I just returned home from my second hard session with my new training group. I got killed in the workout. I am exhausted, sore, and full of hope. Earlier this week I joined my new group. I am honored and excited to have been welcomed by Jerry Schumacher to join his group of the OTC Elite. I feel so lucky to be able to train under an incredible coach and along side two of the best female runners the US has ever produced.
My decision to leave the Oregon Project was a very difficult one and a decision that I gave endless thought and consideration. I have had my best years under Alberto Salazar and after 7 years together he certainly knows me better as an athlete than anyone besides my husband. I have blossomed under him, going from an often injured nobody to a World Championship bronze medalist and Major Marathon podium finisher. To say that Alberto has helped me find myself and my career would be a massive understatement. He has forever changed my life and I feel eternal gratitude toward him.
But sometimes a situation that was perfect for you at one point in the past, is no longer the best fit for you in the present. In the past year I have realized that I need people to train with to help keep me accountable. Unfortunately my former teammate was injured quite a bit this past year, so I spent much of my time training alone or with my husband. While this worked (I did set a PR in the marathon) When I looked at myself in the mirror I knew that I could be doing more and pushing myself harder. This is where being in a group setting is necessary. If I know that Shalane Flanagan and Lisa Ulh (formerly Koll) are waiting for me to run at 8:30 in the morning, I’m going to get up and meet them because I don’t want to let them down. Instead of slogging along at a pace slower than I should be running, I’m going to run with the group and not want to hold them back.
In the end I have to hold myself accountable. It is my career and my responsibility to do what I need to do to be the best I can be. I had to make a change if I really wanted to reach the goals I had set for myself. I had to get out of my comfort zone and get into a situation that was going to really push me.
I can’t tell you how welcoming Shalane and Lisa have been to me. Instead of feeling territorial or worried that I would disrupt their great dynamic, they have supported and encouraged me. It is like being in this sisterhood where you are dedicated to getting the best out of each other. I am convinced that this is the best situation I could be in and I feel so blessed to have a great coach, group, and two women to work with me. After my first hard session with them Wednesday, where I cut out of the workout literally miles before they did, they sent me encouraging and supportive texts. It feels good to be in this group, and I believe that we are going to help each other get to special places.
Change is hard. It has been emotional, scary, and I’ve certainly had my doubts. But sometimes a reality check in the mirror tells you exactly what you already know. Sometimes you have to shake things up to get to where you want to be. I feel really lucky to have found such an amazing group of people to chase my dreams with.
I just finished up my season by running at the World Championships in Daegu, South Korea. I didn’t have the end result that I was holding out hope for, but I have no regrets for giving it a shot.
I arrived in South Korea and trained for a few days in Ulsan with the British team. This allowed Mo [Farah], Galen [Rupp], and I to stay together with Alberto. The British staff and athletes were extremely friendly and welcoming.
After a few days I moved on to Daegu. It was great to be around the U.S. athletes that I have become friends with over the years. Adam Nelson and I traded photos of our children while I was visiting the chiropractor. Jenny Barringer Simpson and I caught up at the practice track. And Sanya Richards-Ross and I exchanged hugs in the bathroom at the stadium.
The stadium was beautiful and as I was warming up I was focusing on my race plan–not giving up. My hip was tender, but as I ran around the warmup track, I didn’t feel a hitch in my stride. As we started the race I felt excited. Although my hip was hurting my stride was even–maybe I was going to pull this off!! But after about 5 laps the all-too-familiar painful laboring of my left leg set in. I just stayed focused on my goal–don’t give in, no matter how far back I fall. When I got lapped by the lead pack with about 2-1/2 laps to go, I cheered, “Go Sally!” and then kept going. I ran as hard as I could. In fact, I hobbled past two people in the last two laps. I was 13th, and way off a PR, but I hit the goal I had set for myself. I absolutely never gave up in the race.
After the race, as I changed out of my spikes and into my sweats, I told Shalane Flanagan that for the next two or three weeks I am “wearing my mom jeans.” I am only two days in, but already having a ball filling my day with Colt. Yesterday we went to the mall to buy him new clothes (he’s growing so fast) and today we went to the zoo. Tomorrow we have a date at the park to feed the ducks. I love being with Colt and I know that this time away from running will allow me to heal.
