Can Kara score one for the ladies?
Written by: Matt Fitzgerald
American Olympian Kara Goucher and Competitor.com running expert Mario Fraioli will square off in a running battle of the sexes Sunday at P.F. Chang’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Half Marathon. Why? Nobody seems to know how the whole thing got started. All that matters now is who will win.
It’s a tough outcome to predict. In terms of pure physical potential at the half-marathon distance, the two runners are evenly matched. No American woman has ever run a half marathon faster than Kara, who blitzed her very first 13.1-miler in 1:06:57. That performance does not count as an American record because it was achieved on a net downhill course. But even if you throw it out, Kara still has a 1:08:04 on her resume from the 2009 Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago Half Marathon. That’s still faster than Mario’s personal best, but Mario hasn’t run many halves and he hasn’t run any in peak shape. When asked what he believes is his lifetime best potential at that distance Mario tosses out a time of 1:06:40, which is probably an almost exact match for Kara’s.
Stronger evidence of the talent equality of these two bitter foes comes from the track, where both runners have a lot of experience. Kara Goucher’s 10,000m PB is 30:55. Mario’s is 30:57.
What’s intriguing, though, is that Mario and Kara achieve similar performances at these distances through disparate physiological makeups. Mario was primarily a miler in college. He’s fast. His 4:09 best is four seconds better than the women’s world record for the distance—which is not held by Kara, whose 4:05 PR for 1500 meters converts to a 4:23 mile. But while Mario has more pure speed than Kara, she has more raw endurance than him. Her marathon best of 2:25, set in her first marathon on the challenging New York City Marathon course, is three minutes faster than Mario’s fastest marathon. I don’t think either runner has come close to fully realizing his or her potential at that distance, but I would still put Kara’s potential about three minutes ahead of his—perhaps 2:19 to 2:22.
Of course, potential and talent are one thing (or two things), present fitness is another. Don’t expect a 1:06:40 out of either of these runners Sunday. Kara is running her first race after a long layoff for pregnancy and, according to her workouts, is nowhere near her past peak, although she’s progressing toward it quickly. For his part, Mario has been plagued with injury problems over the past few years and, although healthy the past several months, has been training cautiously. His heaviest recent week of training was 61 miles, while Kara has a couple of 100-mile weeks in her legs. Her ability to absorb those miles has been compromised somewhat, however, by early-motherhood sleep deprivation. Worse, she slept (minimally) on a hospital cot Tuesday and Wednesday nights because her son Colt had to be hospitalized with an abscess in his neck. This will undoubtedly have some effect on her performance Sunday.
Given all of this, who do I think will win the showdown? I’m going to give a slight edge to Mario. I’ve seen some of the numbers that both runners have produced in recent quality workouts, and his are just a bit more impressive. As much as I would like to see Kara score one for the ladies, and as certain as I am that she will run a great race, I think she will have to wait for the rematch to put Mario in his place.