Interview with Kara Goucher...

Kara Goucher proudly displays her bronze medal earned in the women's 10000 meter run at the IAAF World Track & Field Championships in Osaka, Japan. /photo by Paul Merca
OSAKA, Japan--Once upon a time, Kara Grgas-Wheeler was touted as perhaps one of the up-and-coming American female distance runners after winning the 1999 NCAA cross country title along with two NCAA championships on the track while attending the University of Colorado in 2000.

Between the end of the 2000 and 2004 seasons were four years of frustration, compiling a series of injuries that would make the average runner contemplate entering another sport.

In a 2006 interview with the online publication, she said, “My senior year of college, I had a knee injury. I had a stress fracture in my kneecap and also tendonitis. I had a quarter of the patellar tendon in my knee taken out. That was 2001. That set me back a lot. My right leg became so weak that then I got a stress fracture in my right femur while cross-training on the elliptical machine, of all things”.

“I was really devastated. I did absolutely nothing for three months except sit around and gain weight. Then I had two more femoral stress fractures, in January of 2004 and July of that year. When we moved out here (to Portland, Oregon from Boulder, Colorado) that November, I was dealing with compartment syndrome in my right calf.”

But Kara Goucher’s certainly not an average runner, especially after her stunning performance in the 10000 meter run on Saturday night here in Osaka at the IAAF World Track & Field Championships, where she snagged the bronze medal in a time of 32:02.05, silencing those who thought that an American couldn’t earn a medal of any color on the world stage.

Her medal was the first medal earned by an American in either world championship or Olympic competition at this distance since Lynn Jennings turned the trick at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992.

The move to Portland, Oregon with husband Adam, a 2000 Olympian at 5000 meters who placed sixth in the 2006 World Cross Country Championships 4k race in Fukuoka, and the opportunity to train under American marathon great Alberto Salazar has paid dividends, and reaffirmed her position as one of the USA’s top female distance specialists.

The 2005 season under Salazar was essentially a transition year for Kara. Both she and Adam were told by Alberto that the most important thing was to stay healthy.

“I'm doing 90 miles a week, more than I've ever run--but what takes the time every day is the drills and stretching, the ART (Active Release Therapy, an assisted stretching technique), and the time to get a massage."

In the weeks before the world championships, she and Adam, along with Alberto and University of Oregon standout 10k runner Galen Rupp left Oregon to train in Park City, Utah (altitude 7000 feet).

During their stay in Park City, all they did was essentially run, eat, nap, run, and do the other associated things like massage, aqua jogging, weight training, and running drills.

"It's more than a full-time job," she said. "I don't really do anything else."

The schedule that she described is essentially the same that she and Adam operate on when they are in their Portland home. For the Gouchers, running is a full-time job

Asked why the couple settled on Portland, she said the key reason for the move to the Pacific Northwest is the emphasis that Salazar puts on all aspects of preparation for key races during the season, including the world championships.

That attention to detail came into play during their camp in Park City, where they ran numerous workouts wearing a special suit to simulate heat and humidity while gaining the benefits of altitude training.

Kara Goucher jogs her lap of honor after earning the bronze medal in the 10000-meter run at the World Championships. /photo by Paul Merca

“We knew going into Osaka that it was going to be hot. It was something that went into our preparation, and we prepared for it. I wore the sauna suit, which was a glorified garbage bag. We came to Osaka and trained during the heat of the day, I did a time trial during the time of the 10k (late evening in Osaka). “

“I knew I was going to be uncomfortable, and I prepared for it. It was uncomfortable, but it was uncomfortable for everybody.”

In describing the race, Kara said it was quite rough, with a lot of pushing, shoving and elbowing that is typical of an international championship race.

“Normally I like to sit on the rail in a race, but because it was so rough, I ended up moving into lane 2 to stay away from the traffic. I could hear people around me getting frustrated with the bumping, and I tried not to let it bother me. My goal was relaxation for as long as possible.”

On the bus ride to the stadium, Alberto told her that she was ready to place in the top five.

“Normally in a race that I run really well, I run well, then I tend to doubt myself for a few laps, and finish strong. This time I told myself that I’m going to press the pace, and if I blow up, I’ll probably run the same as if I run conservatively. I was going to stay with the leaders for as long as I could.”

“Every lap, I kept gaining more and more confidence. With 2k to go, I decided to go for it. If I rig, I rig. At least I’m going to go down knowing that I went for it.”

Goucher said that in the last lap, she resigned herself to a fourth place finish, but she found within herself the strength to make one final push. Down the backstretch, with Britain’s Jo Pavey ahead, she told herself to go for it, knowing that she would regret it if she didn’t.

“I knew I was on the edge of dying. I was going to go by her and hope the move breaks her will. Some of the folks were telling me afterwards that I should’ve waited until the final straight, but I knew that if I didn’t go, that I might break.”

When asked about Beijing next year, she said that the preparation for the Olympics will be similar to the preparation for these world championships.

One part of the world championships experience that she’s reveled in is meeting and talking to track and field athletes in other events. ‘I’m a total track geek. I follow all the events, and it’s cool to see people that you read about. Growing up, I idolized Carl Lewis & Flo-Jo (Florence Griffith Joyner), and I wanted to run fast like them.”


Database Diva said…
After all of her struggles and injuries, it is great to see Kara on the podium. It gives hope to us "mere mortals" who also struggle with injuries. It's exciting to see Team U.S.A. competing so well.

Go Kara!
When I met her at the Nike Summit, I knew that within her quiet demeanor was a latent tenacity that with her serenity would burst out with a solid performance at the World's. And she did just that! Kudos to her and her coach, Alberto Salazar.