THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Goucher carrying on post-pregnancy

By Shira Springer
Globe Staff / April 17, 2011

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The meltdown came just before the holidays last winter. Kara Goucher was two months into motherhood, exhausted and stressed out. Her doctor recommended more sleep. More sleep? When?

She tried to come up with an answer as she ran on a treadmill at home. At that time, her training program called for 90 miles per week. Her husband, Adam, came by and Kara told him what the doctor said. Then, she stopped the treadmill and started crying.

“I can’t do this,’’ Kara told her husband. “I can’t physically do this anymore.’’

“Maybe you just need to take some time,’’ advised Adam.

Time? There was no time to take, not with her commitment to the Boston Marathon, which was looming a little less than five months away. She had decided Boston would be her comeback marathon when still pregnant with son Colton.

She remained determined to race on Patriots Day when her son arrived Sept. 25. She knew such a quick return to elite marathon running was borderline crazy. But she is obsessed with winning Boston.

Still, that night of the treadmill meltdown, the doubts, the tough questions kept coming.

“What do I really want? Do I want to start over and do something else?’’ Goucher asked herself. This time, the answer was easy.

“No, this is what I want,’’ said Goucher, giving herself a pep talk. “I love running. I love my job. So, suck it up.’’

In the months that followed, Goucher, 32, did exactly that. She also hired a babysitter to help with Colton five days a week and relied heavily on her husband for support during workouts and at home.

Her friendship with marathon world record-holder Paula Radcliffe, who gave birth to her second child late last September, also helped. Radcliffe provided advice and encouragement.

While Goucher is concerned about the competition and not her time in tomorrow’s marathon, she believes a personal best is possible. Her fastest time over 26.2 miles is 2:25:53, set in her marathon debut at the 2008 New York City Marathon.

She is confident about her preparation, having logged more weeks at higher mileage — nine weeks at 120 miles — than for any of her previous three marathons.

Goucher, who grew up in Duluth, Minn., and trains now out of Portland, Ore., hopes to finish strong down Boylston Street, and not have a repeat of her Boston debut in 2009.

That year, she led before Kenya’s Salina Kosgei surged ahead before turning onto Hereford Street, and Ethiopia’s Dire Tune followed. Goucher finished third and dissolved into tears at the finish line.

“One of my career goals is winning Boston,’’ said Goucher, a bronze medalist in the 10,000 meters at the 2007 world championships and a 2008 Olympian in the 5,000 and 10,000. “And I will go back to Boston as many times as it takes to get that goal done.

“But I’m looking at it a little differently this time than two years ago, when I felt unless I won it was a failure. I want to run the best marathon I’ve ever run.

“Hopefully, that will be good enough to win. If I do that and it isn’t good enough for the win, I’m not going to beat myself up like I did the last time.’’

That perspective comes from the lessons learned in 2009 and the experience of motherhood. Before that, Goucher obsessed over workouts. If she finished a mile repeat two seconds slower than expected, she thought about her time long after she returned home. Now, she gets home and shifts immediately into mommy mode, thinking only of her son.

“Being a mom has helped me to really let go of things, made me chill out a little bit,’’ said Goucher. “I still want all the things I wanted before. I just found something that I care about more.

“I’d hear people say, ‘Having a kid really put things in perspective.’ Before I had Colt, that made me sad. I would think, ‘I don’t want to lose my passion for running.’ I haven’t.’’

Adam, who backed off his own training as a professional runner to help Kara through workouts, added: “It’s been a big change from what we’re used to. But it’s been a great adventure.

“We were married over nine years before he was born, so we were as ready as we could be. But that’s not saying much because you’re never really ready.’’

That was never more true than in mid-January. Nine days before Goucher planned to return to racing at the Rock ’n’ Roll Arizona Half Marathon, Colton’s face became so badly swollen it required the attention of a specialist. There was some concern that it might be a tumor. Testing, however, revealed a staph infection involving a lymph node that required immediate surgery.

Despite spending a couple of sleepless nights in a Portland hospital the week before the race, Goucher finished second in 1:14:02 “just going on pure adrenaline.’’

Goucher ran throughout her pregnancy, including 50 minutes at roughly a 10-minute-per-mile pace the day she went into labor. While 38 pounds of pregnancy weight came and left slowly, she faced as much of a mental challenge as a physical one in her return. She needed to push herself during workouts, to embrace the pain of tough training, to remember what it felt like to compete.

After a seventh-place finish at the 2011 USA Cross-Country Championships in early February, Goucher was ready to be more aggressive in workouts. She returned home to Portland and told coach Alberto Salazar, “Don’t baby me anymore. Treat me like you treated me before.’’

Those statements marked a turning point, as coach and athlete changed gears with faster-paced training on top of continued high mileage.

Kara finished third at the New York City Half Marathon (1:09:03) last month. More significantly, she felt strong from start to finish, running close to a five-minute last mile. It was her fastest mile of the race.

“I don’t think I’m coming back from pregnancy anymore,’’ said Goucher. “I’m here to race. Period.

“I’m nervous because I’m really ready to run well and I want it to go well. I’m able to say, ‘I’m ready for the greatest marathon of my life so far.’ ’’

And she is considering a second child, though not right away.

“I’ve definitely thought ahead about when I could have another baby, where could I fit in having another child in my career,’’ said Goucher.

“I don’t want to retire any time soon. But I’ve enjoyed Colt so much, I want to do it again.’’

Shira Springer can be reached at springer@globe.com.

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