A lot has happened since Kara Goucher was last on the podcast, three years ago. In 2022, the World Championships silver medalist and two-time Olympian was diagnosed with repetitive exercise dystonia, a rare neurological disorder. To prevent her symptoms from becoming worse, she’s had to drastically reduce her running, putting an end to her competitive career.
This year, however, brought much better news: her memoir, The Longest Race: Inside the Secret World of Abuse, Doping, and Deception on Nike’s Elite Running Team, debuted at number 7 on The New York Times’ bestseller list. She’s also launched a podcast with Des Linden, Nobody Asked Us, where they share their takes on all things running.
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As hard as having dystonia is, in some ways it has actually made stepping away from her career as an elite runner easier for Kara. Even before the diagnosis, she wasn’t running at her previous level, and she says, “I still felt like I needed to be racing; I felt like to continue to be in this arena, I still need to be doing something. Maybe it’s not winning races, but I’m trying new adventures, or I’m doing this and that, and I’m redefining what success looks like. You know, all that kind of blah, blah, blah, which is how I felt.
“But I think with the dystonia diagnosis, it’s very clear that I cannot perform like I used to. I never will. And in a weird way, even though it’s awful, it has allowed me to say, ‘Okay, I’m not gonna be able to go run that 50 miler I hoped to run. I’m not gonna be able to run the Fifth Avenue Mile, like I had hoped. There’s no amount of training or wanting or stressing about it that could make that happen. And there was a grieving process through that, but in a weird way, it’s like, ‘Okay, now I can just truly enjoy the sport where I’m at, instead of thinking, ‘Should I be training for this?’ or ‘Should I be trying to make a master’s team?’
“I think over time I’ve realized, ‘Hey, I’m still the same person’ and some people will see value in that and some people won’t. But what does that even mean? I still love the sport. I still want to be around people. And what does it matter that someone else might think I need to go away because I’m not fast anymore or whatever it is. I think that really being comfortable and okay with the fact that I’ll never race again has really helped me to just become a really big fan of the sport and of what other people, specifically women, are doing. but there’s a growth that happens to get to that place.”
Writing The Longest Race was one element of Kara’s growth. Of course she’s happy that the book has done so well, but selling copies was never the point. In the years since she blew the whistle on the abuses at Nike’s Oregon Project, her story has been told many times, but always by other people. It was time, she says, “to reclaim my own sense of self. The goal was for me to do that and for me to be able to move forward, telling my story in my own voice and what I experienced. And so that was the goal and we accomplished that goal.
“The night before the release I couldn’t sleep.I was really stressed out. I was like, ‘Why do I do this stuff to myself? Why am I doing this?’ But I woke up the next day and I just felt so calm and I’m telling you, I feel so much lighter than I have felt in my life. I feel so much calmer. This is a weird thing, but I started grinding my teeth in 2006 and I wear a mouth guard, and I stopped grinding my teeth the day after the book came out. It was like the big final release of all of this work and all of these years of shame and worrying. It’s out there and I’m not ashamed anymore and I’m not worried anymore.
“I’ve let go of so much anger, it’s crazy. I’m just tired of being angry; it’s exhausting and I feel like it caused me so much stress over the years. And now I feel like, ‘Hey, I said my piece’ and if anyone has a question, they can read the book and I’m moving on. There’s a lot more life to live.”
With The Longest Race out in the world, Kara has moved on to her latest project, Nobody Asked Us, her podcast with Des Linden. Although you wouldn’t guess it from their rapport on the show, she and Des only really became friends recently. They would see each other at races, but, Kara recalls, “I think the first time that we really, truly hung out together was in 2020 at the Olympic trials. I had been at an Oiselle event and she had been doing her own thing and we both kind of stumbled into the lobby around midnight, and I don’t remember who said it, but we ended up being like, ‘Yeah let’s go get a beer.’ So we hung out till like two in the morning. And then I got up the next morning to meet her for a run.”
After that they would text occasionally, and then Des came to Boulder, where Kara lives, in the fall of 2022. They met at a coffee shop; a planned hour’s conversation turned into several hours, and they decided to try launching a podcast. “We’ll make three episodes and we’ll just talk and if nobody listens to it, then it’s like, who cares? No harm; no foul. But if people listen to it, maybe we could take it somewhere. And so we released those three episodes, and it was kind of nuts how many people listened to it. So then it was like, ‘Oh, I guess we should continue.’ I feel like I’ve just gotten to know her better and better and it’s interesting; we are different, but I think a lot of our core values are the same. So I’ve found that I like her even more than I thought I liked her. So it’s been fun. It’s been a lot of fun.”
Less fun has been watching her 12-year-old son, Colt, as he follows in his parents’ footsteps, running track. Kara’s nerves are worse than Colt’s when he races. “He had set this goal to win the sixth grade district mile and this goal stressed me out to no end because it’s one thing to try to improve your time a little bit over the course of the season. But to say you want to win something, you don’t have control over what anyone else does. And so the day of the district meeting, I was shaky. I was so nervous for him; I was just like, ‘Please let him be happy, please let him run well, please let him be happy.’ You know, no matter what place he gets, let him be happy.”
He won the race, and while he was happy, Kara says, “I’m so nervous, I can’t even enjoy it. I was texting my mom and I was like, ‘I don’t know how you did this. I want to barf; I’m miserable.’ And my mom was like, ‘Yeah, and you did it for 30 some years!’”
As she looks back on her own running career, transitioning from being a professional athlete, and now watching her son pursue his competitive dreams, Kara reflects that “The lessons that we’re trying to instill in our kids, I’m still learning. And so I think that’s also a good reminder as a parent that it’s ongoing, right? It’s constantly reminding me that life is – I say it to Colt all the time – it’s a long journey, but it really truly is, and you’re always evolving at some stage, no matter what age you are.”
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