I am looking forward to next year and focusing on the marathon. I believe that it is my best event and I am excited to dedicate myself to it fully in the fall. But I’m really enjoying my time with Colt right now, he is so much fun!
PS. I would like to nominate Adam for Husband Of The Year. He was in Daegu for only 48 hours before he had to turn around and leave. He said there was no way he was missing me race at World Champs. How amazing is that?!?
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, then you will probably remember my previous post about jewelry maker Tina Steinberg. In that post I invited readers to submit a personal story on the theme “I am not afraid”, and promised to publish Tina’s favorite here. Well, Tina has picked her favorite from among a great number of moving stories. It was submitted by Becca Thornton of Orem, UT. In addition to having her story published her, Becca will also receive a necklace from Tina that is just like mine, with the motto “I am not afraid” engraved on it. Here’s Becca’s story.
Seven and a half years ago I was a lonely runner, and I was OK with that. I started out as a slightly overweight mother of three who wanted to get a better body and get in better shape. Running was the easy answer. It fit my life and my schedule and it only required a pair of decent shoes to get started so I decided to give it a go. First I ran one mile, then I ran two and after a while I built up to do five miles. Every time I went out I ran the same path on the same route just going a little farther every few weeks. I did this so that my husband would always know where I was just in case anything happened. My little out-and back-route became my routine my solace and my peace. I was content….at least for a little while.That changed when I went to support my dad as he ran a marathon with a friend who had been recently diagnosed with heart problems. They were slow and at the back of the pack and I was able to cheer them on in two different locations on the course. I didn’t realize then how much that experience would speak to my soul. As I watched these people–normal people–coming out of the canyon to the last three miles of the course, I kept being moved to tears. What they were doing and accomplishing was simply amazing and inspiring and I knew then and there without a shadow of a doubt that I needed to run a marathon. I set my goal that day to run the same race one year from that moment and I kept that goal in mind as I went out on my solitary give-mile route.As is the case with all marathons, I had to train and I had to deviate from my solitary and normal routine. Through the local running store, I heard of a running club that I decided to join to help me train for my marathon. I was so out of my league that it was laughable, but I made a commitment to myself that I would stick with them and bring up the rear and so that is what I did. I made it through that training cycle and in the process made a few great friends and although I was riddled with painful injuries, I was able to complete my marathon one year after I had set out to accomplish that goal.After that, life happened and I put running on hold while I had subsequently recovered from having baby number four. When she was one and a half I knew it was time to focus on running again, so I set my sights on marathon number two! I was excited but knew that I needed a different training plan than what the local running club could offer. Through a series of extremely fortunate events, I was able to join up with a group of seven women who were training for the same marathon. In the process, we also found something amazing. Friendship almost seems too trite a word to describe what we have, because it is so much more than that. We celebrate each other, we support each other and what started out as a training group has turned into a lifeline that each one of us would be lost without. Running is what brought us together and what makes us take the time out of our busy lives to stay together, but friendship is what has kept us running. We genuinely support one and other–we cheer for each other’s successes and we discuss our weaknesses. There is no ill will or guile, no gossip or backbiting, just pure unadulterated support. It is, quite simply, amazing.Recently, one of our dear friends was diagnosed with colon cancer. She is a thirty-six year-old mother of four. She had to have 1/3 of her colon and her right ovary removed. She has since been informed that the cancer has spread and she has to begin an aggressive six months of chemotherapy. To say we are heartbroken doesn’t begin to cover it. The tears and emotions have been freely flowing as we contemplate what this means for her life and for ours, and while there are a lot of uncertainties, there is one constant that will always remain: we will be right there running this race by her side. Our pace may be slow and our goals may change, but we will all be in it together. And when she crosses her finish line, we will all be there cheering her on like never before.Like I said, years ago, I started out as a lonely runner, running my same course every day. I was content. Then, I diverted from that path, lived a bit more life and gained the best friends I’ve ever had. Now I am complete. And no matter what the future brings or holds I know that I am not afraid, because I have a small but strong army of women standing by my side who have just now been born to take on the challenge of a lifetime.
