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Goucher wins women's U.S. Half Marathon Championship

Duluth native Kara Goucher raises her fist in celebration as she approaches the finish line of the USA Half Marathon Championships on Saturday in Canal Park in Duluth. Goucher broke the course record in winning the race. (Clint Austin / / 2

Near the finish line, a fist-pumping Kara Goucher finally was able to show what returning to Duluth meant to her.

Goucher, who will run the marathon at this year's Summer Olympics in London, won the USA Half Marathon Championships women's race Saturday, setting a course record in 1 hour, 9 minutes and 46 seconds.

"I had to try and shut my emotions down during the race because I was trying to get something out of this race and prepare for London," the 1996 Duluth East graduate said. "But there were times that people were telling me very personal things like 'You ran the (4x400 relay) with my daughter.' It's hard to tune that out.

"When I came down Superior Street with two miles to go, I literally had goose bumps because people were cheering so loud. Every elite athlete dreams big dreams when they are growing up, and for me to come here on my way to the Olympics, I couldn't have asked for anything more."

Goucher, runner-up Maegan Krifchin and Lindsey Scherf ran the first five kilometers together before Goucher eventually pulled away to win by 70 seconds and break Colleen De Reuck's course-record time by 14 seconds.

For Goucher, who lives in Portland, Ore., with her husband, Adam, and son, Colt, it was a good step on her way to the Olympics later this summer. Upon changing coaches from Alberto Salazar to Jerry Schumacher of the Oregon Track Club, Goucher said, she -- unlike training partner and fellow Olympian Shalane Flanagan -- never finished one of Schumacher's workouts leading up to the U.S. Olympic Trials.

"Shalane always went at least a mile, if not 11, 12 or 13 miles further than me," said Goucher, who netted $12,000 for winning the race and another $2,000 for running it under 1:10. "But I do every single step with her now. I went through a very weird period last summer -- I had my son, I wasn't sure what I wanted anymore, I was injured and I knew I wanted to change but didn't know if that meant not running anymore. By the time I found a new coach, I had let myself go a little bit as far as an elite athlete goes. I had put myself in that position and was holding myself accountable. I've been healthy since then and now am on a level playing field with everyone."

Goucher, whose best marathon time is 2:24:52 at the 2011 Boston Marathon, is hoping for a time in the low 2:20s in London.

"I feel like I'm a different athlete now," she said. "I'm not confident that I could break 2:20, but with help -- and in a marathon there would be a lot of help -- I feel like low 2:20s is realistic."

On Saturday, her main help was an adoring crowd.

"It was tough because everyone on the road was cheering for Kara and I don't think anyone knew who I was," said Krifchin, who set a personal-best time of 1:10:56. "As I was running by, the crowd was going wild and crazy for Kara. And that's great because it's her hometown and I respect that, but it's hard to hear that.

"But even though they were cheering for her, hearing the emotion and joy from the crowd helped me, too, and pumped me up. Whether it was my name or Kara's, it was getting me motivated."

It's a long time removed from when Goucher used to hand out water to runners on London Road, and wonder why anyone would ever run 26.2 miles.

"I never thought I'd run the marathon; I thought it was crazy," she said. "A lot of my friends would run the half marathon, which was just starting, and I thought they were crazy."

Goucher described the weekend as the high school reunion she never had, having missed an actual East reunion due to running another race. She said she is forever appreciative of the support she receives from her hometown.

"This community has embraced me forever -- since I started running when I was 12, almost 22 years ago -- and they've been there for me through it all," she said. "For me to come back and do this, it's the best way I can thank them."