Subtitle: The Courage to Stand Up
Posted on 5/5/2023
By Olivia Baker
Sometimes the longest races in life are not the ones we run. They are the long term goals that we spend years pursuing, the unexpected challenges on the road to success, and the struggle to hold out hope in the face of adversity among many other things that come up in life. As a distance runner, Kara Goucher's story is certainly one of many long races, but outside the lines of the oval track there is an even greater story of surviving abuse, standing up for others, and speaking truth to power that we would never have known.
I chose The Longest Run by Kara Goucher for the 16th installment of Runners Who Read because I believe that this story needs to be shared. Aside from the lessons that can be learned from an elite distance runner who reached the pinnacle of the sport, there's a massive level of vulnerability and courage that it takes to confront some of the biggest powers in sports through her own story. To go to such lengths and take on the great risks that come with such a task is a display of bravery and endurance that we can learn from in and of itself, but to further fight to share details that otherwise could have easily been swept under the rug suggests to me that this story holds a level of urgency and importance in its need to be told. As co-writer and investigative journalist Mary Pilon discusses in the introduction regarding the process of writing this book, "Along the way, I often found myself wondering, Why did Kara speak out? Why did she keep going, in the face of death threats and lawsuits? How does a person summon the courage to take on an abuser, a company, an industry, with such dismal odds of winning any sort of justice? Thanks to Kara, I now know the answer," (pg#XV). I, for one, would like to know too.
1. What is the furthest distance you've ever run, walked, or jogged? Under what circumstances did you go that far?
2. What are you looking forward to about reading this book?
Subtitle: Descent into Disaster (mini-blog #1)
Posted on May 11, 2023
By Olivia Baker
From an outsider's perspective, it can be easy to look at the news headlines and have trouble seeing how Kara Goucher ended up in the situation she was in. Many might go further to say "It could never be me. I would never stay in a training group that walked in such an ethical gray area both on and off the track." After all, how does one explain away questionable ethical practices, drunk driving, and sexual assault at the hands of a coach for so many years? Throughout the first few chapters of The Longest Run we begin to understand the factors that contributed to Goucher's predicament:
Firstly, she felt like she had something to prove. After a disappointing final year at the University of Colorado and an injury-riddled first few years as a pro, when the offer came around for her to keep her contract and for her and her husband, Adam Goucher, to join the Oregon Project under revered coach Alberto Salazar, she jumped at the opportunity. Others had tried out and did not make the team, and she had felt that she, the only woman on the team at the beginning was allowed to join mostly because Salazar was interested in coaching her husband. Furthermore, despite having the right to reduce her for not competing (due to injury), Nike retained her contract and even picked up some of her medical bills. She had a strong desire to prove that she belonged and a willingness to go to great lengths to do so.
Secondly, her identity was strongly tied to her racing results. As she began to rise to the top of the sport during her early years at CU, she acknowledges "My self-worth was tied up in my running times—a dangerous, double-edged sword. When I ran well, I felt at one with the universe, that everything in life was going exactly how it should be. When I didn't, my ego crashed with my race results, and something as silly as literally running around in circles on a track would force me to question my entire framework around life's meaning," (pg#24) Such a mindset, that we've now seen expressed in one way or another in many of the athlete memoirs we've read to date, leaves a person very vulnerable to abuse by tying outcomes to identity itself.
Lastly, despite the horrific situation, Goucher still found herself having plenty of success. Between bouts of injury, she made world teams and was able to race competitively on that stage. Having developed a keen ability to compartmentalize and focus on her running after dealing with the loss of her father and loss of relationship with her stepfather early in life, it was easy for her to push aside her feelings that things weren't right in the face of accomplishment on the track.
Given these things and a plethora of other factors, we can start to see how Goucher ended up in this situation and how so many more like her possibly could if we don't continue to push for greater accountability at the highest levels of sport.
1. Today's quote comes from the beginning of the book. After beating her 6th grade boyfriend in a race, rather than have his feelings hurt, he responded with genuine congratulations. As Kara thinks back on this, she writes "Today, there's lots of talk about how to raise and empower girls. That matters. But when I think about how we need to raise boys, I think of Scott and how he handled being beaten by his sixth-grade girlfriend." We've spent a lot of time talking about creating a better environment for girls in sports at a young age through the lens of parents, coaches, and girls themselves, but what role do young boys, who often play sports alongside girls before puberty, have to play in this discussion? What are some ways we can encourage young boys to make sporting spaces more welcoming for girls?
