Every runner that enters a race has a unique motivation behind competing: racing for the challenge, for the achievement, for the health benefits, or for more personal reasons. But whether they are twenty-mile-a-day elite marathoners or twenty-mile-a-week recreational runners, each of them can invariably point to a singular performance as “the best race I ever ran.”
My Best Race is a collection of those singular performances. In this inspirational collection, fifty runners, from Olympians and world champions, to courageous disabled athletes and middle-of-the-packers, share their personal accounts of what they consider the best race they ever ran—and why.
Contributors include a top marathoner who sacrifices his place on the Olympic team to pace his friend to the final qualifying spot at the Olympic Trials; “The Central Park Jogger” who finishes a race she founded to benefit disabled athletes, fourteen years after being left for dead from a brutal attack that gripped the nation; an unheralded high school runner who beats a previously undefeated state champion—and who goes on to become a two-time Olympian; the woman race organizers tried to physically remove from the male-only Boston Marathon in 1967; and forty-six other runners.
“Such wonderful and inspiring stories by a diverse group of runners—bravo!” —Ryan Lamppa, media director of Running USA
“What a fascinating concept! . . . A very unique and inspiring collection that gives great insight into the minds of runners.” —Keith Brantly, member of the 1996 US Olympic marathon team
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2012 USA Half Marathon Championship
"There's a point in a race where you're on the edge and you're pushing so hard and you're riding this line and if you push a little too much you're going to blow up, but if you keep riding that line something special can happen." On June 16, 2012 something special did happen to Kara Goucher on the streets of Duluth, Minnesota. Not all of it involved her setting a course record, however. The Olympian had finally returned home to give something back to her community, and in the end they gave something back to her as well.
Kara Goucher was only six years old when she first displayed the spunk and determination needed to win three NCAA championships and berths on two Olympic teams. "I ran my first race with my grandfather when I was six," she says. "He took me to this local one mile race and I got tripped at the start and had a bloody knee. He picked me up and thought I'd just want to return home because I was a real girlie girl. Instead I'm told I said, 'Let's go! We're getting beat already!'" Still it would be many more years before Kara would begin running regularly. "In junior high I decided to try for the Triple 'A' Award," she recalls. "You had to have a certain GPA for academics, you had to do an art (she was in the band), and you had to do athletics. The two athletic options at my school were volleyball and cross-country running. I tried hitting the volleyball and my wrist hurt so bad I thought there was no way I was going to make that team. The cross-country team was meeting the next day and I heard they didn't cut anybody, so I joined. My un-athleticism actually worked out for me."
Kara continued running in high school, and in her freshman year she beat a state champion and earned a spot at the state championships for the two-mile run. Eventually she realized just how far running could take her. "I liked winning," she says. "I was never particularly good at anything, so for me to be able to win some races was pretty cool. In my sophomore year I qualified for the Foot Locker National Cross-Country Championships and got to ride on a plane to San Diego when it was snowing back home in Duluth. Then I learned in the hotel I didn't have to share a bed like at the state meets when we were crammed all together. For the first time in my life I felt that running was something really special and something that could take me places."
At the University of Colorado Kara was a three-time NCAA champion, but her racing career was interrupted by injuries her senior year and for the next three years after signing with Nike as a professional. "I only raced once or twice a year due to injury and thought about retiring," she recalls. "I really struggled with the transition from college to pro." Once she was injury free and under the tutelage of coach Alberto Salazar, however, she blossomed as an elite runner on the international stage and competed in the Beijing Olympics in both the 5,000 meters (3.1 miles) and 10,000 meters (6.2 miles). "I began training more like a professional," she remembers. "That whole lifestyle of getting massages and lifting weights really turned things around for me. Then Alberto convinced me to try the marathon and I loved it and really enjoyed the training and the whole process. I grew up watching Grandma's Marathon in Duluth and would hand out water to the runners and cheer on my friends, but I thought they were all crazy to run that far and I would never do that." But she did, and when Kara finished third in the 2008 New York City Marathon, it was the fastest marathon debut ever by an American woman.
