Kara Goucher went to London last month to run a marathon. Only four weeks after finishing third in the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in Houston and making the Olympic team for London, shouldn't she have been taking it easy?
Don't worry. Goucher wasn't even running hard. Her first race since Houston will be the NYC Half on March 18. The visit's purpose was to check out the Olympic course with coach Jerry Schumacher and training partner Shalane Flanagan.
"We were only there for 36 hours but we ran the full marathon," Goucher says. "We ran the three loops in three separate runs. The point was just to take it in. The first time, I felt overwhelmed. The second time, when I started to learn it, I started to feel a little bit of excitement. Third time round I thought I can't wait to be back here."
The enthusiasm comes from an athlete who says she's gotten her life back after a year of torment and turmoil: the battle to regain fitness after childbirth, the decision to leave her coach, Alberto Salazar, and a serious injury.
After her son, Colt, was born in September 2010, Goucher finished third in the 2011 NYC Half (1:09:03) and ran a marathon PR (2:24:52) to finish fourth in Boston.
"I had a decent race at the NYC Half, and at Boston, but I knew I wasn't back," Goucher says. "There was still weight to lose, speed to get back—and that wasn't Alberto's fault. I'd had a baby, and it was going to take time."
The coaching change centered on Goucher's need for training partners. "I was running alone and finding it very difficult to push myself, so I told Alberto that the professional relationship wasn't going to work," she says. "It was awful, because I felt guilty. He made me who I am, but my gut was telling me it had run its course."
Goucher, the 2007 World Championships 10,000-meter bronze medalist, began training in October with Flanagan, the 2008 Olympic 10,000-meter bronze medalist. Formerly just rivals, the two are now friends. "We're so much more similar than we ever thought—we were meant to be good friends," Goucher says. In London, they talked about how both might win medals. "We both believe that, if we run the best marathon that we're capable of, we are in the hunt," Goucher says.
"I love running. I look forward to my sessions, whereas before, there was a deep sense of dread in my day," she says. "I feel like I know my son now, too—we hang out, we have fun.