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Who Will Be Boston’s Top American Woman?

Who will be the top American woman at the 115th Boston Marathon: Kara Goucher, 32, Desiree Davila, 27, or Blake Russell, 35?

Desiree Davila

“Everyone is kind of in the same ballpark, and that’s what makes it exciting,” said Davila.

While Goucher, who lives and trains with the Nike Oregon Project in Portland under the tutelage of 1982 Boston Marathon champion Alberto Salazar, may be the favorite, both Davila and Russell possess the goods to challenge the celebrated Goucher. However, Goucher has front-running experience on her side: She led the 2009 Boston Marathon briefly before making a “tactical error” (as she calls it) that resulted in a third-place finish.

Russell of Pacific Grove, Calif., is the veteran marathoner of the trio: The only American to finish the Beijing Olympic marathon, she won her debut at the 2003 Twin Cities Marathon. After giving birth to a son, Quin, in 2009, Russell won the 2010 Rock ‘n’ Roll San Jose Half-Marathon in 1:11:55. While Russell hopes to better her 2:29 PR before she retires, she knows that Boston’s more about racing.

Blake Russell

If the pack goes out slowly as it has in years past, Russell’s patience may be tested. “I just want to go out and get into my rhythm right away,” she said. “It’s going to be hard to run slower in the beginning, especially on a downhill.”

Davila of Rochester Hills, Mich., is the rising sun of the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project; like now retired former teammate and Olympian Brian Sell, Davila completes her intervals, marathon simulation runs and 123-mile weeks mostly by herself—not because she’s a loner, but because her abilities currently surpass those around her. She earned her stripes at the 2010 Chicago Marathon with her 2:26:20 finish, an effort that made her the fastest American female marathoner of last year and placed her fourth on the U.S. all-time list (behind Goucher).

Davila’s quiet confidence and assurance that she’s doing what’s right oozes from her concise manner of speaking: “I’m a pure marathoner,” she said.

However, Goucher possesses the fastest marathon personal record—set at the 2008 ING New York City Marathon, where she placed third in 2:25:53 and set an American record for the fastest women’s debut—and a race-‘till-you-collapse-at-the-finish-line philosophy developed from her days as a fiercely competitive track runner. Six months ago, Goucher gave birth to her first child, and she said at a press conference on Friday that despite being a new mom, she feels much more rested this year. The always candid Goucher revealed that it’s taken her a solid six months of strenuous focus, including 120-mile weeks, lots of speed work and mile repeats, to whittle down to her pre-pregnancy racing weight.

“I lifted weights and did core work while I was pregnant, and I even lifted weights and went for a short run the day I went into labor,” Goucher said. “But I’ve just been really lucky—when I was coming back after the birth, I was way more aggressive than most people.”

Kara Goucher

Goucher has also worked hard to tackle the demons that lingered long after the 2009 race. For better or worse, Goucher wears her heart on her sleeve. In her words, she “ran with this desperation” in 2009; indeed, it was difficult to watch her struggle up Boylston Street and then sob in husband Adam’s arms when she finished third.

“It was really hard for me to get over it and I don’t want to be defined by that anymore,” she said. “I just want to run my own race this time. But I’m such an emotional person that I can’t guarantee I won’t cry at the finish.”