Monday, June 4, 2012

RunnerDude Chats with Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher

Recently, I got a call from a representative of Nissan's Innovation for Endurance program. He wanted to know if I'd be interested in interviewing 2012 U.S. Olympic team members Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher. Once I picked my jaw off the ground, I said, "HECK YEAH!"

Innovation for Endurance features exclusive, daily content showcasing the latest innovation in running, cycling, and general fitness. You probably recognize "SHIFT the way you move." from Nissan's current ad campaign. For Nissan, it means rethinking the ordinary, pushing the boundaries, exceeding expectations and anticipate the needs of an ever-changing planet. They urge you to "Make this the Year of Innovation."

Through the Innovation for Endurance community, Nissan brings you a whole new take on performance. They surface the best innovations in running, cycling, and fitness from across the country, and from their Nissan Innovators: record-breaking marathoner Ryan Hall; cycling champion Chris Horner and the cyclist of Team Radio Shack Nissan Trek; elite marathoners Kara Goucher and Shalane Flanagan; and world record-holding swimmer Ryan Lochte.

On Memorial Day, Kara and Shalane were in Boulder, Colorado, for the  BolderBoulder 10K event. They each took time out of their busy afternoon to do phone interviews with RunnerDude. I called, Kara and Shalane called me. I have to say, that picking up the phone and hearing, "Hi Thad, this is Shalane Flanagan." is pretty dang cool.

Below are my conversations with Kara and Shalane.

Kara Goucher Interview:
Bio: Kara won bronze at the 2007 World Championships at 10,000m. At the 2008 ING NYC Marathon, Kara made the fastest marathon debut ever for an American with her 2:25:53 third-place finish. This was also the first time in 14 years that an American placed in the top three at NYC. In 2009, she also placed third at the Boston Marathon in the women's race with 2:32:25. In 2010, Kara took time off for the birth of her son. In 2011, Kara returned to running with her second-fasted 10K time which qualified her for the 2011 World Team. At the Olympic Marathon Trials in Houston, she placed 3rd with 2:26:06 giving her a spot on the 2012 Olympic team.

