Saturday, March 25, 2023

Kara Goucher's The Longest Race

I recently finished reading Kara Goucher's new book The Longest Race. Setting aside the more shocking details described in the book for a quick moment, I was touched by the story she told about her family, the unconditional love they share, and the support they continually provide for each other. 

If one thing stands out, it's that Kara is tough, not just as an athlete but as a survivor. She mentions struggling to find her voice at times, especially after her coach, Alberto Salazar, touched her inappropriately and ultimately sexually assaulted her while giving her a massage, but she eventually did find and use her voice in the best ways possible. 

Many people, especially women in situations involving older men, can relate to being confused, scared, and unsure of what to do in a moment when something doesn't feel right. During traumatic events, humans don't always know how to process what's happening and might use disassociation or even try to normalize the situation as a way to cope. We question whether or not our experience is accurate, if it happened at all, or if it happened exactly the way we remember. 

I'm reading Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow, the story that helped uncover Harvey Weinstein’s abusive escapades in Hollywood, and the author stresses that it's not uncommon for women to be intimidated with methods of gaslighting or worse after a man in a position of power takes advantage. Sometimes it doesn't take threats, and the fear of reaching out for help or even verbalizing what happened comes from within. We are products of a society that doesn't encourage victims expressing themselves, and sometimes when those who have been abused do come forward, there can be harsh consequences. 

There's so much shame associated with sexual assault, and quite often, judgment is misplaced to the point where the victim feels guilty. In the end, Kara, despite facing various threats and lawsuits over the years, stood her ground and told her story, one that is bound to help others in similar situations find the courage to speak up. 

It's encouraging to see the support Kara is receiving after coming forward and exposing the underbelly of our corrupt sport. That underside is not pretty. Today's female athletes are a new kind of pioneer in the running community, true heroines of the sport. No longer are they trying to prove that women can run (they have already demonstrated this); they are fighting for equal or better salaries, a better environment, and a healthier future for younger girls moving up the ranks.  

In 2017, Alysia Montano brought attention to the difficulty of competing as an elite female athlete when she showed up for the 800 at the USATF Outdoor Championship and ran while she was not just pregnant but a very noticeable 34 weeks pregnant. It was a standout moment when people were slapped with the reality that something needed to change. Had she not toed the line, her Nike contract and, as a result, her income, would have been suspended. This was a turning point. Just as much of the world was beginning to accept that women shouldn't be forced to choose between their careers and becoming a mother, we learned that this applies to being a professional athlete, too. 

Kara wasn’t alone in facing similar situations when she was injured or recovering from giving birth. In her case, she was even pressured to prepare for a race shortly after her son, who was an infant at the time, had been operated on and was still in the hospital. The situation eventually pushed the new mother to leave his side in an effort to restart her salary that had been suspended because she was, in Nike terms, "absent from the competition" due to her "medical condition" i.e. being pregnant. Fortunately, her husband, Adam, was there to take care of their son, but it doesn't take away the heartbreak of a mother being forced to make such a painful choice. 

Because Kara's book describes so many obstacles she had to overcome, it's easy to forget what a decorated and outstanding athlete she truly is, and because of her many accomplishments, it's easy to forget how young she was when she was running so well. Running isn't as extreme as gymnastics when it comes to youngsters being on top, but kids just out of high school, or newly in or just out of college often compete on an international stage. 

Kara started doing well in running when she was just a child, and by the time she was in college, she was a champion several times over. Her list of personal bests and wins is impressive, jaw-dropping, even. She comes across as down-to-earth, self-reflective, compassionate, and at times a little bit insecure in her book, and she doesn't boast about the many accomplishments she achieved. Any wins that are mentioned are stated in a matter-of-fact way, but there's no doubt about how hard she worked for her goals. I've always admired Kara as both an athlete and a person, and reading her book only made that admiration stronger. 

One other issue Kara addressed but not deeply is her troubled relationship with food. She didn't go into tremendous detail, but it sounds a lot like what Lorraine Moller experienced, dancing on the edge of an eating disorder without falling completely into the abyss. Such is the case with many athletes. I was glad to see her bring it up, though, and she acknowledged that forming healthier eating habits wasn't as simple as eating a fucking Dorito. In fact, when she ate a Dorito that her husband encouraged her to consume while they were waiting to get dinner, it made her uncomfortable, even if it was the best choice for her hungry body at the time. It was good to see that she didn't discount the very real emotional aspect of these illnesses or imply that simply eating is an easy fix. 

