When it comes to running, Kara Goucher is a boss. Period. So when I was offered the chance to take a class at Mile High Run Club, a boutique indoor treadmill studio in New York City, coached by the two-time Olympian, I pretty much dropped everything. But before I could pick her brain, I had to survive a fartlek—Swedish for "speed play"—workout first. (In case you are wondering, we did a ladder drill: 1 minute on, 1 minute off; 2 minutes on, 2 minutes off; 3 minutes on, 3 minutes off; and then back down the ladder. Plus a 5-minute warm-up and cool-down.)
It was super challenging, but nowhere near as tough as what the Queens native has recently endured. Between coming out against her former coach (he is being investigated by the U.S. Anti-Doping Association) and her fourth place Olympic Trials finish (2:30:24) at the LA Marathon in mid-February, missing the mark to make the team by a mere 65 seconds, she has every right to hole up somewhere. But not Goucher. She’s already planning her next move.
Post workout, the 37-year-old long-distance runner opened up about how she’s dealing with defeat (while fighting back tears), being a feminist, and the biggest lesson she has learned from running.
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When you put your all into something, like making the Olympic team, and it doesn’t happen, how do you cope?
I did everything I could and unfortunately there were three women better. I was fourth, and only three go. I’d be lying if I [said] I don’t care. I mean I’m still crying about it because you just want something so bad and you work so hard for it. It’s that dream of making a third Olympic team that has gotten me through a lot, especially in the last year, and so it’s been hard. But there’s still one more opportunity to get there. I’m going to throw myself into the 10K and try to make the 10K [Olympic] team.
The Olympic track trials aren’t until July, are you going to jump right back into training?
Even though I know I really want to focus on the 10K, I just need two weeks where I run for happiness. I just want to run for the enjoyment of it. I never take a day off. I love it. I need it. I actually feel fine, but I’m not ready to work out yet.
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Speaking of workouts, is fartlek training your favorite running one?
I love a fartlek [run]. It gives you relief from the watch and the expectation of a goal time. You can just go on how you’re feeling. It’s more organic. Sometimes I’ll do 10 by 5 minutes—5 minutes on, 2 minutes off. Sometimes I’ll do something like how it was today where it’s just a ladder. A lot of times I’ll do it by heart rate actually, and I don’t even measure how far I’m going. It’s like 5 minutes at this heart rate and 3 minutes recovery.
When you are in the midst of a tough race or workout, what helps you push through?
One of the things that I was telling myself when I was training for the trials was, you can do anything in this moment. A moment is like not even a second, so I would just think when it got hard, Just survive it for one more moment. I also like to remind myself of hard times. I like to draw back on things I’ve survived and things I’ve done, because I don’t care how fit you are, you are going to have a moment where you are doubting yourself.
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One of your coaches is a woman now, and one of the brands that sponsors you has a woman CEO. How does it feel to be working with women and being supported by women?
I like it. I mean I never shy away from the fact that I’m a feminist, so it’s good to have women in bigger roles in my life. There’s a certain understanding between women and it feels good to be a part of something where women are building each other up instead of always being competitive.
You have a six-year-old son, Colt. How does being a mom affect people’s perception of you as a runner?
I think it’s important for people to know I’m a mom, but sometimes it is overkill. Like I’m not weaker because I’m a mom. “She got fourth and she’s a mom.” Like yeah, I f*cking got fourth. Period. Why do you have to add that? I’m proud to be a mom. I love my son. I love that my life is a little more complicated. It’s almost like a qualifier: You got fourth, but you’re a mom. And I’m like, “No, but I’m a competitor.”
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You’ve been running for several years now, what’s one lesson you’ve learned from your time on your feet?
I was such a shy kid. My father died when I was little. I wasn’t particularly good at anything. I was always by my mom. I could never picture going away to college. Running made me realize I’m really strong. I couldn’t even order pizza. I would be like mom can you just call? Running has just changed the direction of my life so much. I feel like a different person. I don’t feel like this timid person who needs my mom to make a decision. Running did that for me.