RD: Congrats on making the U.S. Olympic Team in the marathon and thanks for taking the time to chat with me for a little while.
Kara: Yeah, thanks. No problem.
RD: I read an article you posted on and I loved the title, "Never Count Yourself Out." So many people take the easy way out by thinking, "well, it's just not meant to be", but you have a different philosophy on that. What helps you keep such a positive outlook?
Kara: Honesty, it's just a part of my makeup and the way I was raised, and I think most things are possible and you can achieve more than you think if you just keep at it. It's just the way I'm made.
RD: It's in your blood?
Kara: Yep, it's the way my mom raised me. It's the way that I am.
RD: Did you grow up in an athletic family?
Kara: I did grow up in an athletic family. My father was a soccer player. My mom was real active. They didn't have (women's) sports in her high school, they had cheerleading, so she did that. My sisters are very athletic. My older sister is a basketball, soccer, softball player and my little sister played basketball, soccer, and also ran.
RD: You mentioned in the article that at the Olympic Marathon Trials you experienced a huge wave of emotion come over your during the last 200m of the race when you realized you would be on your way to London. What was going through your mind as you finished that race?
Kara: It literally took my breath away as we made that final turn and I knew it was going to happen. I put my hand on my chest just to breathe and take it all in. It had been a very difficult year for me coming back from having my son was harder than I thought it was going to be. I also parted ways with my coach and then I had the first injury I've had in many years. So, it was a very difficult year and because of my injury, I started training for the Olympic trials so far behind everyone else and I knew it was going to be down to the wire to make the team. There were just so many people during that time that supported me and believed in me during that process and supported me to change coaches and to really seek out what I wanted. There were so many other people's investment in me that it was an overwhelming moment for me knowing what a difficult road it had been, but that it was going to happen.
RD: (toddler noises in the background) Is that your little one I hear in the background?
Kara: Yeah, that's Colt (laughing); we're trying to get him down for a nap, but he wants no part of it.
RD: How has motherhood and having a toddler around the house changed your training?
Kara: Yeah, I used to go do a hard workout and then come home and lay on the couch for the rest of the day and obviously that's not the same anymore. But he's actually helped me become more disciplined and scheduled in my running. Where I use to sleep until I woke up and then go for a run, now I'm up and out of bed by 6:30, 7:00AM and I'm running by 8:30AM. And the same in the afternoon. I'm starting my afternoon runs by 4:00PM so when I come back I have time to spend with Colt before I have to make dinner. He's definitely made me more disciplined, but I definitely don't rest as much as I used to.
RD: I can relate. We have three kids and I don't have all that training to do, and I still don't seem to get enough sleep. You, Shalane, and Desiree Davila are amazingly talented elite women marathoners. Some of the other countries also have strong contenders. Who do you see as your main competition?
Kara: The Olympics is an event where people tend to show up and run past their expectations. Really everyone is a threat. But, Liliya Shobukhova of Russia has been the most consistent marathoner in the last three years, so I'd have to say she's one of the favorites and I'd have to say the entire Kenyan and Ethiopian squad; I mean they're all sub 2:20 performers, so that's a time I haven't even come close to running. I'll definitely have my eye on all six of those women.
RD: You've mentioned the support that Shalane Flanagan has given you. What does it mean to you that you've both made the team?
Kara: It's great. I would not have made the Olympic team without Shalane. She pushed me in practice to a level that if I had been on my own, I just wouldn't have taken my self to those places. I've been injury free since then and we've been able to train together day in and day out and we've shared so much together over the last few months. I know how badly she wants to perform well and she knows how badly I want to perform well too. It's fun to be a part of each other's journey. And it will be nice to have a best friend there. That's very rare. We've gone through a lot together and going to the Olympics together is pretty special.
RD: You've talked a little about your training day. What is a typical training day like for you?
Kara: I'll meet my teammates at  8:30AM and if we have hard sessions, we'll do an hour warm-up before the hard session, then a cool-down. If it's a normal day, we'll run 90 minutes, then lift weights from 10:00-11:00AM, and then I'll go home. We'll usually finish up between 11:30 and 1:00PM, depending on how long the hard session was, and then I'll take a half-hour nap if Colt is still down. Whenever he's up, I'm up with him which is usually between 1:00 and 2:00PM. We have lunch together and then I hang out with him and then back to training again at 4:00PM until 5:00 or 5:30. Then I make dinner for my family and we have dinner together. I put Cold down for the night and then I have a few precious hours alone with my husband. I go to bed around 9:30 or 10:00 and then I do it all over again.
