It was love at first run. Training on the Boston Marathon course for the first time, Kara Goucher fell hard and fast for the hills, the intimate neighborhood feel, and the narrow roads that reminded her of high school runs in her hometown of Duluth, Minn. Now, more than four years after that first encounter, Goucher loves Boston so much that she momentarily considered withdrawing from this year’s race back in January.
Coming off a left heel injury and a slow recovery from the physical and emotional grind of the London Olympics, Goucher struggled with her Boston buildup. She asked her coach, Jerry Schumacher, “Should I be racing this?” Schumacher is brutally honest with his athletes and said, “You absolutely should. If you were going to go out there and make a fool of yourself, I would tell you.” From that point, Goucher fought through less than perfect preparation.
“I love the race so much that I would never want to disrespect the Boston Marathon by going in when I’m not really, truly ready to run a good marathon,” said Goucher. “I’m OK with things not going necessarily perfect. But I’m still going to go for it. I know I’m ready for a solid race. Everything is headed in the right direction now. It just hasn’t been a storybook training block.”
Goucher arrived in Boston last week feeling confident in recent results — 1:11:49 at the Rock ’n’ Roll New Orleans Half Marathon on Feb. 24, and 31:46.64 in the Stanford Invitational 10K on March 29. In both competitions, her training partner, Shalane Flanagan, was well ahead, showcasing the road speed that puts the runner from Marblehead in the mix for the women’s championship.
“Part of the problem is I compare myself to Shalane, who’s had absolutely perfect preparation,” said Goucher, who finished 11th at the London Olympics last August. “I run with her every day and I can’t always do what she’s doing on some of the speed sessions. Really, the part that’s lacking is my speed component. My coach and my husband keep reminding me that if I wanted to run track right now that would be a problem. But I’m not training for the track. So, I can handle not having a little bit of speed because it’s the strength that’s going to carry me those last 6 miles.”
Goucher, whose training really picked up speed after she recovered from a right hamstring twinge suffered about a month ago, added that she feels “capable of running faster than my PR.” She set her personal best (2:24:52) in 2011 at Boston.
“Kara came together a little bit later in the game,” said Schumacher. “I don’t quite have as much information to make a really accurate assessment. I think she’s going to run very well. I don’t know exactly what that means because we haven’t had enough time to play at that really high level.”
But it’s clear that even with a less than perfect buildup, Goucher and Flanagan benefit from their unique training partnership. Having the top American female marathoners workout together daily is unheard of in today’s competitive distance running world with training groups and high-altitude camps scattered throughout the country. In fact, neither Flanagan nor Goucher can think of a situation similar to theirs under Schumacher.
It works not only because Flanagan and Goucher are among the world’s best, but also because they have different strengths and similar personalities and goals. Flanagan prefers to be aggressive early in workouts and push hard through the middle, often surging on the third lap of a track mile. Goucher likes to finish strong, kicking in the fourth and final lap.
On long runs, they talk for hours about family, future vacations, recipes, and TV shows “Downton Abbey” and “The Bachelor.” They prefer quiet evenings at home and have taken wine tasting trips together with their husbands. Flanagan mentions that they even share a similar fashion sense. Given boxes full of clothing as Nike-sponsored athletes, it’s not uncommon for Flanagan and Goucher to show up at practice dressed almost identically.
“It’s like a marriage when you train with someone,” said Goucher. “You can’t just pair any two women together. You’re with each other all the time. You see each other at your most vulnerable place. I feel like I’ve had some of my deepest conversations on runs because you’re too tired to put up any walls or barriers. You become really open. You have to take that into consideration. But I think we could be doing more in this country with more women training together.”
Added Flanagan: “We’re both hugely competitive, so that’s not really a good enough reason to say you can’t train with someone. We’ve learned how to really bring that out when we race. There’s no point in using that competitiveness in training because it defeats the purpose of what we’re doing. I always look at it as the fitter I am and the best athlete I can be, that makes Kara better, and vice versa.”
Both Goucher and Flanagan will put that to the test Monday.