You can see why Tina and I love this story. Here’s what Tina had to say about it:
We do what we do, what we love, for the greater good. Even if doing what we love is seemingly solitary, there is an underlying mission to affect others, hopefully inspire others and possibly bring people together.This is what I love about Becca’s story. We received hundreds of stories of trial and tribulation from people who are runners, teachers, moms, business owners and much more. It was inspiring to read about the journey that everyone takes as they endure the training to reach their personal best in the passions of their lives. Becca’s story pulls this all together in a way that illustrates community, friendship, support and love.We all know how it feels to start something that requires a commitment. It’s a difficult decision and oftentimes it requires us to renew our commitment every single day, especially when we feel alone. The goals we aim to achieve can get riddled with hurdles, fear, loneliness and random hardships that we can’t foresee, but if there is a true love for what you do, others will feel that and support you. You will also connect with others who are experiencing the same thing and as time passes, you’ll notice that your personal journey is a truly a community journey. Your personal commitment transforms to a commitment towards yourself and others who need your strength and inspiration…and you need theirs, too.We were born to move past fear. This is how we grow and our growth is what pushes others forward, too. We were born to tell the story of who we are with our whole heart, and to strengthen others in the process.
Yesterday I was officially named to the U.S. Marathon Team that will compete at the IAAF World Championships in Athletics in South Korea in late August and early September. I am proud and excited to have this next opportunity to represent my country at the highest level of international competition.
I know this news came as a surprise to some people, because I hadn’t said anything publically about running another marathon before the Olympic Trials next January. In fact, I still might not. It all depends on what happens in Eugene next month. I will compete in the 10,000m at the USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships. If I’m able to qualify for the World Championships in that event, I’ll run it, and skip the marathon, passing my marathon slot to current alternate Zoila Gomez. If I don’t qualify, I’ll go ahead and run the marathon.
Making the worlds team in the 10K won’t be easy. To do it, I’ll have to finish top three in a field that will include (assuming everyone is healthy) my training partner Amy Yoder Begley, Molly Huddle, Lisa Koll, Jen Rhines, and Shalane Flanagan. If I’m at my best, I think I can do it (after all, I do have a World Championships medal in this event!), but I will have to be at my best.
The marathon will pose an interesting challenge if I run it. Late August in Korea is hot, so I will have to prepare specifically for those conditions. Also, I’ll be running three marathons in just ten months in that scenario, so I’ll need to be extra careful about doing all the little things needed to prevent injuries and avoid burnout when logging heavy mileage for months on end.
The challenge has already begun, because in my current training I need to build speed to run a great 10K next month and at the same time retain my strength and endurance in case I run the marathon after all. So I’m keeping my mileage up around 100 miles per week while also flogging myself at the track. I put on my spikes for a workout for the first time in two years last week, and I had a blast.
I love racing on the track, and I’m really looking forward to taking my best shot at qualifying for worlds in the 10K next month—and bringing home another medal in that event in August. But I feel very fortunate to know I won’t have to miss out on the World Championships completely even if I do come up short in the 10K. If I run the marathon in Korea, I will fully embrace the challenge and race to win.
As much as I love running, I also love getting away from running after a big race—and especially after a marathon. My recent, two-week post-Boston Marathon break was especially nice, mainly because it was my first such break as a mom.
I should clarify what I mean by “break”. I didn’t actually take any days off running. I ran 20 minutes the day after the race. But I didn’t run much for two weeks: only three to four miles a day for the first week and five to six miles a day in the second week. What I did get a break from was the grind of running twice a day, up to two and a half hours at a time, lifting weights, stretching, seeing my chiropractor, and the pressure of getting as fit as possible by a certain date.
Adam and I took advantage of the freedom by traveling with Colt. When we have a break, we alternate between visiting his family in Colorado and mine in Duluth. This time we went to Duluth. It was a wonderful visit. Colt got to meet his great-grandparents. I can’t tell you how moving it was for me to see them bond—and they really bonded.
While we were there I did a signing for my new book at a local bookstore. This wasn’t the typical book signing. I knew half the people who came out, and hadn’t seen most of them in years. Some of my old high school teammates showed up, along with people from the church we attended when I was growing up—even my old dance teacher!
When we left Duluth I didn’t cry. I know a grown woman is not expected to cry when leaving her childhood home after a visit, but I always do. This was the first time I stayed dry-eyed, and I think that says a lot about how fulfilling this particular visit was for me.
