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On January 18th I had the privilege to speak with 2-time Olympic marathoner Kara Goucher. Having just changed coaches and cities, 2014 looks to be a challenging and exciting year for her. Listen (or read) below as I talk to Kara about her running career, her 2016 Olympic outlook, and how she balances her life as a professional runner, wife, and full-time mother.
Remember to leave Kara some love in the comments section below!
Matt Orlando [00:00]: Hi everyone this is Matt Orlando from TheRunnerDad.com. I have the privilege today of speaking with 2-time US Olympic marathoner Kara Goucher. Kara, I just want to say hello, how are you?
Kara Goucher [00:12]: I’m good Matt how are you?
Matt Orlando [00:13]: Good, good. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today. It’s really great. I know a lot of people that read the blog and follow me on Twitter are definitely interested in staying up-to-date with your career and everything that’s going on in your life. So I really appreciate this opportunity.
Matt Orlando [00:30]: So for anyone who is not familiar with your running background, would you mind taking a minute to give a quick highlight reel I guess of your career to date? If you want to start all the way back in high school or wherever you want to start would be great.
Kara Goucher [00:42]: Ok, umm, well, I started running 23 years ago so it’s been a long time. I started running for my junior high when I was 12 and became a state champion. It wasn’t like the smoothest transition, but that got me a college scholarship. I went to the University of Colorado where I kind of took my time developing and became a state champion my senior year. Then right out of college I signed with Nike 12.5 years ago, and have been running professionally for them for the last 12.5 years. I made my first Olympic team in 2008, and made my second Olympic team in 2012.
Matt Orlando [01:20]: So I guess it’s safe to say that running has been what you wanted to do.
Kara Goucher [01:25]: Yeah! I mean I love running! I came from a very athletic family where I did all sorts of sports. I had private instructors for tennis and swimming and all these sports. I just was honestly terrible at everything. Running was the first sport where I could just do it. I didn’t have to think about where my hands were on the racket or where I was planting my ski pole. I just did it, and I fell in love with it right away. It took my family by surprise because I was so competitive and no one ever knew that that part existed in me. So, running was something that I just loved right away.
Matt Orlando [02:00]: Yeah, a lot of people I think find that they are not good at other sports and running kind of allows them to be themselves and get out there. So in tying back to your career, this first user question I have is from Twitter user @pstarlings. He wanted to know, you know, you have obviously had a very accomplished career to date. He wanted to know what running accomplishment are you most proud of so far?
Kara Goucher [02:26]: I’m proud of I guess a lot of things. But probably in 2007 I won the bronze medal in the world championships in the 10,000 meters in Osaka. It kind of started a…in 2004 we had two medals at the Olympic games in the marathon. A silver for Meb Keflezighi and a bronze from Deena Kastor, but we hadn’t really seen a resurgence in the track yet as Americans. When I won the Osaka, at every major championship since, we have won some sort of medal in some distance event whether it’s the 1500 or the 10K again. I feel proud about that. I’ve heard, you know, people say…Shalane Flannigan I’ve heard her say, you know, I saw Kara winning that medal and I thought why am I not winning a medal, I’m just as good as she is. So, that I’m kind of proud of because I feel it kind of elevated the way all American runners kind of looked at the way we compete. Instead of just trying to get to the world champs and Olympics, we thought about actually bringing home hardware.
Matt Orlando [03:25]: Right. To me it’s amazing how talented the, across the board, the US Olympic team is. And, not to sound cheesy but it definitely makes me proud to be an American when I watch Olympics sports and it’s amazing that you are able to be a part of the whole atmosphere.
Matt Orlando [03:43]: So, all of us have our favorite races. For me it’s Virginia Beach Rock N Roll half marathon. What’s been your favorite race so far, or your favorite course, and what special challenges did that course or race present?