RD: That's a long day.
Kara: Yeah, a long day, but a fun day. It probably seems kind of boring, but it's rewarding. I know that I'm giving everything I have to the sport.
RD: You mentioned weight training. I'm a big believer in full-body resistance and core training for runners and use it in training my clients. What do you do during your daily weight training sessions?
Kara: Well, I have a weight coach and I just show up and he tells me what to do (laughing). He changes it up every day. Sometimes we lift weights. Other times we do core work like planks or we'll do yoga. Other days we'll use the Swiss ball, med balls, and/or the BOSU ball. And then there are other days where we skip rope and do ladder drills. It's all different. We try to hit the body in a different way ever day so we're constantly challenging the body.
RD: Are you superstitious in any way? Do you have lucky charms or rituals that you have to do before a big competition?
Kara: I used to be really superstitious with like what I ate...everything.... and then I started racing in Europe and with the level of competition I was up against and I kind of let a lot of my superstitions go. I did had these lucky barrettes and then they broke in half that last time I was at the World Champs. Most of my superstitions and lucky charms are gone by the wayside now. For me, now it's more about the night before reflecting on all the hard work I've done and reminding myself of all the hard work I've done to get to the point where I'm at and that's really it. I try to think about all the really hard sessions I endured.
RD: What's a typical pre- and/or post-fueling food that you like to use?
Kara: Oh, I'm partnered with Nutrilite, so I'll take one of their protein shakes within that 15-minute post workout window you hear so much about. When I get home I'll get a sandwich or a salad or leftovers from the night before. My diet's pretty...there's nothing really fancy about it, you know. I eat a lot of sandwiches, a lot of salads. At night I'll eat a lot of pasta, a lot of rice, pretty basic.
RD: Is there anything specific you eat before a workout or race?
Kara: The night before a long run, I'll have what I hope to have before the marathon which is like rice, chicken, sweet potatoes. Pretty bland. But other than that, I can pretty much eat what I want before a regular workout. Along with that I'll carbload with my electrolyte drink to just help prime the body and practice what I'll do as closely to race conditions as I can.
RD: What's something about yourself that people might find surprising?
Kara: I don't know (laughing), that's a tough question. I don't know (laughing). Sorry.
RD: (Laughing) No problem. Has being on an Olympic team always been a dream of yours?
Kara: It's always been a dream to be an Olympian. I've watched the Olympics since a very young age. My family was always into the Olympics. So, I always wanted to be an Olympian, but I was never particularly good at anything in sports. So I'd watch the Olympic gymnastics and I'd say, "I want to go to the Olympics in gymnastics" and then I was a terrible gymnast. So then I'd say, "Well may be I'll go to the Olympics in swimming." I was a terrible swimmer. I always wanted to be an Olympian, but it wasn't until high school when I really started running and had some success right away that I began to flirt with the idea. Then I went to college and realized just how many people there were just as good as I was, so it seemed so far away at that point. Then towards the end of college I started to dream about it again. Then I went professional and realized yet again just how far away I was again. In 2006 I started running times that were competitive on the world level and that's when I started to want to make that dream happen. Then I went to the Olympics in 2008 and was kind of overwhelmed by the whole experience. The minute I came home from Beijing, all I could think about was going back and enjoying it and doing it right.
RD: What kind of advice would you give young aspiring runners, particularly young girls?
Kara: Just that running is something you can do forever. I started running when I was 12 and I'm almost 34 and I've just gotten better and better every year. Have a lot of patience with it and it will be there potentially your entire life if you don't try to rush it. So many times in life we want everything right away, but running is a journey that you can take for years and years to come. Just remember that when I was 18, I thought I was never going to get any better and here I am almost 34 and keep getting better.
RD: Is there anything else you'd like to share?
Kara: Yeah, I'm here at the BolderBoulder talking with people from all over and it never ceases to amaze me how many lives running has touched and I think it's really cool. I'm a big believer that you don't have to be an elite runner, you don't even have to run every day, but if you get out and run every once in a while, you're a part of the club. It's just so fun to be around all the people who are a part of the club.