From Duluth we went to Nashville for the Country Music Marathon. All three of us were sick by then, so we laid low, but we still had a great time there. Southern hospitality is alive and well. We felt so welcomed. I made an appearance at the expo and did another book signing. I hope to visit Nashville again soon when I’m not under the weather.
Now we’re back home, and I’ve returned to serious training. My body feels pretty much ready, but my mind could have used one more week. Pursuing goals such as winning major marathons is so challenging and consuming that you really need to take time to recharge both your physical and mental batteries afterward. Two weeks is going to have to do for me this time!
In a couple of weeks, Adam, Colt and I are going to leave home again, this time for Park City, Utah, where I’ll have a five-week altitude training camp. I always race best after training at altitude, but I wasn’t able to swing it before Boston. I’m looking forward to carrying the benefits of this altitude camp into the USA Track & Field Championships in June and then the World Championships in Korea at the end of August. I’m also looking forward to spending five weeks away from the real world with my husband and son (and coach!).
I will continue blogging while I’m there, though. Until then…
You never know what you’re going to get when you start a marathon. If your training hasn’t gone well or you’re not feeling good, you know you probably won’t set the world on fire, but you may still run better than you expect. When you’re training has good really well and you do feel good, you may know your worst-case scenario can’t be all that bad, but you may still run worse than you expect.
By the time I was three miles into the Boston Marathon on Monday, I was already worried. I just didn’t feel comfortable. Although the pace was fairly quick, it didn’t feel too fast, and my breathing was controlled. But my body felt tight and out of sync in a way that’s hard to describe. My left hamstring was especially tight. Every runner has these days occasionally, so you probably know what I’m talking about. There’s no real explanation for them, just as there’s no explanation for those special days when you feel incredible. All you can do is hope you don’t have one of those unexplainable flat days in your most important races.
I tried to tell myself to stay relaxed and positive. I might loosen up as the race went on and start to feel much better—because that can happen sometimes too. But it didn’t happen for me on Monday. By halfway, I knew it was not going to be my day. I still felt totally out of rhythm. That’s when I really started to struggle mentally. It’s not easy to keep running as hard as you can and hurting more and more with each passing mile when you know that even with all this effort and pain you will still fall short of your goal.
By 16 miles I was completely out of contention. The real race was ahead of me. Then Desiree Davila went by me looking amazing. I knew she had a chance to catch the leaders and maybe win. As she passed me, she encouraged me. “Keep your eyes up,” she said. Now that’s classy.
When I hit the hills between 19 and 21 miles I thought about dropping out. It seemed pointless to subject my body to the thrashing of the last several miles when it wouldn’t even put me on the podium. The one thing that kept me going at that point was the encouragement I was getting from the best marathon spectators anywhere in the world. As bad as I was feeling, the support I felt from all of those people shouting my name and words of encouragement gave me just enough of a lift to keep trying as hard as I could.
Once I got past the point of wanting to quit, I started to feel a little better—mentally, not physically. I was able to accept that it just wasn’t my day and realize I needed to let this one go and start looking ahead to my next goal and trust that I would be really “on” in my next big race. The one thing that continued to bother me was knowing what Adam was going through. I know how much my happiness means to Adam, and I could imagine how tormented he probably was, seeing me off the back and assuming I was crushed by it. I found myself wishing I could flash some kind of signal that a TV camera would pick up and that would tell him I was okay. I was disappointed, but I was accepting what was happening.
I was able to pick off a few runners over the last few miles, not because I got a second wind but because they were dying. It didn’t matter to me much one way or the other at that point. I was actually thinking about Desi, wondering if she was going to pull it off. As soon as I finished, race officials started asking me if I was okay, and other questions, but I ignored them and kept asking them, “How did Desi do? How did Desi do?”
I was almost surprised by how disappointed I was to learn that she had come up just short. I’m not going to lie: I want to be the woman who ends the American drought at the Boston Marathon. But I was so impressed by Desi’s self-belief, her guts, and her class, that I really forgot about what I wanted for myself and threw my support behind her as a fellow American. One thing is certain: Desiree showed that it’s only a matter of time before one of us pulls it off.