Kara Goucher [03:57]: Yeah, ya know, I am the kind of person that kind of falls in love wherever I am at, and I pick my races very specifically. So, most of the races that I do have really deep meaning for me. I am lucky enough to be at a point in my career that I can really pick and choose what I want to do. When I ran the New York City marathon in 2008 that was my first marathon and that was very special to me because I was born in New York City. It was a whole circle kind of moment for me, coming back and just discovering myself as a marathoner there. It was just such a huge day for me. And then I fell in love with the Boston marathon just a few months later when I ran there. Especially after everything that has happened there last year I just really love Boston so much. They are both really challenging courses . New York is …I think New York is one of the hardest courses in the world. You never really can get into your pace. You are always making a hard turn or going over a bridge. I like that about it. I think it really takes away from the people that are there that can just run fast. It becomes more about an overall athlete and an overall technical runner. Boston is the same thing with the hills and the way the course is laid out . You can’t just run away from everybody. You have to really think about what you’re doing and plan so that you have energy after Heartbreak . You get up Heartbreak and you still have 10K to go. You have to be able to strategize, like, how are you going to run after that. I like courses like that, that have a lot of challenge to them.
Matt Orlando [05:20]: That actually leads great into the next question. This is another reader submitted question from Twitter user @RunLadyLike. She wanted to know what your race strategy is for pushing through those toughest and most challenging parts of a race.
Kara Goucher [05:34]: You know, I think we all have that point in a race where we start to doubt ourselves. I mean, I have always had it, even in my best races where I think I don’t know if I can keep doing this, I feel terrible, I am running really fast …I don’t know how much more I can give. For me, I try to go back to places in practice where I’ve struggled. You know, not every day is a great day. As every runner knows you have a lot of bad days. You actually have a lot of really bad days. But, you know, you push through them. Maybe you don’t hit the pace that you wanted but you still get through it. Whenever I have a bad day I try to think what did I get out of this day. Maybe I didn’t hit my mile split perfectly, but what did I get? Well I learned to push through discomfort and I learned how to position my body. So I try to go back to those places in races when it gets tough. I think I’ve been here before and I’ve pushed through and I got through. I really try to remind myself of all the times I’ve pushed through bad times. I actually do that kind of leading up to the race. The night before the race and I couple nights before I look through my log book. I look through great workouts I’ve had and I look at workouts that weren’t so great but that I still completed and got the most out of it that I could. That just helps me realize that there’s going to be ups and downs in every training block and in every race. You just have to kind of stick with it and remind yourself you’ve been there and fought through it before and you can do it again.
Matt Orlando [6:53]: I’ve been there, multiple times myself so I can definitely relate to that. So the next question is also a user submitted question from Twitter user @Florida_Running. She wanted to know what kind of cross training activities do you do as part of your training regime?
Kara Goucher [7:11]: You know, I’ve gone back and forth on cross training. When I ran for Alberto I did a lot of cross training, where I would do elliptical, and biking, aqua jogging, and under water treadmill running. I did almost as much of that as I did running. It was kind of split where 2/3 of my miles would be from running and another third would be from all cross training. Then I ran for Jerry Schumacher for a while and that was just running. I really didn’t do any cross training. Now I am actually 2 weeks into a new program again and I’m leaning towards more just running. I was banged up this year quite a bit so I did a lot of elliptical, a lot of aqua jogging. I think when you’re tired and fatigued a couple days in the pool is boring, but really therapeutic for your body. I find it helps a lot. I have found that elliptical is the best thing for me to mimic running as far as getting my heart rate up and being able to keep it up and just feeling like my whole body is getting a workout. So, those are the two things I would recommend the most, aqua jogging and elliptical.
Matt Orlando [8:11]: Yeah, I am absolutely terrible at cross training…and pretty much anything else but running. But in relation, actually, to that question, in regard to kind of when you’re coming off of an injury or are looking to get back into shape, we have another question from a reader @Joshua_Reed09. He was wondering how difficult was it getting back into competitive shape after you had your son, Colt. Were there any special workouts that you need to work into your routine to quicken the pace of that?
