The all-but-officially retired runner is making his return to racing this weekend in Philadelphia.
Written by: Mario Fraioli
For the better part of the 10-year stretch from 1998 to 2008, Adam Goucher was one of the the main men in U.S. distance running. In 1999, a year after graduating from the University of Colorado as a four-time NCAA champion, Goucher showed incredible promise on the track, posting personal bests of 3:54.17 in the mile and 13:11.25 for 5,000 meters. The following year, he dominated the 4K and 12K races at the USA Cross Country Championships, winning both contests in convincing fashion and asserting himself as the future of American distance running.
Then Goucher got injured, starting a pattern that would end up plaguing him throughout the rest of his competitive career.
Despite developing a troublesome back injury in the spring of 2000, Goucher gutted his way to victory in the 5,000 meters at the Olympic Trials that summer. At the Olympic Games in Sydney two months after winning the Trials, he qualified for the 5000-meter final, finishing 13th, albeit in a world of pain.
The next four years proved to be a struggle. Unable to develop consistency in his training due to a variety of injuries, Goucher was unable to maintain the momentum he developed at the turn of the century. He failed to qualify for a second Olympic team in 2004, finishing a disappointing 19th in the 5,000 meters at the Olympic Trials. Injured and frustrated, he and his wife Kara moved from their longtime home base of Boulder, Colorado to Portland, Oregon to train under coach Alberto Salazar as members of Nike’sOregon Project.
The move paid off for the Gouchers, as Kara established herself as one of America’s most versatile all-around distance runners and Adam was able to avoid injury and re-find the form he had four years earlier. In February of 2006 he won another 4K title at the USA Cross Country Championships and went on to place 6th at Worlds–the highest placing by an American male in 20 years. That summer he ran the third fastest 2-mile ever by an American (8:12.7) and bettered his own 5,000-meter PR, running 13:10.00 in Heusden, Belgium.
In 2007, Goucher finished 11th in the 5,000 meters at the World Championships in Osaka, and went on to run a half marathon at the Great North Run that fall, posting a solid 1:03:17 clocking in his debut at the distance. Old injuries began to resurface, however, and Goucher had surgery at the end of the year to clean up a bum ankle. When the next Olympic Trials came around the following summer, Goucher again failed to qualify for the U.S. team, dropping out of the 5,000-meter final before placing seventh in the 10K.
At 33 years old, it appeared time had run out on Goucher. He dabbled in a a few more road races, but the results were sub-par by his standards. Injury and frustration resurfaced. His sponsor, Nike, didn’t renew his contract, and he no longer had a training group of like-minded professional athletes to call his own. By his own admission, he was “basically done with running”.
That was almost two years ago. Since then, Goucher hasn’t raced. He and Kara became parents last year to a son, Colton Mirko. He started a website, www.runtheedge.com, with his best friend, Tim Catalano. He started running with Kara to keep her company as she prepared for the Boston Marathon this past April. His mileage had creeped up to 100 miles per week, but there had been little to no talk of resuming a competitive running career.
All that changed after Boston. As Kara recovered from her fifth-place finish at Boston, Adam started working out on his own. He began upping the intensity of his workouts. He started thinking about stepping on a starting line again, and qualifying for the Olympic Trials Marathon–a distance the tried-and-true track runner has never contested during his competitive career.
This Sunday Goucher will return to racing when he steps on the starting line of Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon against a loaded elite field that will most certainly challenge the vaunted 60-minute mark.
His goal? Shake the rust off, and run fast enough (he’ll need to break 65 minutes) to qualify for next January’s Olympic Marathon Trials.
Competitor.com caught up with Goucher earlier this week to get his thoughts on this weekend’s race, talk about his recently released book, Running The Edge, and to get to the bottom of what recently reignited his running career.
Interview With Adam Goucher, Page 2
Competitor.com: Adam, this weekend’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon will be your first race in a year-and-a-half. Does it feel like it’s really been that long?
Adam Goucher: Yes it does. It feels like it’s been longer sometimes [laughs]. It’s one of those things where I’ve been out of it for so long and I’ve seen so much happen. You know, I was telling someone earlier today as well, it’s kind of like even though I may have “raced”, my last few races I really just wasn’t in it mentally. I was kind of in a bad place. I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t really racing to race. I was just kind of off all around. So, for me, it seems even longer because of that. My last few races were just really not competitive races in my mind looking back.
How’s your competitive mindset heading into this weekend? Do you feel like your old self again? Are you hungry to get back out there?