Four years later after taking time off to give birth to her son, Kara was back in top form and had a decision to make. Having qualified for the 2012 Olympics in the marathon, she was given the option by her new coach, Jerry Schumacher, of going to the Olympic Trials to run the 10,000 meters or to Duluth to compete in the USA Half Marathon (13.1 miles) Championship. The race was to be run in conjunction with the annual Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon. "For me it was a no-brainer," she says. "I was already on the Olympic team in the marathon, and I rarely got to go home and never got to race at home. For my hometown to be hosting the championship was amazing. Duluth had supported me so much over the years and I wanted to show them how much it had meant to me. I wanted to not only win but break the course record to show everyone in Duluth that, of all the runners and Olympians who have come through there from all different countries, the girl who grew up there was the fastest."
The half marathon would be Kara's only race before the London Olympics in August, and her coach did not want to ease off in her training. A typical workout for the thirty-four-year-old past and future Olympian? Running for forty-five minutes at six-minute-per-mile pace before "cutting down" to 5:30 pace over the next forty-five minutes. "I was running a lot of miles," she recalls. "I was doing about 100 to 120 miles a week and I knew that, without a taper, the half marathon was going to be tough." Kara arrived a few days before the race and stayed at her mother's house outside Duluth. From there she drove into town to reacquaint herself with a running route that would once again play a big role in her life. "Two days before the race I ran the last four miles to remind myself of that part of the course. It was right down the street from my high school and I had run on those roads literally thousands of times. There were so many memories of that place where I fell in love with running; it was very emotional for me to go back. And it was almost surreal to be running professionally at a place where I had run so many times growing up."
"Kara, you went to high school with my daughter!" The well-wishers greeted the hometown girl from the minute she arrived in the warm-up area to long after the race had ended. "It was hard for me to even do my warm-ups," she recalls, "because all these people wanted to tell me they knew me or remind me that they knew me or that I was in English class with their son, but it was really fun. Literally on the starting line it was like, 'Hey, Kara, you ran the relay in high school with my daughter!' I was thinking, 'I'm about to run a race, you can't come talk to me right now.' It was crazy, but crazy in the best way. It didn't annoy me in the least."
Besides not being able to taper her workouts before the race, Kara had been concerned about a sore heel that was bothering her. But once the race began, her focus was more on her pace than anything else. "The course record was seventy minutes, which is exactly 5:20 per mile, and I didn't want to go out too fast at the beginning and put a target on my back. My coach said to stop worrying about the course record — he just wanted me to run smart. But the girls went out hard at 5:15 for the first mile and I thought, 'Oh my gosh, no one's going to hand this race to me. I would have to earn it.' That was actually good because we got into a good rhythm right away and the pace did start to sag a little bit. I just wanted to run with people as long as possible until I felt confident I could make a move. I ran with a group for about five miles, and then it was just me and Maegan Krifchin until about eight miles. I could see then that if I didn't start after the course record it wasn't going to happen, so that's when I decided to take a risk and put myself out there and go for it. I calculated I had to average 5:15 from there on out in order to run seventy minutes. It was a pretty significant change of pace at that point and I was able to put some distance between myself and Maegan."
Just as it was before the race, the locals continued their outpouring of support for Kara along each mile. "It was just amazing," she says. "There were signs with my name on it and people were so funny. There was this group of guys that yelled, 'You don't know us but we went to high school with you!' One person even ran alongside me and said, 'Hey, Kara, you probably don't remember me but you ran with my daughter.' I had to tell him, 'I'm racing right now!'"
But any levity she experienced along the course was soon replaced by the mental and physical stress she faced in order to sustain, but not exceed, that demanding pace. "It was tough and I was tired," she recalls after reaching eleven miles. "I was definitely riding that line and breathing hard. I ran past my coach who said, 'You've got to dig now, make it hurt,' and that really motivated me. Since I missed the split time at the twelve-mile mark I didn't know if I was going to get the record or not; I just knew I was running hard. At that point I was hurting. Before I was trying to look good for everybody on the course, but at that point I was starting to run 'ugly' but there was a good reason for it; at the end I learned I was running at 5:08 pace."
