Olympian Runner Kara Goucher Switches to the Trails

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Olympian Kara Goucher, 40 years old, recently announced that she plans to take her career to the trails. Living and coaching in Boulder, Colorado, Goucher has a decorated history as a competitive track and field, cross-country and road runner, including placing first for women at the 2008 Olympic trials in the 5,000 meter (15:01:02), women’s third in the New York City Marathon in 2008 (2:25:53), women’s third in the 2009 Boston Marathon (2:32:25) and women’s winner of the U.S. Half Marathon Championships in 2012 (1:09:26).

Now, Goucher plans to redirect her talents toward trail events, starting with the Leadville Marathon, June 15th. To learn more about why Goucher has made this strategic decision, we fired some questions her way. You can also check her out on this video.

What was the major motivation for moving to trail?

I’ve been interested in trying something new for a while. Trail running is so foreign to me, I was excited to try it out and challenge myself in a new way.

Why the Leadville marathon?

Honestly I have been intrigued with ultramarathon races for years now. Leadville is one of the biggest and it’s close to home for me. I knew I wasn’t ready to run an ultra distance yet, but I thought I could be a part of the iconic race series in a distance that I was comfortable with, but that also had new challenges for me.

What are the major challenges you face with the Leadville Marathon, and trail racing in general?

I am still not comfortable descending quickly on trails. But I think the biggest challenge will be the elevation. I have never trained, let alone raced, at such a high elevation.

For any athlete, the definition of success changes a little bit over time. What are you hoping to achieve?

Success at Leadville will be me running my own race—if I am calm on the way out and can push on the way back. And if I finish knowing there is a bit more in the tank. This will be the longest run, with regards to time that I have ever done, so if I can manage it up high in Leadville, it will give me confidence to look at some longer races in the future.

You’ve obviously run trails before, but what’s surprised you most as you’ve made the move to really focus on it this year?

Honestly I really haven’t run trails in more than 20 years. As an elite track athlete or marathoner, we tend to minimize injury risk and avoid trails. I think I’ve been surprised at just how difficult it can be.

Jumping over rocks and allowing your body to go with the trail has been hard for me and stretched my athleticism. I’ve also been surprised by the beauty I’ve seen. It really has made me appreciate the earth and our environment so much more.

Is there a person (or people) that inspire you within the trail running community?

Being from Duluth, Minnesota, my biggest inspiration is Scott Jurek who grew up in the town next to me. I don’t know if I’d know much about ultra distances or trail running if it weren’t for him. And as much as I respected him before, I respect him even more now as I experience just how hard trail running can be.

What’s your best advice for someone making the move from running marathons to trail and ultra distance?

Get ready to slow down. Take your time. Let people show you around the trails and offer technique advice. Do not be embarrassed if you are slow or scared. It’s a totally different animal.

A couple months ago in an interview you said something to the effect of “the trails are calling my name.” What did you mean by that? And what do the trails sound like? (That’s a joke, kind of.)

I grew up running on trails. I never used to worry about pacing. I just ran through the woods and was connected with my body. I’ve missed that. While I loved being an elite track athlete and marathoner, I have missed just running and connecting with myself. The trails have given that back to me. To me, the trails are quiet and calm. You get enveloped. It’s comforting.

You recently hosted the first KG Strong camp. What was the genesis for that?

Even though I had a successful high school career and beyond, high school was when I first began to have self-doubt and race anxiety. I struggled with perceived pressure and with my body growing and changing.

I’ve always wanted to talk to high school girls and tell them about my experience and let them see that they are not alone. It was a dream come true to host the first KG Strong camp. We focused a lot of mental strength on self-love, but also ran, talked about injury prevention, learned self defense and practiced journaling to lead to more confidence. We are looking to do one in Denver this fall and then to travel around the country. Our first out-of-state spot will be in Minneapolis in June of 2020.

What’s after Leadville?

I’ll have to evaluate after Leadville. A lot will depend on how I do there and how my recovery is. I’m not sure yet, but there will be many more adventures to come!

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