What’s next for Kara Goucher? Time will tell, but she could be racing again as soon as this spring.
After a strong but disappointing fourth-place finish in the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon on Saturday in Los Angeles—disappointing because she missed an Olympic team berth by one place—Goucher reiterated that she’s got a lot of competitive fire left and is eager to race again. She’s said several times that, after her road racing and and track and field career winds down, she might even consider training for ultra-distance races.
But for now, the chance to make the 2016 U.S. Olympic team on the track and possibly run another big city marathon are very viable options for the 37-year-old two-time Olympian who lives in Boulder, Colo.
“I’m definitely not done,” she said late Saturday night. “Finishing fourth (is awful), but I gave it my best and I left it all out there. Once I recover from this, we’ll decide what’s next. But I will definitely race again. I didn’t fight this hard to get here to fold right now. So yeah, I’ll be trying to make the 10K team.”
Late Saturday night, Goucher brought a room to tears at a private Oiselle after-party at the Los Angeles Athletic Club as she gave a hearty thanks to her supporters and congratulated her fellow competitors. Oiselle, an upstart women’s athletic apparel company from Seattle that developed a partnership with Goucher two years ago, backed 18 runners in the women’s race, among the most of any brand.
In a heartfelt two-minute talk, Goucher, wearing a pink and black dress, thanked her family and friends as well as coaches Heather Burroughs and Mark Wetmore and Oiselle founder Sally Bergesen and everyone else who supported her over the past two years. Goucher’s mother and sisters were at the race in Los Angeles to support her, as were several high school friends, her husband, Adam, and son, Colt.
Goucher said moving back to Boulder, Colo., in early 2014 to train under her former coaches Wetmore and Burroughs and developing new sponsor partnerships with Oiselle, Skechers and other companies helped give her a chance to continue her career when she wasn’t quite sure she could.
“Two years ago, this never would have happened. I was done. I didn’t even like the sport anymore,” she said. “And yet, the last 6 months I have never felt more alive. I’ve never felt happier.”
Goucher specifically gushed praise on Bergesen and Burroughs—who had each spoken moments earlier—amid a packed room on the third floor of the club. (Wetmore was coaching University of Colorado athletes at a meet in Seattle this weekend.)
“I can never thank you enough. I could never thank you enough,” Goucher said, pausing as she was overcome by emotion.
“This group of people is special,” she continued. “This group of people wants people to succeed, wants people to feel values, wants people to feel worthy. This is a safe place. Everyone here tonight, I feel like I owe a piece of my heart to each and every one of you. Thank you.”
Burroughs said Goucher would take some down time to recover and then see how her body feels. From there, she could get back to training for a spring track season, with the possibility of running in 10,000-meter event at the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials on July 2 in Eugene, Ore.
Goucher placed 10th in the 10,000 at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and won a bronze medal in the 2007 IAAF World Championships in that event in Osaka. She made the 2012 U.S. Olympic team in the marathon, placing 11th in the event at the London Olympics.
To race in this summer’s U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials, she’ll need to break the 32:25:00 qualifying time before June 26. She’s run that fast several times—including her PR of 30:55.16 from the 2008 Olympics—but she has only run two 10,000 races on the track since the 2008 Olympics and none since 2013.
If she and her coaches choose that route, it’s likely that she’d race in the Payton Jordan Invitational at Stanford on May 1. Although it’s not the only option, that Sunday night meet typically has competitive 10,000 races and is often the best spring 10,000 race in the U.S. What are her chances of making the Olympic team? It might depend on how well she can respond to faster workouts (which she has been doing a lot since last fall) and who enters the race, but very likely be a legitimate contender.
Regardless of how that scenario plays out, Goucher could also retool her training to focus on a fall marathon, possibly the New York City Marathon. She made her marathon debut at the New York City Marathon in 2008 a few months after the Olympics, finishing third in 2:25:53. She returned to the Big Apple in 2014 but struggled on a cold, windy day when her fitness wasn’t quite there, placing 14th in 2:37:03.
For now, it’s all speculation, but the bottom line is that Goucher is eager to continue to compete at a high-level.
“Kara and Mark and I will sit down and talk about it all and decide what she’ll do next,” Burroughs said. “Ultimately it will be up to Kara and what she wants to do.”
As for her race on Saturday, Goucher said she was pleased that she was competitive but disappointed to finish fourth, a little more than a minute behind third-place finisher Shalane Flanagan and the final Olympic team qualifying berth. Amy Cragg won the race in 2:28:20, followed by Desi Linden in second in 2:28:54 and Flanagan in 2:29:19. Goucher was next in 2:30:24.
At the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in Houston, Flanagan won, followed by Linden and Goucher, while Cragg was the fourth-place finisher.
“I had a dream that I’m going to have to let go of now,” Goucher told reporters after the race. “Obviously it’s a really hard pill to swallow, but they were better.”
Goucher started the race fairly conservatively toward the back of the lead pack of women and moved up after Cragg and Flanagan splintered the field with a decisive surge at the 10-mile mark. She was within 15 seconds of third place with about 5 miles to go but, Linden closed hard and eventually overtook Flanagan for second. Goucher knew the gap was too big to overcome in the final miles of the race but kept running as fast as she could to the finish.
“I think she ran great,” Burroughs said. “I thought she raced well and gave it everything she had on a hot and difficult day. The three women ahead of her ran great. They were the three other women we thought that would be in contention, so there were no surprises.”
Although the sting from missing the U.S. Olympic team by one spot was still evident, Goucher said she felt good physically a day after the race. She and husband, Adam Goucher, and their son, Colt, stayed an extra day in Los Angeles, meeting with some of the Skechers Performance team after the Los Angeles Marathon on Sunday and then spending some family time at the beach.
Goucher is technically the alternate for the U.S. Olympic team in the marathon, but she would only get the opportunity to race in Rio de Janeiro if Cragg, Linden or Flanagan were to pull out because of an injury or in the unlikely scenario that one of them intended to focus solely on the 10,000-meter run.
Goucher said she realized that many people didn’t think she had a chance to make the Olympic team in the marathon, let alone be competitive in the race. But she said she didn’t train hard the past two years just to run a glorified “comeback” race. She wanted to make the team as much or more as she did in 2008 and 2012.
“I’ve been a dreamer,” Goucher told reporters moments after the race. “It’s just the way I’m wired. I love it still. I love racing, I love training, I feel alive when I’m preparing for something. I feel happy. Sometimes it doesn’t go the way you hoped, but I have such a good life. Mark and Heather taking me back, it just turned my life around. They brought me back to myself. They gave me my life back. I would do it again in a heartbeat, even with the same result. I wouldn’t even hesitate.”