Thursday, August 20, 2009

A "Run More, Think Less" Style Defines Marathon Contender Kara Goucher

An article in Tuesday's Wall Street Journal [The Africans are Hearing Footsteps] outlines the differences in training strategy between Kara Goucher, America's best hope in Sunday's marathon at the World Track & Field Championships, and the majority of American distance runners over the past 20 years. This quote from the article basically sums it up:

"In a bold move aimed at catching the Africans who have owned this event, Ms. Goucher has taken all the tactics generated by U.S. running experts in the last 20 years—the charts, the mileage recommendations and high-tech motion-sensing computer readouts—and stuffed them in a dumpster."

I was totally and utterly thrilled to hear this. You mean I don't have to track, record and analyze every mile? I don't have to worry about heartrates and lactate thresholds? YES!

One of the reasons I have always loved running above and beyond all my other sports is its simplicity. Running just feels good. It feels natural, and it doesn't require all the gear of sports like skiing and rock climbing. Just lace up a pair of shoes and head out the door.

But sometimes I feel lazy for not having a more serious training plan and committing to learning all of the latest research on training techniques. I don't have a subscription to Runner's World, or Trailrunner, or even Ultrarunning. I just want to run.

It's not that my workouts have no structure. They definitely do. It's just that, these days, that structure doesn't completely define my running.

The article quotes Deena Kastor:

"'For so long, people here were focused on figuring out the exact science behind setting records,' Ms. Kastor says. 'But there is no exact science.'"

And that is where things stand for me right now. While I do think it's important to learn, understand and apply training and racing techniques, I think it can be equally important to feel comfortable letting it all go. Running, at its most basic level, is more art than science.

I can't wait to see how Kara does this Sunday!

I'll leave you with a Pre quote (not from the article):

"Some people create with words or with music or with a brush and paints. I like to make something beautiful when I run. I like to make people stop and say, 'I've never seen anyone run like that before.' It's more than just a race, it's a style. It's doing something better than anyone else. It's being creative."


  1. I'm with you on this. I just run to run.

    Don't even know how to build a training plan.

  2. Great, encouraging, post!!

  3. I completely agree with you. I have done both: hyper-analyzing did not work. I think we each individually need to understand and figure out what works for us and what maximizes our own fitness. I always say, "follow your bliss"...

  4. Why do they keep calling them Ms. Goucher and Ms. Kastor? Doesn't that seem demeaning to anyone else? Anyway, it's a refreshing point of view. I can't wait till the book about the science behind the science-free training plan comes out.

  5. I'll be rooting for Kara big time! I think there is a place and time for both analyzing and running free, you just have to be so tuned in to yourself, that you'll switch easily between the two. We can have examples of Jurek, who trains by numbers (most of the time anyway) and coaches same way, and we have Skaggs and Tony who just run like crazy. But in a meantime, for normal people, isn't running supposed to be a get-away from life's stress? Why would I want to add more numbers to it then? Anyhow, go, Kara! And thanks for pointing this article, Gretchen!

  6. Thanks for the comments everyone!

    Devon- I agree that we each need to figure it out for ourselves. I definitely wouldn't criticize someone who fixates on the numbers if that's what works for them. Especially because, yes, I too have been that person, and can occasionally still be her. :)

    Claire- I don't really see anything demeaning about the "Ms." title. The author referred to the men (Mr. Prefontaine and Mr. Salazar) in the same manner. It is a bit formal, but this is the WSJ afterall.

    Olga- I like that idea that it's about being tuned into yourself that allows you to switch between the two "modes." Very important!

    Oh, and Kara took 10th! She ran a PR, and although it wasn't the race she wanted, I think she ran tough. Team USA took 5th in the race, which is HUGE!!

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  8. dangit, I wrote it wrong the first time. Trying again...

    Beautiful post.

    I doubt Rick Skaggs knows his lactic acid threshold, and in every winner's photo I see of him, he's wearing the biggest smile.

    *That* is what I aspire to experience.

    Whew. There.

  9. A blend of both worlds seems to work for me. A little structure but not a lot. Funny, I race the same way. The first half I'm looking at my heart rate monitor, calculating this and that and then for the second half I just go by feel.

    So this post reminds me of the barefoot running movement - taking all these fancy running shoes that do this and promise to do that and throwing them into the trash bin and just going out to run on bare feet. Maybe it's just me. Again a blend of both worlds for me. I still need shoes but I've been moving towards less structure and less padding. I do love my La Sportiva Wildcats though as over built as they are. And I'm rambling...time to skeedaddle.

  10. i track miles and some times, but definitely fall down the middle on this one. hyperanalyzing just causes more stress, which running is supposed to supress, right?
    beside the point, but shouldn't it be Mrs Goucher and Mrs Castor...they're both married, yes?
    the Pre quote at the end is great...i just think that AT BEST, my running resembles the type of art that maybe makes it on the fridge, not the gallery...although sometimes i think the fridge art is prettier...