Kara Goucher [8:41]: Yeah, coming back from having Colt was harder than I thought it was going to be. I’m always like a glass half full person. I’m like, oh, it’ll be fine…I ran the whole time and now I’m even stronger. And then it was like reality. I remember trying to do 800 meter repeats at my goal marathon pace. Like, just four…four 800s in like 2:45…and I couldn’t do it. Ya know, and then I’m like oh my God, what am I doing, how am I going to run a marathon? It was harder than I thought it was going to be. The thing is that you just have to give yourself time. I know you hear these stories of these people coming back. I mean, Paula won New York 11 months after she gave birth to Isla in some amazing time. So you hear this stuff and you think I should be able to do that. The reality is that your body has gone through an incredible change. All these hormones, and it doesn’t matter how hard you try you can’t flush those hormones out. Your body is going to take time and it’s going to do what it needs to do. For me, the only regret that I have is that I wish I would have done more sort of core work, around my hips and pelvis and things like that. Everything got stretched out. I started running right away, running hundred mile weeks within, ya know, a month of him being born. I just didn’t pay attention to the little details. I had set myself up to run Boston when he was six and half months old. So I ran Boston, and it went great. I ran 2:24 and it was great. But because I wasn’t paying attention to the little details in my core work and things like that that I had abandoned, I ended up having some hip issues and some pelvic issues after. They could have been completely avoided had I just done that core stuff from the beginning.
Matt Orlando [10:17]: Well, it’s good that you are I think healthy now and on your way to a good 2014. So, I have to ask, it has been in the news lately that you recently changed coaches, changed cities, and you are in the process of changing sponsors (which the Wall Street Journal reported). So if you don’t mind me asking, what are your driving forces behind this huge life change for 2014?
Kara Goucher [10:46]: You know they are totally independent of each other. I just needed a change in coaching. I felt like I have the ability and skill set to make one more Olympic team, but I felt like where I was I just…it was not a personality thing…it’s just me. I just needed a refresher. I’m 35 years old so I just felt like I just needed something big, some big refresher if I was going to make it another 3 or 4 years. I started talking to my college coach and Heather Burroughs who works alongside my college coach, Mark and Heather. They just refreshed me. They made me so excited about what I could still possibly do and the goals I could get. That for me was like a no-brainer. I need to do this. It was a little chaotic moving my family out here. We just moved out here just 2 weeks ago now. But it was definitely the right choice. As far as looking at other sponsors, I became a free agent at the end of the year. I have been with Nike for 12.5 years and I may continue to be with Nike. But it would be foolish on my part not to see what my other options are. So right now I am in talks with other companies. I’m about to start doing some visits…kind of like college recruiting all over again. I’m just going to see what else is out there. At the end of the day maybe I do stay with Nike and maybe I don’t. But I think it would be foolish not to see what my options are.
Matt Orlando [12:08]: Right. Good luck with that. I’m sure what ever decision you ultimately make is going to be a prosperous one for both you and the company that you ultimately decide on. So, in relation to the move, I was wondering how is Colt adjusting to moving time zones, moving states, moving cities?
Kara Goucher [12:27]: You know Colt’s always done a really good job. We traveled to altitude camps or we go to Europe for a month before the Olympics or whatever and he’s always done a really good job. This move has been different because he sees his stuff in a different place and he’s not very happy about it. So, he’s asked to go home quite a few times. He misses his friends and he misses his play groups and all that kind of stuff. But he has cousins here and he’s going to make new friends here. He’s had good days and bad days. It just, you know, hopefully more and more good days will come. He’s only three and I know eventually he won’t even remember living in Oregon. But it’s definitely been hard for him. He’s asked to go home quite a few times.
Matt Orlando [13:09]: Right, I can imagine. My son is 17 months old and even just an hour change out of his routine and he has a miserable day.
Kara Goucher [13:19]: Yeah, it’s been hard on him. It’s been kind of sad. But I think that I’m just starting to learn my routine here which is different from the routine I had before. Once I get more established in my routine then I can help Colt find a new routine. I think when he gets into a new play group and makes new friends I think it’s going to help him so much. We’re hopefully going to work that out in the next week or so.