Subtitle: Know Your Worth (Mini-blog #2)
Posted on May 18, 2023
By Olivia Baker
"If you don't know your own value, somebody will tell you your value, and it'll be less than what you're worth." - Bernard Hopkins, former professional boxer, undisputed middleweight champion (2001-2005)
Throughout the middle chapters of The Longest Run by Kara Goucher, we read about the peak of her career. Her 2007 season was highlighted by a World Championship bronze medal in the 10,000m and American record in the half marathon in her first ever run at that distance. She followed that up in 2008 with an Olympic appearance in both the 5,000m and 10,000m and a third place finish in the NYC marathon—running the fastest ever time by an American on that course and breaking Deena Kastor's debut record time for an American. However, shockingly, behind the scenes of many of these moments of great accomplishment was also great disappointment and emotional abuse. Goucher writes, in many instances, about times that she placed well, broke records, or simply gave it her all in a given race and it was rarely good enough for her coach, Alberto Salazar, who was constantly finding ways to tear her down.
After her magical marathon debut in New York, her emotional high coming off of a great race was shot down quickly as her coach emphasized her (very few) mistakes and decided to bypass all celebrations to go home and get back to work for the next race (pg# 137). When she placed 3rd at the 2009 Boston Marathon, in her second ever marathon, she was met with a diatribe from Salazar scolding her and telling her that her performance wasn't good enough and he was "so deeply mad at [her], which further twisted the dagger of my own disappointment," (pg# 147). After placing 10th at the World Marathon Championships, the highest finish for an American woman since 1995, she listened to her coach and performance director debate whether she was "actually good at running" (pg#150).
Despite such emotional abuse at the hands of her coach and trusted sports psychologist/performance director, Kara Goucher never let it devalue her sense of self-worth. She fought for equal appearance fees to those given to men of equal accomplishment at major marathons, most notably in 2009 at Boston. During her pregnancy, her impact in advertising provided hard data to show the strong marketing value of female athletes who decide to give birth during their careers. And, though she lost her battle with Nike to be paid for the time she spent doing all of that advertising (due to a clause in her contract regarding how often she had to compete), her outspokenness about this issue helped pave the way for professional running contracts to have clauses that allow female athletes to go through pregnancy without the suspension of their pay. When other parts of her world were crumbling, Kara Goucher never wavered in how much she knew she was worth and in doing so not just fought for herself, but made way for the sport to be better for those who came after her.
1. What are some of the ways that we as a society tend to measure self-worth? What are some ways that you remind yourself of your worth regardless of what anyone may think?
Subtitle: Why Kara Spoke (Mini-blog #3)
Posted on June 6th, 2023
By Olivia Baker
"It struck me that if I was looking around and wondering why someone hadn't done something, it might be a sign that I was the person who was supposed to do it." - Kara Goucher, The Longest Run, (pg# 208)
In the introductory blog this month, before we started reading The Longest Race by Kara Goucher, I wondered aloud what could drive someone to have the courage to stand up to her abuser, her former sponsor, and some of the biggest powers in the running industry as a whole with such small odds of achieving justice and the great risk of personal and professional ostracism. Now, I know the answer and can truly see why she described this battle as the longest race of her life thus far. However, before we get to that answer, let's take a brief look back at the rest of the journey to this point.
After a years-long legal battle to be paid by Nike for the year she did not compete due to pregnancy, both sides settled in private on paying her for 6 months of that year, hardly a victory in Kara's mind considering all she had done to elevate their marketing to motherhood and femininity during that period. Throughout this time, she was also dealing with multiple instances of sexual assault and emotional abuse from her coach, Alberto Salazar that remained compartmentalized and unaddressed. Finally, in 2011 during the lead-up to the 2012 Olympics, Goucher began seeing more and more evidence of what she believed to be doping by her teammates Galen Rupp and Mo Farah, facilitated by Salazar. As the group performed at its peak in 2012 and prepared to expand and recruit more athletes, she couldn't bear to see the cycle of cheating and abuse repeat itself. No one else around her was both armed with enough evidence and willing to speak, so she took it upon herself.
A fierce supporter of clean sport, Goucher first took her claims to the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) in 2015, motivated by a strong belief that the sport deserved to be clean. She had seen too many anticlimactic medal upgrades, missed opportunities to make World Teams, and athlete livelihoods burned to remain silent. Shortly after going to USADA, she went to SafeSport to report the abuses of her coach. Particularly seeing Jordan Hasay and Mary Cain, who was only 17 at the time, decide to join the Oregon Project scared her. Through a long trial and appeals process, countless interviews from running media after races, and the trauma of facing her abuser in multiple court rooms, she finally received some semblance of justice. In late 2021, Alberto Salazar and Dr. Jeffrey Brown were handed 4-year bans from USADA and SafeSport further handed Salazar a lifetime ban.
So why did Kara speak out? For justice, for future athletes, and for the future of the sport she loves so dearly. The sport is at least a slightly cleaner and safer space today in part because Kara Goucher decided to share her story.
Note: Neither Galen Rupp nor Mo Farah were charged with any anti-doping violations and both have denied any wrongdoing.
1. Do you feel that in the end, justice was served in Kara Goucher's case? Why or why not?
2. In what ways has Kara Goucher's story had an impact on the way you view competitive track and field and the running, walking, and jogging community in general?