People who remember how heartbroken I was after finishing third in Boston in 2009 might assume I’m heartbroken after finishing fifth this time. But I’m not. I feel pretty good, actually. Yes, I’m disappointed that I didn’t run quite as well as I think I was ready to run. But I came away with some positives. First of all, I set a PR! That’s always something to celebrate. Also, my stomach didn’t bother me at all during the race. That’s huge, because I’ve had GI issues in all of my previous marathons, and it was a major factor holding me back as a marathon runner generally. I have my nutrition sponsor, Nutrilite, and their awesome sports drink, ROC2O, to thank for finally solving that problem.
I had a great time in Boston overall. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate all of the people who came to see me at Niketown and who came up to me around town to say “Hi” and wish me good luck. A lot of you said things like, “I’m sorry to bother you” and “I hope this is okay,” and let me assure you, you did not bother me and it is more than okay! I feel like the most fortunate runner alive to have that much positive energy flowing my way from my peers.
My final thought about the 2011 Boston Marathon is that it was worth it. When I set my goal to run the race I knew it was unlikely to be my best-ever Boston Marathon, because of my recent pregnancy, but I didn’t want to assume it wouldn’t be. Above all, I didn’t want to skip it and then always wonder if it wasn’t the year I was meant to win. Turns out it wasn’t, but I’m glad I know it instead of having to wonder about it, and I’m proud of my effort.
I just finished packing for my trip to Boston. At least I think I did. I’ll probably keep messing around with my luggage until the last minute, like always. I’m one of those neurotic packers who want to take everything and worry about leaving behind the stuff that won’t fit.
At least I don’t have any bigger worries at the moment. I’m fit, healthy, happy and completely ready for the Boston Marathon on Monday. I can’t wait to get out there and see what I can do. My last fine-tuning workout, a 12-mile tempo run that I did on Saturday, went well. I’ll do a little more fast running this afternoon, for sanity more than anything, and then I’ll shut it down and store energy. By Sunday I’ll be bouncing off the walls!
It’s interesting to compare this week to the week before my first Boston Marathon two years ago. I’m much calmer this time. The difference is Colt. As excited as I am for Boston, I’m even more excited about the two teeth that sprouted through his gums within the last week. Running is still very important to me, but now I have something new in my life that’s even more important. (Family was always more important than running, but this is different.) I don’t think the shift in priorities really takes away from my running, though. Being calmer and having other things to think about in the week before a big race can only help my performance, I think.
While the week before a marathon is always exciting for me, it’s also a little sad. The process of training for a marathon is such an intense journey that I’m a little sorry to see it come to an end each time. It’s like closing the door on a little chapter of my life. I get a bit nostalgic at these times. I will probably remember this particular chapter with special fondness because it started with the birth of my baby boy.
I will arrive in Boston on Thursday. Some of my family and many friends will be there, and I’m excited for that. I will keep off my feet as much as possible. A press conference and an appearance at Niketown are my only big obligations. Being Colt’s mom will be my main focus until Sunday evening, when I’ll foist him on my mom and sister so I can truly relax and rest for Monday morning.
If you’re in the city, come see me at Niketown at 8:30 Saturday morning. And if you’re in Boston to support a friend or family member who’s running the marathon, but you’re not running yourself, I hope to hear you on the course. I promise I hear every single person who shouts my name, and it really helps! I appreciate your support. And if you are racing on Monday, good luck!
Have you seen the April issue of Competitor? That’s me on the cover. If you look closely, you’ll see I’m wearing a necklace. The oval-shaped piece hanging from the chain is actually a thumbprint of Colt. I bought it from a jewelry designer named Tina Steinberg, whose work I love.
After I bought the thumbprint necklace from Tina we developed an email friendship. Recently she sent me another necklace with an inscription on it. On the front it reads, “I am not afraid.” And on the back, “I was born to do this.”
I love it! Tina could not have picked a better message for me. It’s the kind of thing I say to myself all the time, although never in exactly these words, until I got the necklace. I believe that life should be about living your passions—doing what you were born to do. But chasing your dreams is hard. No matter who you are or what your passion is, trying to do something as well as you can possibly do it is challenging, and with challenges comes fear.
As a runner, I deal with fear almost daily. To prevent fear from defeating me, I have to fight back against it in my mind. Reminding myself that I am doing what I was born to do—that, win or lose, embracing the challenge is still worthwhile—is one way I do that.
