Don’t Call It A Comeback: Kara Goucher Has Her Eyes on the Prize

With almost a full year of uninterrupted training under her belt, Kara Goucher is fit, focused and ready to race in the U.S. Olympic Trials on Feb. 13 in Los Angeles. Photo: James Carney

Kara Goucher went through some big changes, testified against her former coach for unethical practices and suffered a few setbacks and injuries, but she never lost the desire to run. Now, ahead of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon on Feb. 13 in Los Angeles, the 37-year-old Goucher is fit, focused and running with a huge sense of purpose.

A little more than 15 months ago, Kara Goucher knew she had to ask a hard question and brace herself for an answer that she didn’t want to really hear.

She had just finished 14th in the 2014 New York City Marathon in a disappointing time of 2:37:04, by far the slowest of her career. While there were a lot of factors that went into that unsatisfying effort—relentless wind, some overly aggressive racing tactics and not-quite-optimal fitness compared to the rest of the field—it was an experience so humbling that she knew she had to come to a point where she had to make sure she was being honest with herself.

So, sitting with coach Mark Wetmore in a quiet New York hotel room and talking to her other coach, Heather Burroughs, on speaker phone from Boulder, Colo., Kara spoke bluntly as tears welled up in her eyes.

“I just want you to tell me if I’m fooling myself. Am I done?” she asked. “I’ve had a great career, and I can walk away from it. I don’t want to be that person who thinks they have something more to give and they don’t. I just want you guys to tell me …”

There was a short silence but, at the time, it seemed like an eternity as her entire career flashed before her eyes.

Goucher had been contemplating her future as a runner a lot in the weeks preceding that self-prescribed face-the-music-moment, but in a very optimistic way. She had turned in a credible 1:11:39 effort at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon six weeks earlier and was excited to run her first marathon in 18 months. Realistically, she knew she wasn’t prepared to stay with the leaders deep into the race, but she and her coaches thought she could run in the 2:28-2:30 range.

She was actually ahead of that pace early and then backed off slightly, only to find herself running alone amid the howling winds. When things go wrong in a race, no one is immune from self-doubt and loathing—not even Kara Goucher. She’s as human as the rest of us, and, she admits, probably more sensitive than most. She forged ahead, but running alone proved to be a huge challenge.

And so the sting of not living up to expectations—both her own and those of her coaches—hurt deeply that day as a talented field ran away from her midway through the race. Although she had endured a few less-than-stellar races in her career, no moment was as frustrating or poignant as when she hit the wall at mile 22 and had to swallow her pride and struggle with all of her might just to finish the final 4 miles of the race, all amid the clamor of thousands of cheering fans in Central Park.

“Certainly after the 2014 New York City Marathon, nobody would have given Kara much of a chance,” Wetmore said recently.

RELATED: How to Watch the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon on Feb. 13

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