Near the end of the half marathon course the runners navigate a turn in the road before getting a view of the finish line 150 yards in the distance. "My form wasn't as good as I would have liked it to be because I was running as hard as I could," she says. "The crowds were really big but all I could think about was the time. I was still too far away to see the clock, but finally it came into focus and I realized I was going to get the record. I started sprinting as hard as I could, and I remember I just roared when I crossed the line because I was so pumped!" Kara's wining time for the 13.1-mile race was 1:09:46, a course record by fourteen seconds.
"At the finish were all these people from my past. My high school coach was there and my cross-country teammates, and my family, and my grandparents who were crying. They all literally saw me grow up running on my first team as a twelve-year-old and were there through thick and thin for me. To come back twenty-two years later and still be running was like coming full circle for me. It was the highlight of my career finishing that race in front of everybody that I love who had been there from the beginning before I was anything special. And it was just so much fun. I had the time of my life out there on the course with all those people. It was a thing of pride for the community and it was an unbelievable thing for me. I've never felt so loved and embraced, and that's why it was the best race I've ever run."
Running Tip: "It's just about running for all the right reasons and choosing your races for the right reasons. I think when you make decisions based on your heart, more often than not it works out in the best way possible and you appreciate the journey so much more."CHAPTER 2
1972 Olympic Trials Marathon
With a quarter mile to go in the Olympic Trials marathon, Jeff Galloway and Jack Bachelor were tied for third place. Unfortunately, only the top three finishers would earn a coveted spot on that 1972 team; in the harsh reality of Olympic qualifying, fourth place is as good as last. "When we entered the stadium for the finish, the crowd saw two people together with only one spot left on the team," says Jeff, "but I was in perfect control over the situation."
Jeff's 140-mile training weeks, with a long run of up to thirty miles every third week, had prepared him perfectly for that race, endowing him with the physical strength and mental toughness needed to compete at the highest level of competition in the grueling 26.2-mile contest. It was no surprise, therefore, to see him on the cusp of making the Olympic team. By contrast, Jack was not expected to be among the leaders so late in the race. The 10,000-meter (10K) specialist, struggling just to hold the pace, had focused his training more on quarter-mile speed workouts than high mileage; his longest run leading up to the race had been just 18 miles. Recalling the situation as they entered the final straightaway, Jeff says, "I felt wonderful. I was at the top of my powers and Jack was really pretty much exhausted."
Distance runners learn early on, however, that nothing is ever a sure thing. Even in the shortest races, something beyond their control — a cramp, a heat wave, a loss of confidence — can turn a dream into a nightmare. If Jeff really was "in perfect control over the situation," why did he suddenly fade at the end to finish fourth? And why does he still consider it the best race he ever ran?
Today, Jeff Galloway is a highly regarded running coach and author of some of the most popular books on running ever published. And while he was arguably in the best shape of his career back in 1972, he was anything but fit as a teenager. "I was a fat kid," he says, "and the reason I even got into running was because I had to choose a winter sport in high school." Learning that the cross-country coach was the most lenient in the athletic department, the choice was easy. "On the first day we just told him we were going to run on a trail, then all we had to do was jog into the woods and hide out." The strategy worked for a while until the day a friend made Jeff tag along with the serious runners; it was a day that changed his life. "I was pulled along by the energy of those runners," he recalls vividly, "and I knew it was something I wanted to do. Ever since then I wanted to be part of a running group."
Throughout high school and college, Jeff learned the value of being a part of the running fraternity, and when the decision came for graduate school, he enrolled at the University of Florida so he could join the newly formed Florida Track Club. The founder of the club was Jack Bachelor, and another member was Frank Shorter, who would eventually become one of the most successful and popular runners in the United States. "Jack was our mentor," says Jeff. "When things got tough he would kick us in the butt, but he was also patient and understanding. It was just a fun time and he was a fun person."