Matt Orlando [13:40]: So obviously if he is travelling with you to the Olympics and the altitude camps he has somewhat of an idea, but does he really understand what you do for a living? Does he get excited when he goes to watch you race?
Kara Goucher [13:54]: Umm, he knows I run. He doesn’t really understand at all. He thinks it’s just normal that your parents go run every day. You know, he’ll be like, “mommy did you go run” when I get home from my morning workout. If I have an afternoon run I’ll go I have to run for a little bit tonight and he’s like “go do it, go do it so you can come play.” He just thinks its normal. You know, like this morning, we all work up really sick today actually and he’s like “Go run! Go run so we can play” and I was just kind of dragging a little bit. But he doesn’t really understand. He’ll say my mom runs so fast and he cheers for me, but ya know, he doesn’t get it. Honestly that’s part of my motivation for making one more Olympic team. He was there in London and he was a part of it. We have all the pictures to prove it. He was waving the flag and wearing a shirt with my name on it. But I would really like him to see. If I make one more he’ll be six, and he’ll remember that. I just want him to experience what being passionate about something and the sacrifices we make for something what the pay off can be. That’s my goal is one more Olympic team. I would just love to have him be on that journey with me and to experience it.
Matt Orlando [15:03]: That’s exciting, and I think as parents (really, for me personally), I think that should be all of our goals, to make our kids think that running everyday is something normal. You know, it’s just part of the routine. So that actually, that’s great.
So, obviously with anyone that has a full-time career and is a parent is juggling multiple things. In relation to your running career and parenting, what running compromises might you have had to make to be a better parent, and what parenting compromises might you have had to make in order to be a better runner?
Kara Goucher [15:38]: I think that there’s been compromises on both sides along the way. It’s kind of like a…you just kind of learn as you go. There are times where maybe I compromise being a parent a little bit more and times where I compromise being a runner a little bit more. I mean, three weeks out from Boston if wakes up in the night and he’s calling out for me I’m like “I’m not going. Adam, you need to get him.” Because I need to just stay in bed and rest. Even though he’s calling for mommy we send daddy to go get him. Then there’s other times where maybe I’m on a down period. Or even yesterday, I was feeling a little sick and I had a run that didn’t go so great, and I just want to lay in bed the rest of the day. And he says “I want to go to the park. I really want to go to the park.” And I’m like “My son needs to go the park.” He’s having a hard time, he’s finally asking me to do something and he’s excited about it. Even though as a runner I should just put my feet up and take a little nap, as a parent we got in the car and went to the park. It’s just kind of a balancing act. Sometimes I have to be a little bit, you know, lean towards the running near a major competition, but honestly 9 times out of 10 Colt wins out.
Matt Orlando [16:44]: So do you have specific advice for parents that are trying to juggle everything at the same time? Anything that you’ve learned that you might want to pass on to other people?
Kara Goucher [16:55]: I think a lot of people that are runners tend to be perfectionists. I’ve had to learn to just let a lot of things go, let other people do things for me when they offer. When someone offers to watch your kids so you can go for your afternoon run you’re like I can’t do that I can’t let my neighbor watch him. Just let them do it. Just forgiving yourself a little bit for maybe not always having dinner ready on time or maybe you’re a little late to pick someone up. You just have to kind of let things go a little bit. Because I think when you’re running and you’re taking that time for yourself it actually makes you a better parent. You are more focused. You’ve had your release for the day . You’ve had just something that you’ve done for you which then ends up being something you ended up doing for your child because you come back more focused and refreshed and revived. For me it was just about not trying to be perfect at everything and not feeling guilty that I’m missing these moments with Colt because I’m taking time to run, but knowing that because I’m taking time to run when I am with Colt I’m much more focused and a better mom.
Matt Orlando [17:59]: You’re right. I mean, my wife and I talk about it all the time that it’s important for us to take time for ourselves otherwise you’re not going to be 100% for our son.