Before each big race I choose a power word that I think about during the hard parts of the race to stay strong and fight back against fear. It’s always a word that resonates with where I am in my mind at that time. The word I’ve chosen for the Boston Marathon is “free”. I want to run this race free of both expectations and limitations. I will be thinking about freedom along the way from Hopkinton to downtown Boston. And I will also be thinking this: “I am not afraid. I was born to do this.”
Okay, it’s time to get interactive! Tina Steinberg has graciously offered to send a free silicone bracelet with the same inscription to the first 25 readers of this blog who email her with a personal story that relates to this theme. We will pick out our favorite story to share right here. The author of that story will also receive a free necklace just like the one I have.
If you’re interested, send your story of any length to Tina at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m looking forward to seeing what you have to say!
People often ask me what I did to keep busy while I was pregnant. Well, one of the things I did was work on making another baby: my first book! It’s called Kara Goucher’s Running for Women, and it will be published officially next Tuesday (April 5) by Touchstone. It’s a pretty comprehensive collection of tips and advice for women runners, especially beginners. Every topic from getting started to diet, motivation to injury prevention, is covered.
What makes this book a little different from other books for women runners is that all of the information is based on my experience. I don’t really consider myself a coach, so I’m not comfortable just telling runners what to do. What I am comfortable doing is saying, “Here’s what has worked for me, and I think it can probably work for you, too.” When I talk to other runners, they seem curious to know what I do anyway, so I’m hopeful that more than a few people will be interested in what I have to say!
Mine is not the only perspective in the book, though. I’ve also included bits of wisdom from some of the many people who have played critical roles in my success, including my current coach, Alberto Salazar, and my active release therapist, Justin Whittaker.
I have to admit, putting the book together was harder than I thought it would be. I have a whole new respect for people like Adam Bean (who helped me with my book) who do it for a living. It was a worthwhile experience, and I’m proud of how it came out, but I’m happy that both of my new babies have been delivered so I can fill my days with running again!
When I got pregnant I knew and accepted that running would never be my top priority again. While I hoped that I would often be able to put as much into it as I always had, I was prepared to make sacrifices as a runner for the sake of being a good mother.
Now I am a mother, and those sacrifices are a reality. After a tough first several weeks I got some momentum going and was maintaining a good balance. Colt was doing well and I was getting the hang of being a mother, so I was able to make a full commitment to my running without making any sacrifices as a mother.
Then, two weeks ago, Colt got his first cold. It was brutal. He was up all night crying. Of course, I was up with him without a second thought. I knew the sleepless night would wreck my running the next day but I didn’t even think about it. I only thought about these kinds of consequences before Colt was born. Now that he’s here, whenever I hear his cry those maternal instincts kick in and everything else that’s important to me goes out the window, running included.
Unfortunately, Colt’s cold somehow left him with a swollen neck. We took him to the doctor, who said it probably wasn’t anything serious—maybe just a swollen lymph node, but over the weekend it got worse, so she checked him out again and sent him to a specialist. The specialist ordered a CAT scan to find out exactly what was going on. I’m glad he did, because the test showed that Colt had a huge abscess on his jaw that was likely caused by a staph infection.
The fluid inside the growth had to be drained quickly before it continued to grow. It was growing so fast and starting to affect how he was holding his head. If it had burst he would have become septic, and the doctor said that would have been life threatening. Adam and I are counting our blessings that this didn’t happen. We slept head-to-toe last night in Colt’s hospital room. We were supposed to travel to Arizona today for the P.F. Chang’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Half Marathon, but that’s not going to happen. The doctor says Colt can travel as soon as he’s released, but that might not happen until Friday.
If nothing else, Colt has given me a great excuse to use if I don’t win my showdown with Mario Fraioli in the race! (I’m glad I’m able to make this joke—I sure couldn’t have done it 24 hours ago.) Speaking of that upcoming battle of the sexes, check out the Kara Goucher vs. Mario Fraioli update in the latest RunCenter show. It starts about three minutes in.
I’m still really looking forward to my first race in a long, long time. It was the last thing on my mind for a couple of days, but Colt is going to be OK, and life goes on. I’ll let you know how it goes next week.