With a focus on the upcoming Olympic Trials, Frank Shorter found some inexpensive housing in Vail, Colorado and invited Jeff and Jack along so they could all train at altitude. "I was always grateful for that opportunity," says Jeff. "I felt that training significantly improved my performance." Indeed, after returning from Vail, Jeff ran a 10K race two minutes faster than his previous best time, giving him the confidence to enter the Olympic Trials at that distance as well as in the marathon. "The marathon was the better event for me and my best opportunity to make the Olympic team," he says, "but I wouldn't miss the opportunity to at least compete in the 10K trial."
No one was more surprised than Jeff when, after seven laps, he found himself in third place behind Frank Shorter and Jack Bachelor. "It was about ninety degrees in Eugene, Oregon that day at the start of the 10K trial, and I was in last place for the first mile. But I had trained in Florida and was used to the heat, so I took my time and didn't exert myself early in the race. Then I noticed a guy in front of me slowing down so I passed him. Sure enough, someone else was slowing down so I passed him too." As other runners faded in the heat, Jeff caught and passed them until he was in third place. "That was the first time I realized I was really in the mix for the Olympic Games. It was an exhilarating experience. Then I caught up with Jack and passed him and finished second. It was the greatest surprise I ever had."
But the storybook ending of club mates Frank Shorter first, Jeff Galloway second, and Jack Bachelor third was not to be; Jack was passed by another runner near the finish. According to Jeff, however, there was a simple solution that would enable Jack to make the squad. "I would drop off the 10K team," says Jeff, "and allow Jack to move up from fourth to third place and qualify. After all, I still had a good chance to make the team in the marathon — that was a better event for me." But instead of finishing fourth, Jack was not even listed in the final results. In a ruling that remains questionable to this day, he was disqualified from the race for swerving out of his lane and accidentally bumping that passing runner.
Now the only remaining chance for Jack to make the Olympic team was in the marathon a week later. But he had two things working against him at that distance. Since he wasn't planning to run the marathon, his longest run leading up to the trials had been only eighteen miles, which, at an elite race level, is not enough. Also, according to Jeff, Jack tended to go out too fast like he did in that 10K race, and as he had done in his previous marathons. "Jack was so down," says Jeff.
But from his high school days running cross-country, to the camaraderie of the Florida Track Club, and to his recent training camp in the mountains of Vail, Jeff had grasped a valuable lesson. He knew the friendships formed in those groups are more important than how fast or how far one can run. "I had learned that running is the type of experience that can be enriched by the associations with other people, and it's even greater when you have a chance to share the wealth of things we get from running with a friend. So I told Jack I would take the responsibility of pacing him through the Olympic Trials marathon.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "My Best Race"
Copyright © 2013 Chris Cooper.
Excerpted by permission of Diversion Publishing Corp..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1. Kara Goucher,
2. Jeff Galloway,
3. Donald Arthur,
4. John Stanton,
5. Zola Budd Pieterse,
6. Scott Tinley,
7. Amy Hastings,
8. Chris Russell,
9. Trisha Meili,
10. Marty Liquori,
11. Craig Virgin,
12. Paul Gompers,
13. Molly Huddle,
14. Steve Scott,
15. Ed Ayers,
16. Jenny Barrington Simpson,
17. Miguel Galeana,
18. George Hirsch,
19. Ed Eyestone,
20. Dawna Stone,
21. Weldon Johnson,
22. Marla Runyan,
23. Dick Beardsley,
24. Keith Brantly,
25. Jennipher Walters,
26. Brian Sell,
27. Allen Leigh,
28. Alvina Begay,
29. Gerry Lindgren,
30. Jon Sinclair,
31. Lisa Rainsberger,
32. Jason Karp,
33. Pam Reed,
34. Cecily Tynan,
35. Dan O'Connor,
36. Kim Jones,
37. Cathy O'Brien,
38. Heather Gannoe,
39. Don Kardong,
40. Jessica Crate,
41. Ryan Lamppa,
42. Kathrine Switzer,
43. Anne Audain,
44. Larry Rawson,
45. Kenley Ferrara Potts,
46. Hyleas Fountain,
47. Roger Robinson,
48. Alexa Martin,
49. Judi St. Hilaire,
50. Bart Yasso,
About the Author,