My wife, actually, has a question. She wants to know what you’ve learned about yourself since becoming a parent?
Kara Goucher [18:17]: I learned a lot about myself. I learned that I was capable of more than I thought I was and stronger than I thought I was. You know, before my entire life was built around running. My husband was a professional athlete as well. He’s retired now but he was and we built our entire day around running and resting. And then after I had Colt, you know, your child becomes your priority. Running is still very important but it’s secondary. I used to watch other moms, you know, pick up their kids and I would be tired just watching them. But I have learned you are stronger than you think. You can give more than you think. And I think honestly, I was excited to be a mom. I really wanted to be a mom. Adam and I really wanted to be parents. But I think the amount of love you feel for this person has just blinded both of us. We just can’t believe how much we love him, how obsessed we are. We are so obnoxious with how cool we think he is. It’s so annoying. We’re those people who are like oh my god he did thing that is so cute, so funny. We always tell him you’re so cool, so cool. Just this love you feel, it’s amazing. It’s such a powerful thing you feel. It just enhances everything in your life, and just gives you perspective on everything in life. It’s just given me such better perspective and made me realize I’m capable of more than I thought I was capable of.
Matt Orlando [19:45]: That’s definitely has to translate over into your running too, to give you more confidence to what you are able to do.
Kara Goucher [19:51]: Yeah, and its easier to shake off a bad day. Because I’m like, ok, so I had a bad tempo run. I’m over it now, because I have this most amazing kid that wants to hang out with me, you know? It just gives you perspective on everything. It’s just…I mean you know…it’s just the best. And I used to hate it when people would say that before I had a kid. I’d be like oh my god I hate when people say that. Now I’m like no it really is true. It changes your entire way you view life, and the way you view the world, and it’s just amazing. It’s so much better than you could ever imagine.
Matt Orlando [20:22]: So, this question you might be totally unprepared for so I apologize, and if you don’t have an answer that is fine. As parents, funny things happen to us all the time with our kids. So I wanted to know if you have a really particularly funny or embarrassing parenting story that you’d like to share?
Kara Goucher [20:39]: Goodness…I don’t know. This is catching me off guard. Actually, the other day I was so horrified because my mother in law lives here and she came over to watch Colt so I could work out. And he, like, threw a fit. I wasn’t there, but my husband was here to pass him off to her. And he was like…I got home from my run and he’s sitting at the front door. And, you know, they don’t filter anything. And he’s like “Can she go now? I just want her to leave now.” And I was like, dying. This is your grandmother, who in a month from now you’re going to be obsessed with; she giving you toys all the time. But they just have no filter. It was just so embarrassing I wanted to die. It was pretty bad.
Matt Orlando [21:23]: That is actually quite funny. My son does that too. He can’t really speak well yet, but he loves to push my mom away from him when he’s ready to be done with her.
Kara Goucher [21:34]: Oh yeah. It’s like, why are you doing that? It’s just awful.
Matt Orlando [21:40]: So, looking forward now, what does 2014 and the next couple of years look like for you? What is your plan in terms of getting ready for the 2016 Olympics?
Kara Goucher [21:54]: Well, when I asked Mark and Heather if they could take me back and coach me again they asked me what my goals were. I said my goal was to stand on a podium at a major marathon again and to make another Olympic team. A 10K PR would also be like a little icing on the top. They said that they didn’t feel that that was unreasonable at all, but that I needed to go back to the track, I needed to cut down my mileage, and I really needed to focus back on speed before it’s too late basically. So for me the entire focus of 2014 is getting back speed. I’ve run 4:05 for the 1500, and 8:34 for the 3K. I’ll never run those kinds of times again. That has passed. But I’ve run 30:55 and 14:55 and these are times they believe I can get back down to or close to. So I’ll be spending the spring just cutting back way on my mileage. I’m only running 80 miles a week right now, and I will only run that until the summer time. Just trying to get fast again, running a couple of 10Ks and possible a couple of 5Ks. Then hopefully roll that into a fall marathon, but instead of doing like a harder marathon I’m kind of thinking of doing a faster marathon, trying to really bring my marathon PR down a bit. The focus of this year is just getting fast and I don’t really know they’ll tell me what the focus of next year is. I’m kind of just putting my faith in them and trusting them.
