Kara Goucher is running her first marathon since the 2013 Boston Marathon.
It’s been a long year for Kara Goucher, but all things appear to be pointing in the right direction for the two-time U.S. Olympian—especially compared to where she was a year ago. After a self-admitted good-but-not-great performance at the Sept. 21 Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon (she was sixth in 1:11:40, well off her PR for that distance), Goucher, 36, went back to the rural roads around Boulder, Colo., to log more miles and more workouts. She says she’s happy to be healthy and more fit—she racked up several 105-mile weeks earlier in her buildup, but admits she’s not yet optimally fit—heading into the Nov. 2 New York City Marathon.
In the past year, she’s connected with a new group of sponsors—including Skechers, Zensah, Oiselle, Nuun and Soleus—moved from Portland, Ore., to her old college town of Boulder, and reunited with her college coaches Mark Wetmore and Heather Burroughs. She and husband Adam Goucher have also sold two houses in Portland, bought another one in Boulder and started remodeling it, all the while raising their precocious 4-year-old son, Colt.
We caught up with Goucher on Oct. 24 in Boulder for a quick chat about her training and her outlook for the New York City Marathon, as well as a look forward to 2015.
How do you feel and how has your training been going?
I feel great, I’m healthy. Of course everybody wishes they had more time. Going in really fresh, which could mean either that I’m undertrained or that I’m not overcooked for once. I’m not trying to do something huge. Obviously, it wasn’t the ideal buildup with months and months of great training. But I feel good about what I did with the time I had and I feel good about what I did in my time since I raced in Philly. I was happy to get a race in … obviously I would have loved to have run faster, but I ran what I said I was going to run and checked all the boxes. After I was done, I just wanted to come home to Boulder and do more work.
What was it like racing in Philadelphia?
I was so nervous! It was mostly because it was the first race in such a long time. Even when I was trying to pin my race number on, my hand was shaking. I was thinking, “what is wrong with me? I’m not even trying to win this race or even come close to that.” But I think I just needed to do that. It was hard to just let everybody go and know that “I’m just not there right now.” I just needed to get the first one out of the way. I actually started to feel sick in the days before the race in Philly and Mark (Wetmore) asked if we should be doing the race, but I said “Oh, we’re doing this.” When you’ve been out for so long, it doesn’t matter if you say you’re ready or not, there’s always so much tension to it. For me, it was good to do the race and go through it.
What’s your outlook for the New York City Marathon?
I’m really excited, but I am nervous. I’m nervous, but I’m also just so happy that I’m healthy and have the opportunity to be there. The thought of running a 2:28 after where I was a year ago is really exciting. So much has happened in the last year, but really I feel like this is officially the start of the comeback. I set a goal of 2:28, which, compared to what other people have said they’re going to run, seems slow. I think 2:28 is a good goal on that course, but I think it’s probably equivalent to a 2:26 or a 2:25 on another course. I think that would be a really strong starting point. It’s not like I’ve been training throughout the last year. I’ve had several interruptions and some pretty major injuries. So I feel if I can do that now, then a year from now I could be a very different athlete.
Have you prepared to be racing off the lead group, perhaps alone for stretches?
It’s a reality that it might happen that way. For my last few long, hard workouts, I haven’t been allowed to have a pacer, just in case I find myself alone in the race. My last long run was 18 miles and I was all by myself, just hitting my pace. I think a lot of that will come back to me, but I have to be confident and know what I’m doing to stick to my own plan.
Give us your quick take on your race strategy.
I’m going to be running conservatively through 13 or 16 and then either keep rolling where I am at or, if I feel good, I know a few spots on the course now and, if I feel could, I might roll the dice and see what happens. But I’m not going to be in the front. If they’re running 2:22 or 2:23 and I’m rolling the dice to get down to maybe get down to 2:27, it doesn’t matter that much.
What have you learned from Paula Radcliffe about the New York City Marathon?
When Paula won it the third time in 2008 when I was there, she was saying that everybody had told her that you can’t run that course and hope to run negative splits. But she did. We were at about 73:00 at halfway, but I finished in 2:25:53 and she finished in 2:23:56, so she ran 70:56 for the second half. I learned a lot from her and how she ran it and learned to not necessarily be so afraid of the second half of the course. In studying the course in the past several weeks, it’s clear the second half is challenging, but it’s more that it’s challenging at inopportune times. I know a lot more about the course and have a lot of advice from my coaches that I trust, so it will be a lot different than it was last time. Six years ago, my goal was to stay on Paula as long as I could. I didn’t even know where I was, except that at 18 miles she buried me, so that was that.
Which Skechers shoes will you be wearing with your new Oiselle race kit?
I’ve been training in the Skechers GoStrada, which is a shoe that comes out next February, but I’ll be racing in the GOMeb Speed 3, and I have a new pair in custom colors that will match my Oiselle race kit. We made a few modifications to the kit after Philly. It will look the same, but it has just been modified a bit.
Think back to a year ago … How monumentally has your life changed since then?
Everything has been coming to this and this is still just a beginning. There was so much uncertainty and changes in the past year. A year ago this weekend, I was back in Boulder watching the Pac-12 cross country championships and hanging out with all my older (college) friends, but I hadn’t even talked to Mark (Wetmore) and Heather (Burroughs) about coming back yet. There have been so many changes for me, but it’s all been really positive. There have been stressful moments—making final decisions on sponsors and when I found out I had a stress fracture—but my life has gotten better and better and I’m happier. And based on all of that, I think it’s a reality that I can achieve my ultimate goal, which is to qualify for a third Olympic team—whereas a year ago I was just going through the motions and riding out my requirements without a lot of enthusiasm.
Looking ahead to 2015, what do you think your plans will be?
I won’t be racing Boston. I’m going to run track next spring and summer. I’m going to run a lot of 5Ks on the track and hope to get down to sub-15-minute shape for the 5K. I know Mark and Heather would like to see me go after a marathon a little harder next year and go for a new PR, so that might mean Berlin or Chicago next fall. But I hope to run in the world championships on the track (in Beijing in late August) so that means I’ll be running a lot of track next spring and summer. I won’t run indoors, but I’ll hopefully run at the big meets at Stanford and Prefontaine (in Eugene, Ore.) and New York. But for now, my goal for New York is just to come out of it healthy and feeling good and know that it is a new starting point that will be so different than it was a year ago.
What’s your outlook about the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials race knowing that it’s less than 16 months away?
It will be here before you know it. It will be interesting to see what happens. I feel like Deena (Kastor) has sort of reinvented herself as an athlete. Desi (Linden) is coming back from an injury and proving to be the force that she was in 2011 and 2012. Shalane (Flanagan), of course, is Shalane and she isn’t going anywhere. Molly Huddle might throw her hat in the ring. Amy Hastings just ran 2:27. It’s complicated and it always is, but it wouldn’t mean anything if there were only two good runners. It’s scary to think about, but it was scary last time and it was scary in 2008 on the track. There are no guarantees. You have to show up and race and earn your spot on the team. And that’s why it’s scary.