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Grandma's Marathon: Record not on Goucher's mind in half-marathon

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Kara Goucher carries her son, Colt, as she celebrates winning the 2012 USA Half Marathon Championships in Duluth. Goucher returns today to run the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon, where she owns the women's course record. 2012 News Tribune file photo 4 / 4

The Edmund Fitzgerald Hall at the DECC was full Friday afternoon as Kara Goucher took a leisurely stroll down memory lane, hitting the highlights — plus the lows — of her fairytale running career that gets a restart at this morning's Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon.

Those in the standing- and sitting-room-only crowd no doubt were thinking something along the lines of:

Forget conservative — go for the win.

Goucher was quick to rein in expectations. She won't duplicate 2012's record-setting performance on this course, when the 1996 Duluth East graduate enlivened her hometown fans by winning the USA Half Marathon Championships in 1 hour, 9 minutes and 45 seconds.

"This is not going to be the most beautiful race I've ever run, but if I go out and get caught up in the early stages, it'll be even uglier," Goucher, 38 and a Boulder, Colo., resident, said during Friday's news conference for Grandma's Marathon elites. "I am committed to running a 75-minute pace for eight miles, and then I'll either slow down or speed up."

Goucher is racing for the first time since an agonizing fourth-place finish at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in February 2016. After falling just short in the marathon, she briefly focused on reaching her third Olympic Games on the track, at 10,000 meters, but her body wouldn't cooperate.

Goucher had surgery on her left knee last June, and a second in July.

Recovery took longer than expected. Three months into it, Goucher was ready to resume training. She went in for an MRI and was told, nope, eight more weeks.

That didn't go over well.

"That was hard," Goucher explained during a recent podcast with Runner's World. "We went to the store and I told (6-year-old son) Colt, 'Pick out whatever candy you want,' and he was like, 'Really?' And then we got home and I opened a bottle of wine, Colt's eating candy and (husband) Adam was like, 'What happened?' "

MRI results happened.

"This sport can be so brutal," Adam Goucher, himself a one-time Olympian, said. "You can feel like you're doing everything right, and still something can get you."

Kara Goucher eventually snapped out of it and began stringing together consistent workouts. She arrives in Duluth rejuvenated, itching to put on her uniform and race again. During an easy four-mile run Friday, Goucher had goose bumps.

"I haven't had that in a year-and-a-half," she said. "I'm just excited to go through that routine — get up early, have my own meal, have some nerves even though I'm not trying to do something crazy. But I'm trying to run as fast as I can right now. I'm excited to feel that."

Owner of the fastest half-marathon time ever produced by an American woman (1:06:57), Goucher hopes today serves as a springboard to a fall marathon and a return to the competition she savors.

And what a race to start her way back. Goucher grew up spectating at Grandma's, first handing out water along London Road, and then observing near the Kitchi Gammi Club. In 2012, when the Bjorklund served as the national championships, she was dominant, breaking the tape a minute ahead of the runner-up.

The home stretch was a prolonged coronation for the hometown star, whose emotion was evident. Goucher was fired up.

Later that summer, she was 11th at the London Olympics marathon.

While Goucher is determined to exercise caution this morning, even a modest — for her — 1:15 would put her near the top of the leaderboard. Last year, for example, Simegn Abnet Yeshanbel was victorious in 1:13:21.

Adam Goucher, who will offer support while biking the course, said his wife won't "get caught up in someone else's race." But, he said, "she will run hard regardless."

"I do think that she downplays where she could end up being," he added.

Today's field became more manageable when Kenyan Caroline Rotich, 2015 champ of the Boston Marathon, dropped out earlier in the week because of a health issue. Hopefuls include Biruktayit Degefa of Ethiopia and American Tara Welling.

The 27th Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon goes off at 6:15 this morning, followed by a 7:45 start for the 41st Grandma's.

41ST GRANDMA'S MARATHON

Where: 26.2 miles along North Shore Drive from Two Harbors to Canal Park Drive

Who: Field of 8,740

When: 7:45 a.m. today (wheelchair start 7:40 a.m.)

Radio: WEBC-FM 106.5, with simulcast on WEBC-AM 560, at 6 a.m.

Information: (218) 727-0947; www.grandmasmarathon.com

27TH GARRY BJORKLUND HALF MARATHON

Where: 13.1 miles along North Shore Drive from Talmadge River to Canal Park Drive

Who: Field of 8,892

When: 6:15 a.m. today

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