Absolutely. I’m definitely anxious to get back out there. I’m nervous. I don’t know what to expect but I’m hoping that when that gun goes off I’ll kind of remember what it’s like to race again. Obviously there’s a lot of rust to be blown off but I just want to get out there and compete. But I’m excited. I’m really excited to be back at it and things are going really well. It’s been a fun journey.
For most of your competitive career you’ve competed primarily on the track and in cross country, and only in a few longer road races. How is the mentality different, if at all, heading into a road race as opposed to a major track meet?
I would say in my past road races it’s much more low key, like laid back. But this one, for me, I think that because it has been so long, and because I’m really looking to run a good time and at least get my Olympic Trials Marathon qualifier out of this, I put some pressure on myself. I know there’s going to be people watching and people ready to ridicule if necessary. But really I’m kind of looking at this as the pressure’s all mine. I’m doing this for me right now. That’s the bottom line. I think that really the pressure is what I’m putting on myself and my own expectations.
I don’t think racing on the track versus the road is much different. I’m just going to go in and race as competitively as a I possibly can. I know for me, for a fact, the worse thing I could do is go out in 4:25 or 4:30 for the first mile, which I know is where the leaders will be. So I have to be a little defensive and be smart about things. But overall I’m just going to go into this just like it’s any other race I’ve ever gone into. I’m going to be as ready to compete and strategize along the way as much as I possibly can to run the best race that I can.
Interview With Adam Goucher, Page 3
In the last few years you’ve been riddled by a number of injuries, including surgery on your foot in late 2007, I believe. But for the last year or so you’ve been relatively healthy. What has your training been like the last 12 months and what have you had to change given your injury history?
I think that for me the thing that was the biggest difference was that I backed off the intensity of my workouts. Really, for all intents and purposes, I was basically done with running (last year). I had come to my end with running. I had all but announced it to the world. I wasn’t having fun with it. I didn’t enjoy it anymore. I didn’t like it. When Kara had Colt—it’d be almost a year ago now—my goal was like “Hey, you know what, for our family, for what I can do, if I can help her out, get her ready and prepare, bounce back from the pregnancy, get ready for Boston, get ready to run fast on the track, that gives me something to do and helps her and helps our family.” So, for me, that was my goal: I’m going to help her train now. So what I started to do is start running with her on almost an everyday basis. Not everyday, but almost. I was putting in the miles because she’s running 100 to 120 miles a week and I’m running basically a majority of that with her. It’s just the intensity was so much lower than what I would normally run if I were training for myself. And I think what it did was allow my body just to kind of put in the miles and not get beat down, and so my body was able to recover. And basically because of that I was able to start working into my own workouts and my own running and then I started getting excited and thought “well things are going pretty good, maybe I should start running something else and get back out there.”
When did that switch flip for you?
It was probably right when Kara ran Boston I was thinking that I could probably get back into it. I was hoping to get back into it. Things were going well so it was just a matter of time for me to start working into my own workouts. What I did learn at this point was, and I’d been told this time and time again by other runners out there who have been at the top level, is that as they get older they just can’t handle the intensity–the day in and day out working out basically. So what I needed to do was just take more days. Instead of going hard every other day I’ll go hard every third day. I just allowed myself to have those recovery days. I needed more time to recover and that’s been working for me.
You haven’t been sponsored, or training with a group, to my knowledge, since you last raced a year-and-a-half ago. Aside from doing Kara’s workouts when she was getting ready for Boston, how have you been getting ready for your own races as they get closer? Are you doing everything on your own or is someone helping you out?
Actually right now I’m working with Chris Cook, who is a great advisor and really been there for me and is essentially my coach. He kind of coaches the Bowerman Athletic Group at Nike and he’s got a lot of good ideas and he’s just good. He’s good at what he does so it’s been good to bounce ideas off of him. And he’s come out and timed me and he’s been there supporting me so it’s been great having somebody there.
And yeah, I haven’t been sponsored, I haven’t had that sponsorship but I’ve still been within a group environment because of Kara. I’m still around other runners and I’ve been able to jump in with other people, some of Jerry’s (Schumacher’s) guys here and there. And, you know, some of the Bowerman Athletic Guys, they’ve been great letting me come in and work out with them here and there. It’s been good.
Do you feel like seeing Kara come back so well over the last year, along with just being in that environment where you’re still around other runners, to be motivating for you?
