Goucher finishes 3rd in marathon debut
Kara Goucher ran in memory of her father, took to heart a note from coach Alberto Salazar and became the first American woman to earn a top-three finish at the New York City Marathon in 14 years.
Goucher, who briefly led at the midway point on Sunday, finished third in 2 hours, 25 minutes, 53 seconds, eclipsing Deena Kastor for the fastest marathon debut by an American woman. Kastor ran a 2:26:58 in 2001, also in New York.
“It definitely hasn’t hit me yet,” said Goucher, a 30-year-old from Portland, Ore. “(Deena) set the standard for American distance running.”
Goucher, who was born in New York City, got a note in her backpack from three-time NYC Marathon winner Salazar telling her to “have faith” and “you’re ready.”
She might have been more familiar with the five boroughs of New York had her father, Mirko Grgas, not been killed by a drunk driver in 1982 when she was nearly 4. Her mother moved Goucher and her two sisters to the Midwest shortly after the accident.
Goucher cried as she shook hands with well-wishers at the finish line in Central Park after a thrilling run in windy, cool conditions. A short time later, she climbed the podium next to winner Paula Radcliffe of Great Britain and runner-up Ludmilla Petrova of Russia.
Goucher is the first American to reach the podium since Anne Marie Letko was third in 1994.
“I knew it would be a more aggressive race because Radcliffe was running, which scared me a little bit,” Goucher said of the defending champ. “She was so tough. She just hammered us with about 8 miles to go and I caved.”
Goucher led briefly at the halfway point, edging in front of Radcliffe. She fell back in the pack at mile 19, showing signs of having only five weeks of training at more than 100 miles. But Goucher rallied to third, finishing 10 seconds behind the 40-year-old Petrova and about 2 minutes behind Radcliffe.
“My plan was to do what I saw (Gete) Wami do last year and tuck behind whoever was in the lead and just gut it out as long as possible,” Goucher said.
“I slipped back to fourth or fifth and then I kind of had to regroup. I was telling myself ‘It’s a 10K, you can do this, pull it together.’ The last 2 miles were a struggle. My stomach was really upset.”
Goucher thought about her father around the 12-mile mark amid chants of “Queens girl” from the crowd along the 26.2-mile route.
“I didn’t want my dad and the heaviness of what happened to him here affect my race,” she said. “But he did enter my mind a couple of times … just to be strong and I wasn’t alone.”
Goucher, who grew up in Duluth, Minn., had another first last year when she became the first American woman to win a world championship medal, a bronze, in the 10,000 meters.
Goucher said her training with Salazar paid off.
“He just had me as prepared as possible,” she said. “I knew I could handle the hills, I knew I could handle the course, I knew I could handle the pace.”
Goucher won the 5,000 at the U.S. Olympic trials in Eugene this summer, and came in second in the 10,000. She ran in both events in Beijing, placing 10th in the 10,000 meters and ninth in the 5,000.
Last year, Goucher set an American record for a half-marathon in 1:06:57 at the Great North Run in England.