As I moved through Kara's book, I spent a lot of time reading between the lines and speculating about drug use, not just in professional running but in the sport itself, and how many coaches and their athletes are guilty of outright doping violations or use more subtle forms of cheating, thyroid medications or asthma inhalers, for example. It would be almost impossible not to speculate given what she implied and outright stated. I have questions that went unanswered and may never be addressed. 

It's so easy to find ways to get an unfair edge these days, and so many results seem incredibly far-fetched, right down to those found at the high school level. I suspect and have said it before that I think most people at the elite level are, at minimum, using methods that aren't kosher, and I'm 100 percent sure these questionable practices ooze into the trail and ultra-running scene.  

What does it all mean now that Nike has once again been exposed as a shitty company that takes advantage of its athletes, supports dopers, and protects abusive coaches? Probably not as much as everyone had hoped in terms of overall change, but that doesn't discount Kara's efforts as well as those who really are working to try to change the running environment. People, even those who claim to support Kara, will still get excited about wearing shoes with a swoosh. On the other hand, already, thanks in large part to Kara, one less abusive coach is able to inflict harm on other athletes. 

I think chipping away at megacorporations and bringing to light their ugly, dark side (and Nike's nadir is exceptionally grotesque) can eventually generate small changes that may, in turn, lead to larger ones. 

Regarding people who are working toward the betterment of the athletic community, I don't include individuals who are simply trying to be seen and boast about being advocates; I'm talking about those who have taken actual steps, shared heartfelt personal stories (not ones that fit a narrative), and have been honest and continue to be upfront about who they are. Even those who are not at an elite level but get out there and encourage others to do the same can be incredibly inspirational and good for the sport. 

Both Kara and Lorraine Moller did a really great job of bringing their books to a nice conclusion. Each one had a way of coming full circle. Kara brings the reader back to her message of the love and support she received from friends, family, and fans alike. There are a lot of people in her corner, but a small coterie of individuals close to her really stepped up to back her through her hardest moments. 

One of the reasons I admire Kara so much is her ability to adapt and change. Both she and Lorraine have this skill in common, and I'm not sure people outside the running community can understand how difficult this can be for some of us. I'll save my more involved thoughts about identity and being a runner for a separate post. 

In conclusion, The Longest Race is an easy-to-read book that's hard to put down, especially if you happen to like and look up to the author. As much as it's Kara's story about her career as a runner, it's about addressing a deeply flawed system that allows athletes, especially women, to be abused. Thank goodness Kara came out the other side of all of this and can continue to feel the love and support she deserves. 

In other more personal news, I'm not going to say much about why I'm no longer employed where I was recently and for many, many years. My job was something I rarely discussed, and I plan to keep it that way. Unlike a lot of people, it seems, I'm not vindictive or malicious so will hold my tongue, even though I think it would do me good to write about it. Suffice to say that I finally expressed my needs and attempted to set some boundaries going into a meeting, and the response was about the biggest fuck you I have ever experienced from any employer, ever. 

What's that saying, though? When a door smacks you hard on the ass on your way out, a window opens? Something like that. I'm pretty sure everything worked out for the best. 

I don't remember where I saw the quote below, but I do like it. I'm not into wishing others any ill will, but sometimes I hope there's a little poetic justice in the world. The best revenge, though, is being able to let all the grisly shit go and move the fuck on without looking back. 

"Karma is a bitch? Oh no, honey....Karma is a classy wise elder who will calmly sit you down and serve you a tea you later realize was laced with the same poison you served others for years."


  1. I guess I'm not surprised that Megan Roche is pushing powders of all kinds while telling people to avoid bacon. An article about eating disorders doesn't make deep nutritional recommendations and definitely doesn't tell people to heal a relationship with food by switching to powder.

    1. An article about eating disorders also shouldn’t trivialize recovery or imply recovery is as simple as eating a Dorito, use specific numbers about mileage, or continually suggest food should be seen as fuel for running or working out instead of sustenance everyone needs whether or not you exercise.