Q&A: Kara Goucher

The Olympic runner talks confidence, setbacks, and the power of mantras

It takes more than a strong body to remain at the pinnacle of long distance running for decades. To do so, Kara Goucher developed mental techniques to rise above the challenges of her sport. Her success is obvious: She dominated the New York Marathon (she placed third in 2008, becoming the first American on the podium in over a decade), the Olympic games (making it to both Beijing and London), and the Boston Marathon (finishing third in 2008, fifth in 2011, six months after giving birth, and sixth in 2013).

She reveals her secrets in her new book, Strong: A Runner's Guide to Boosting Confidence and Becoming the Best Version of You. Here, she discusses her inspiration, her career, and her tools for self-confidence.

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Photo: Oiselle

Why this book and why now?

I’ve always struggled with mental side of the sport. I’ve tried everything under the sun to gain control of my confidence. I even went to a dance therapist in high school, awkwardly dancing to relieve stress. One of the tools that’s helped me the most is a confidence journal. I write in it every night. It makes me acknowledge something positive about that day, even if I had a bad workout or race. It’s a practice of recognizing the work that I’ve put in and all of the positive developments along the way. I’ve shared this, and one day a publisher approached me. Throughout the writing process, the book evolved into a bunch of tools with information on how they work and how I’ve used them.

Let’s talk about one of those tools. How have mantras helped you overcome self-doubt?

Picking a mantra helped me focus on what I wanted out of training and the end goal. When the going gets tough and you repeat a mantra so many times, it brings an emotional response. Different mantras for different seasons help you focus on what you’re trying to accomplish and help turn off the noise around you.

Can you share some of your personal mantras?

I’m the queen of negative self-chatter, telling myself, 'I don’t belong, I’m just this girl from Minnesota, how did I get here, I’ve been fooling everyone.' For a while, my mantra was 'I still belong.' It reminded me that I was supposed to be there. It’s also important to have a power word, like 'I’m confident,' 'I’m courageous,' or 'I believe.' When those negative thoughts creep into my head, I say this phrase. This helps me focus back on myself. That’s really the theme of the book: When you focus on yourself, you measure yourself against yourself. When you do that, you can’t fail.

What about physical hurdles? You recently had two knee surgeries—how did you overcome that?

I’ve had 10 total surgeries over the course of my career, so I feel like I’m one of those people who can deal with anything. In a weird way, I was relieved. I wasn’t in my head about it. Whatever was wrong, like bone spurs or having a tendon taken out, were all things that could be fixed. I never feared surgery, and I didn’t fear the comeback either.

In those final moments of a race, does life slow down or speed up?

Honestly, it’s a combination of both. When I won my first national title which were the Olympic trials in 2008, those last three steps I felt like, 'Oh, my God. This is actually happening!' It was a blur after that. All of a sudden, I’m at training camp and the Olympics. Now that I’m older and looking back, I wish I slowed down a little bit. But that’s also the nature of the game, you’re always looking ahead.

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