Shalane Flanagan Interview:
Bio: Like RunnerDude, Shalane is a UNC-Chapel Hill grad. While there she won two NCAA cross country titles and qualified for the 2004 U.S. Olympic team at 5000m. She won a bronze medal in the 10,000 meters at the 2008 Olympic Games. Shalane is the current American record-holder at 5,000 and 10,000 meters and will represent the US in the 2012 Olympic Marathon (Shalane set an Olympic Trials record of 2:25:38 in only her second marathon.)

RD: First of all, congratulations on making the U.S. Olympic team. It's an amazing honor and achievement to make it to the Olympics. This will make your 3rd Olympics. What does it mean to you to be returning a 3rd time.
Shalane: It's amazing. I'm very fortunate. I went to Athens right out of the University of North Carolina and then of course Beijing was obviously very special. I just think I've learned so much from both of them. So, I'm coming with a a lot of sense and purpose to this third Olympics. It's going to be fitting, because I'm not on the track anymore, it's like a whole new event. It's an exciting time to be a marathoner in the Olympics.
RD: I've followed your running career since Carolina and I was so excited to see you transition to the marathon distance. That's my race distance of choice. What do you like about the marathon as compared to the other distances you've competed in?
Shalane: Yeah, well you just kind of gave an example, the marathon's not as exclusive as track. I get to run on the same course as everyone on the same day, so I get to share the experience with 1000s of people. We all take the same steps over the same course. To be able to share that, it's just a different niche. I think what I love the most about marathons, is that I get to share it with so many people, but more than that, I love the training, actually. I love the fatigue and the commitment it takes to be a marathoner. Just the lifestyle. It's a great club to be a part of.
RD: Talk some about your training. What's a typical training day like for you?
Shalane: It's pretty much running twice a day almost every day, except on days where I run 20 miles or more. Like yesterday was a luxurious day because Kara (Goucher) and I had 22 miles and then we hopped on a flight and came to Boulder. We only had to run once, so (laughing) today we were actually up running at 6AM and actually as soon as I finish talking with you I'm going t head out and sneak in a little 30-minute run before catching my flight home. Yeah, it's just consistent training, lots of running and we're getting into the meat and potatoes of our marathon specific training so that's geared for getting faster and sharper and kind of nailing down that marathon pace.
RD: Where do you do most of your training?
Shalane: I'm in Portland, Oregon. The Nike campus is a huge place where we all meet up and run. There's a 2-mile loop a wood chip trail around the campus and then there's a track and some grass fields we run on. So we run there a lot and then there are a lot of trails in downtown Portland and the waterfront. There's not a huge variety, but it's really consistent and good for our training needs.
RD: You mentioned Kara Goucher. I know you guys are really good friends. What's it mean to you that you'll both be representing the U.S. in the Olympic Marathon?
Shalane: Yeah, I think we're in a really unique position. There's not really many elite women in the world that train together like we do at this level and we have the same goals and we both want the same things. It's great to have that accountability and someone to push you on an everyday basis to get the most out of you. And, we just have a fun time. I've never enjoyed my running more than now being able to share the process and the journey with someone.
RD: You, Kara, and Desiree Davila are amazingly talented elite women marathoners. Some of the other countries also have strong contenders. Who do you see as your main competition?
Shalane: That's the beauty of the Olympics. Going into it, on paper, you could say that so-n-so is the favorite, but it's amazing how many times the favorites don't win or don't medal in the Olympics. It's an amazing race. It's whoever shows up healthy and hungry on that day. Because the marathon is so long there are a lot of unpredictable things that can go wrong. But, on paper, as of right now the Kenyan team looks the strongest. they have three women that have run under 2:20 for a marathon and who are consistently really good. Some of the Ethiopians look good, some Russians, Chinese, and Japanese are looking good too. But the beauty is that in the marathon anything can happen. I think Kara and I have a really good shot at being really competitive to the very end, so that's very exciting.
RD: You're planning to do the trials for the 10K too, right?
Shalane: Yeah
RD: That's right around the corner at the end of June, isn't it?
Shalane: Yep, it's like June 22nd, so coming up fast.
RD: How's that coming, your preparation for that race?
Shalane: Um, well, it's not necessarily the focus at all. I'm just looking at it as a good fitness test. A good hard run. What I can do that night, I'm not sure. I know I'm fit. I have a training partner, Lisa Koll, well actually her name is Uhl now. She got married, but she's one of the top 10K runners right now going into the trials. So, I know if I can stick close to her in the workouts and I know what she's been doing then I know I can be competitive. The beauty is that I don't have any pressure. I can go in race hard and there's no consequence to it. I already have my slot to London, so I can pretty much run hard and have fun.
RD: As far as food goes, is there anything specific you eat pre or post workout?