Matt Orlando [23:19]: Right. Most people take it one day at a time, but you need to take it a year at a time too.
So from what I understand, at least from what I was reading yesterday, is that they still haven’t come to a decision on where that qualifying course is going to be. I believe it is between Houston and Los Angeles. Do you have a preference on either of those courses?
Kara Goucher [23:42]: Umm, it’s tough, because Houston did a great job…they did an awesome job. If it’s in Houston and you have a bad day you have plenty of time to recover and switch focus to the 10K and try to make the 10K team in June (the end of June, early July, whenever the trials are). So from a safety perspective Houston is a better choice. The tough part about Houston is you’re not…you can’t really do a fall marathon. It’s really risky to do a fall marathon and then in October or November, and then race US trials in January. It’s just really close together. So therefore you’re really looking at a Spring marathon as your last chance to race international competition. So lets say you run Boston, that’s in April, and that’s your last chance to race against international competition until the Olympic games which is over a year later. So that makes it tricky. If the trials were in LA you can do a fall marathon and have one more chance less than a year out from the Olympic games to race other people from other countries at a big stage. But, it makes it really hard to come back then in March (I think that the LA marathon is in March), it’s really hard to come back from that and make the Olympic team in the 10K. So I kinda don’t know how to feel about either one. There are pros and cons to both. I know if it was in LA I would be able to do a fall marathon which is nice, but with Houston it is over and done earlier and you have more time to recover for the Olympics. You can also recover and make that 10K team if you need to. So, I don’t know, I’m kind of 50/50.
Matt Orlando [25:09]: Well, I guess in a way, luckily it’s out of your hands.
Kara Goucher [25:12]: Yeah, it is out of my hands. They asked me for my opinion a couple of months ago and I emailed them basically that I can’t decide. I thought Houston did a great job and I basically told them what I just told you. So, I don’t know if that was noted or not, but I really…whatever they tell me I’ll just make up a plan around that. I really have no control over it and I’ll make a great plan whenever I found out what it is.
Matt Orlando [25:36]: So do you have any last words of wisdom for parents and/or runners out there that are listening in?
Kara Goucher [25:44]: I just think that, it seems crazy but I do think that parenting and running go really well together. Like we were saying, you know, you want your son to think that going for a run is normal. It just makes your kid have a healthier lifestyle from the beginning. It’s not weird to them. Exercise isn’t a punishment like it is for a lot of other families. You grow up around it. Colt knows athletes. He’ll go for his own little run around the house. It’s fun. We’ve gotten to know so many great people. I ran with Kerry Paulson in high school and now she has two children and Colt gets to see them at events. It’s just that running is such a great community and it really embraces family. It is just such an awesome place and a supportive place. I think they just really help each other and balance each other out. They really compliment each other. They’re a fun journey to take together. Running and family together is just an awesome journey to take.
Matt Orlando [26:39]: I absolutely agree with that. So I just want to say thank you again for taking the time out of your day, especially when you’re not feeling well, to talk today. So if people want to stay connected with you and follow your progress what’s the best way to do that?
Kara Goucher [26:56]: I actually launched a website a couple of months ago, karagoucher.com. I’m going to be much more active with that especially when I decide who I’m going to go with sponsorship wise. I’ll be posting what races I’ll be doing and if I’m doing appearances where I’m going to be. But you can always follow me on Facebook or Twitter as well, at @KaraGoucher on Twitter and Kara Goucher on Facebook.
Matt Orlando [27:22]: Alright, well, thank you very much again for taking the time to talk to us. We all want to wish you good luck this year and next year and in the coming years. We definitely look forward to following your progress.
Kara Goucher [27:35]: Thank you, I appreciate it.
Remember to leave Kara some love in the comments section below!