it is something that I haven’t had for years. I feel good, and I’m pumped up about my workouts, and that’s going to translate into the next thing, which is races.
Having people stand by me and support me through it all—Kara, Alberto, my family—has been tremendous. But there a lot of people who have given up on me—and it’s not just fair-weather fans. It’s also people who have been a part of my life and my running career for a long time. People have said, “Well, you’re probably coming to the end of the ride. You probably need to give it up.” That type of thing has been hard to overcome emotionally, but it just becomes so much fuel for my fire.
I really, really look forward to the day when I can throw it back in the faces of the doubters. It’s going to be great—crossing the finish line and giving them a big middle finger.
It seems that there are two things going on. On the one hand, you’re motivated by anger and frustration, but on the other, you’re also motivated by the joy and relief of being able to run again after having had it taken away from you. Do you appreciate running more now?
You hit it square on. I do appreciate it more now. To be able to go out and feel good is just exhilarating. It’s fun. And that’s what it has to be. At this level, you’ve got to work your ass off, but you’ve got to love it; it’s got to be fun.
As a professional athlete, dealing with protracted injuries can mess with your ability to maintain sponsors and make a living. Has that been an issue for you?
Sure, it has. I would say that I’m very lucky to be in the position I’m in with Kara, who makes a good enough living that if I’m not making what I used to make, we’re still okay. If I were the only breadwinner, I’d probably be looking for another job, because I would not be making enough to support our family. That’s just a cold, hard fact.
You’ve been seen sporting a t-shirt that reads, “Mr. Kara Goucher”. Obviously, the idea there is that you’ve been overshadowed by your wife in the last couple of years. You were the better-known runner for a long time, and now the tables have been turned. Clearly, you have a sense of humor about it, and of course you celebrate Kara’s success. But is there a part of it that is hard to deal with?
It’s tremendously hard. But it’s probably something that culminated in ’08, when, because of the injuries, I couldn’t pull it together and make the Olympic team [whereas Kara qualified in two events]. Seeing her succeed while I was struggling was really hard. There’s no hiding that fact. But at the same time, her success has helped keep the dream alive for me. She’s an inspiration to me. What’s she’s doing in her running, her recognition—it’s inspiring. I want to be at the level she’s at. I might have lost sight of that possibility before it really even happened with her, if that makes sense.
When she won her bronze medal in Osaka in ’07 [in the world championships 10,000m] and then won Great North [a major half marathon in England, which Kara won in a time of 1:06:57 in 2007, defeating world record holder Paula Radcliffe], I was like, “Holy shit! It can happen.”
So it was very inspiring to me, and yeah, there were times when it was hard, but it was just something that we dealt with, and I’m content with it. I’m happy being Mr. Kara Goucher. If at the end of the day that’s all I can be, well, that’s a damn good position to be in. I’m a lucky man.