Shalane: Yeah, so I'm actually sponsored by Gatorade and I went to the lab this past fall to fine tune my nutrition and learn how to hydrate during the marathon. We did a whole sweat analysis and all this other stuff to see what kind of sweater I was. At the trials I used a regular Gatorade product, but now I'm training with a Gatorade Endurance product that has more electrolytes and sodium and I've found that it absorbs in my stomach really well and I don't get like a sloshy stomach. That's been a huge...that's one of the variables that's really been nerve racking to to consume fluids while running. It was such a foreign concept to me. Gatorade's been huge in helping me with that. I had no idea where to begin and how to do it. I think a huge part of being successful on the day of the marathon is fueling yourself. If you don't do that right, that's one piece of the puzzle that can potentially go wrong. And for pre-workout and pre-race eating, I'm a pretty bland eater. I keep it simple with a lot of carbs and a little protein here and there. After my workouts, I either do protein shakes or eat eggs. I kind of eat a lot of eggs right after workouts.
RD: Are you superstitious in any way? Do you have lucky charms or rituals that you have to do before a big competition?
Shalane: The only thing that's kind of superstitious or good luck is if in my bib there's a number 8. That's my lucky number. So, if I get a bib with an 8 in it, I think "Oh my god, this is great! I'm going to rock this!" (laughing).
RD: You grew up in a pretty athletic family. When did you actually get into running?
Shalane: Yep, both my parents were runners. My mom (Cheryl Bridges Treworgy) actually had a world record in a marathon (1971) and was a U.S. World Cross Country Championship 5-Time participant. My Dad ran for UCONN and my mom ran for Indiana State, so I definitely come from a running background. I grew up in Boulder, Colorado and at the time was a kind of a running hot spot. I was always aware of running, but I didn't really fall in love with it until like high school. I kind of feel it was my calling and my passion, but growing up, I just thought, "Oh everyone runs." So, it was a natural thing, but I didn't really get into it until high school.
RD: Was being an Olympian always a goal in the back of your mind or did that just kind of fall into place as your running career developed?
Shalane: Yeah, I think any Olympic type sport, the Olympics is the pinnacle and that stage is the best stage to perform on. So, yeah, fully aware of the Olympics and many role models and inspiration came from watching the Olympic Games as I grew up. Even in my high school year book (when you write those prophecies of yourself) I wrote "Olympics." So, it was definitely on my mind at a young age.
RD: Is there something about yourself that people might find surprising?
Shalane: Yeah, I'm totally obsessed with my cat Boo. I don't have any kids yet, so she is my child. She's a North Carolina kitty. I got her right after graduating from college. Totally in love with her. I also really like art and hope to one day get back into it. I was in an art major program in high school and did all sorts of media. So, that one's side thing I'm into that's nonathletic.
RD: Is there a particular art media that you're drawn to?
Shalane: Yeah, I enjoyed doing a lot of pottery and working with clay, but I also really enjoy painting.
RD: Of all the races you've done is there any one that's more memorable that really stands out for you?
Shalane: I've been fortunate to have had a lot of good races, but as far as butterflies and the excitement I think my first Olympic team is pretty special. Coming out of Carolina, I was not expected to make the team, but I fought and clawed my way onto it and I think that was one of the greatest races in my life. I think that was a big stepping stone to my current presence as a U.S. distance runner. That was, I think, what gave me the confidence to get me where I am today.
RD: Along the way, has there been anyone, a coach or a family member that's been a role model or inspiration for you in your development as a runner?
Shalane: Gosh, I could list lots of people. I've had specific role models within the sport each step of the way. Basically, it's like a culmination of all the people from my high school coach to my college coach. Everyone's contributed in their own little way to making me the runner that I am. I think most importantly  parents play the most instrumental role in fostering kids and their dreams at an early age and letting it grow from there.
RD: Do you have any words of wisdom for youngsters aspiring to become runners, especially young girls?
Shalane: Yeah, definitely. I think it takes a lot of self-belief. I think what's great about athletics especially for young women is the self-esteem it builds. Just keep driving on that. As a child in elementary school, I would beat all the boys in the physical fitness tests and that just really built my self-esteem and it was great to feel really good about yourself. Keep believing in yourself and surround yourself with people that want to help you achieve your goals and dreams.

A big thank's to the  Nissan's Innovation for Endurance program for making the interviews possible and a huge thanks to Kara and Shalane for taking the time to share a little about themselves with the readers of RunnerDude's Blog. The entire RunnerDude Family will be rooting for you both at London! Best of Luck!


Half Crazed Runner said...

Wow! My idols! And you got to interview them! Wow! The closest I get is just following them on Twitter! Great post - Thanks!

Lisa@RunWiki said...

I was at the Bolder Boulder and had the pleasure of meeting Kara and reading her book "Running for Women" She is an inspiration and a completely genuine person. Can't wait to watch her run for the USA.

RunnerDude said...

I Lisa! That's awesome! They're both great ladies! Looking forward to the Games later this month too.

GM @ Gm Runs said...

I LOVED reading these interviews. SO awesome you had the opportunity to talk to them! Jealous to the max!!!!