The Time I Lined Up Behind Kara Goucher

By Carissa

If you live in Portland and are a runner you probably know who Kara Goucher is.  This Olympian and elite athlete lives in the same neighborhood as I do and yet I’ve never seen her in person until this past Saturday.  You’d think I would have run into her at the local grocery store, coffee shop, or park but I haven't.  I’m actually glad this is the case because if I did I would really want to introduce myself and would be a bundle of nerves.

Last week there was a post on the Team Athena Facebook page asking who would be running the Red Lizard Stumptown Cross Country 5k on Saturday.  The ladies wanted to make sure they had a team of at least four.  I was planning on doing a tuneup race on Saturday so I volunteered to run with the team.  I had done one other cross country race last year and it was casual and fun.  On the post one of the ladies mentioned that Kara Goucher might be racing.  How fun!

I met my teammates at 8 a.m. on Saturday morning.  The race was in NE Portland at Fernhill Park.  I saw Kara with some ladies who run for Bowerman Athletic Club.  I felt a bit star struck but resisted the urge to introduce myself.  Instead a couple of us ran the course to get familiar with it and warm up.  Most of it was on grass and this intimidated me.  Aside from running by feel I really didn’t know what kind of pace to expect.  After all this was only my second 5k and my second cross-country race.

A warm up of two miles or so would have been it for me but my teammates are more seasoned runners.  I followed their lead with some drills.  Before I knew it the start was approaching.  Runners were stripping down to tanks and shorts.  It was in the 40s and I felt out of place in my running tights.  Women were heading to the grassy starting line and doing some strides.  I stayed put.  All these pre-race rituals were new to me.  One of my teammates started talking about running the angle and lined up on the outside of the start.  She must have been onto something because Kara and teammates had done the same.  And thus I found myself lined up for a race behind Kara Goucher.

Getting into position before the start.
(Photo courtesy of Red Lizard Running)
We got the pre-race warning and all around me women dropped into a starting stance.  I stood tall not knowing anything else to do.  The race started.  I remember being about 200 meters in and still able to see her in the front of the pack.  It was as if I expected her to be gone in a flash.  It certainly wasn’t long before she did disappear.  So did my teammates and about half of the women racing.  This field was fast.  Or maybe I was slow.  

I settled into a comfortably hard pace.  I only passed a couple of women over the course of the race.  My splits were 6:49, 7:06, 6:54 and 6:11 for the last .1.  According to the race results I ran it in 21:09 (6:49 avg.)  I finished 30 out of 56 women and 13 out of 18 for my age.  To finish middle of the pack really spoke to me about the level of competition out there.  For such a casual race there were some serious runners.
At the start of the race.
(Photo courtesy of Red Lizard Running)
Kara and gang sat in the grass stretching as I came barreling into the finish gasping for breath.  Unfortunately the race did not go well for two of my teammates.  One pulled out when her shoelace became untied and she could feel an injury flaring up.  Another teammate hear something pop in her heel and was carried to her car after the race.  

After the race was finished, we did a cool down (another new concept for me) and I hit up a most delicious spread of post-race goodies.  I went for a breakfast burrito, coffee and chocolate milk.  There was also Dave’s Killer Bread, jam, peanut butter, hot apple cider and bananas.

Huddled up post race with my teammates.
(Photo courtesy of Red Lizard Running)
I’m really happy with this event put on by Red Lizard and I’d be happy to run more of their cross-country races.  I have to admit that running across grass makes the race feel more adventuresome.  The icing on the cake was racing behind elite athletes.  

I’ll leave you with this quote from the book 4:09:43 by Hal Higdon.  It refers to marathons but was also the case for Saturday’s race.  “One of the great appeals of marathon running is that you share the playing field with the best in your sport.  In almost no other sport is this possible.

I’d love to hear from you Sole Sisters, have you run cross-country?  How do you feel it compares to road races?  Have you ever felt out of your league in a race?


  1. Wow! That is so fun! I would be star struck for sure. I look at race times from you girls in the NorthWest and I'm always so impressed. Way more competitive than here in KY. I look forward to hearing more about your training and races - from all 3 of you!

  2. This sounds so fun! Did your legs feel better running on the grass? What surface do you usually train on?

    1. It definitely was fun. I normally train on roads, treadmills and trails. The grass did feel good but I tend to roll my ankles so that made me nervous.