Definitely. It’s been motivating. It’s helped me realize that “yeah, this is still something I think I can do”. But I think the biggest motivation, honestly, for me, aside from seeing Kara running well and the hope that I can do something again, was spending the last year and a half writing the book. It forced me to kind of reflect on my career, who I was as a person, what I wanted out of life and it allowed me to find the joy in running again because like I said, I really didn’t like it. I even had my days when I was pacing Kara where it was just “I don’t like this” you know? I think it was a combination of being with her still and being able to stick in that enviroment and just the process of writing the book and reflecting on my career and my life and what I wanted out of it. It got me excited and it made me realize there’s expectations out there, there’s people that may laugh or ridicule me for trying to do what I’m doing, but in the end this is really for me right now. This is to see what I can do. And that’s what most important right now is to see what I can do and still try to achieve dreams and goals I’ve been working toward through the years.
Interview With Adam Goucher, Page 4
You mentioned your book, Running the Edge, and you also have a website, runtheedge.com. Talk a little but about how those ideas became a reality.
It was a couple years ago, back in 2009. My buddy Tim and I, we’ve had this ongoing conversation since we first met back when I was a freshman in college, and it was something that as our friendship grew we always, always challenged each other to not only be the best we could be as runners and athletes but also in anything we did. We challenged each other. It could be playing over-the-roof whiffle ball and seeing who could hit the most home runs over the house, or just challenging each other to be the best brothers and sons. It was just challenging ourselves to live a life as essentially good people.
I’ve always been a little bit brash at times and a little more outspoken at times but I’ve always tried to do right by people as best I could. It’s been this journey, this kind of this conversation we’ve had through the years, this ongoing story. At the end of my tenure with Alberto essentially I started reflecting on my career and on my life and it was just the right time to start putting all these ideas down that we’d talked about through the years. It was basically at the middle and end of ’09 and it was just starting to come together then. We decided this is the time to do it so we started. Tim came out here and spent 5 weeks right off the bat and we kind of set up a war room essentially in the office where we just had poster boards and dryboards and just ideas all over the place. We outlined chapter by chapter and how we wanted things to come together and it just kind of started flowing, it started working that way. I think the book’s message and what we were trying to get across was we’re challenging each other to take what we’ve learned in running, and the attributes that have made us good athletes, and transfer that into other aspects of our life to make us better and ultimately the best that we can possibly be. We’re saying that we’re on this perpetual journey–it’s constantly there. The goal is to become what we call a distance maven. The thing is that you’re always gonna have your slip ups. It’s like a sliding scale. You’re gonna have times when things are going great and you’re gonna have times when you say something stupid again and say “why did I do that?” but the key is that you can recognize it and then work to not do it again. Those times become fewer and fewer and fewer. So if I say something stupid or I do something stupid or if I’m not living up to my ideal self, the self that I want to be–not just as a runner as a husband or as a friend for me–if I can get in there and change that basically, our thing is that when you change that, when you change those attributes, you’re bettering your entire self.
The book is not about what mileage to run or what workouts to do. It’s not about that. It’s about self reflection and learning about yourself and looking within and then figuring out how to be the best that you can be in all areas of your life. And by doing that we believe you’ll become a better runner because you’ll be more complete in those other areas of your life.
Do you think in the process of getting all this stuff down on paper, it’s helped foster your own change in attitude in regard to your running compared to where you were a couple years ago?
Yes. That’s exactly it. It’s been therapeutic for me, honestly. I’m not lying when I tell you I did not like running. I’m not lying to you. I was not a fan of it. I was sick of it. I was sick of everything. I’d had enough of it. It’s just been lost dreams and lots of up and down and coming back from injury after injury and one blow after another and enough was enough. And I had lost what made me love running and that was just being out there and being free essentially. Free of expectations. Just being out there and letting running happen without it being a job. When it became too much of a job, too much of a career, I didn’t love running for what it meant to me. So for me it really allowed me to find that again. I just feel happier every single day. Just day in and day out I feel very content in what I’m doing and I’m excited to be out here getting to race again and trying to achieve my goals and just to see how far I can push myself and how far I can get.
And finally, just to build off that, what do you think you’re ultimately capable of in the marathon if you can keep this momentum going?
I think that first of all if I can get to the Olympic Trials in January healthy that’s a huge victory in itself. If I’m able to get to that point uninterrupted and healthy, that alone is huge. So, if I can get to that day and I’m healthy and training is pretty much uninterrupted, then I think there’s no reason that on a good day I couldn’t be competing for a spot on the (Olympic) team. Any day, there’s no reason why I can’t be there if I’ve trained correctly, I’m healthy and I’m excited to do it. There’s no reason that I shouldn’t be shooting for a spot on that team. I just have to go day by day and see what happens and dream big, really.