There’s a reason Kara’s Kara. I’m not alone in the feeling that when you talk with her, it’s like talking with a best friend, from the way back – like you’re laughing about all the funny things you did and said as kids.
The inner journalist in me was also happy to get what I believe is her first in depth interview following the Track Trials. I was happy to have this conversation with her as a friend, but also as someone who cares deeply about her athlete story, and her steadfast love of running.
I enjoyed the convo so much and I hope you do too!
I know you’ve had to take some time off. Take me through your Spring/Summer and how your body’s been feeling?
KARA: After the Marathon Trials, I was really proud of my effort but I was disappointed. That begging question of “could it have worked out differently?” I knew I did everything that I could on race day. But prior to the race. I had gotten sick the week before. What if that hadn’t happened? I don’t know. That terrible lingering doubt.
On the other hand, look at the Olympics we had this year. We had our best U.S. finish in the history of the marathon. It was a fantastic team.
The falling short was driving me insane. So after the Trials, I set my heart on the 10K at the Track Trials. Back at home, after a big day of K’s [1000m repeats] and a lot of plyos, it turned into a sore hip that turned into a sore knee. And the knee pain continued.
You must have been feeling urgency, was that stressful?
KARA: Absolutely. I had several time crunches. And in my career, when I have time crunches, I often made the wrong decision, plowing through. What I really wanted was a do over at the marathon trials. And then I was trying to get a do over, and force it. I made the mature decision to shut it down and get my knee healthy.
What happened next?
KARA: When the doctors went in to look at my knee, they said it was more complicated than they thought. When I woke up from that surgery, everyone was sad. I was like “what’s going on?” They said, “No, it went great, but you need more work than we thought.”
To be totally honest, I was really devastated. I had in my mind that I was going to run Berlin or Chicago, and then I had to accept that that wasn’t going to happen this year. The doctors said I would come around, but I needed to take time off running completely. That was in early June. But I set my sights on getting better, and stayed positive. I had a second surgery in the middle of July, and I’ve been steadily recovering from that.
How did that shape your summer?
KARA: Being injured this summer was terrible. But it was also a blessing in disguise. With a new schedule, and time of year, I got to know Colt even better. By 10:00am, I was done with my workout (swimming or biking), and we spent so much time together. I also spent a lot of time with my family in Minnesota.
At the same time, I was depressed. Situational depression. And it was simply because I missed running. I started swimming. The first day, I swam I had to get out after 500m. I couldn’t do it, that was it. Now I can swim almost two miles! I started riding my bike everywhere, to the grocery store, errands.
It sounds contradictory, but it was one of the best summers of my life, but also one of the darkest summers of my life. We got to do all these things that I never get to do, and I enjoyed it wholeheartedly, but the reality was that I didn’t want to be alone in my thoughts. I was really sad.
We’ve been talking a lot at Oiselle about identity. Athlete identity. Sounds similar…
KARA: Totally. At the core, I’m a runner. And just by nature, I have tendencies to get low, and it’s always when I can’t run. I told my sports psychologist that it had been one of the best summers of my life, and he’s like yeah, you’re clinically depressed. I missed running. I missed the feeling, I missed the impact. Swimming, cycling, those are good, but they just don’t give me the same feeling that running does.
I think there are a lot of people who can relate. And in the midst of all this, the Olympics were happening. Were you tuned in?
KARA: At first, I was like I’m going to not watch the Olympics. I’m just going to watch Kate, and Jenny, and Emma. But by the second night, I was totally hooked.
First, the swimming. I was totally addicted to Lily King. And following all those stories. Simone Biles, incredible. Then Track & Field. I was crying when Jenny won her medal. I know how hard she’s worked for it. And Emma, we were all screaming at the computer in my kitchen. And Kate, every time she stepped out, it was so big. I genuinely enjoy watching other people have those moments. I might be that person, the super fan. I’m hooked on these stories.
During the games, I also had to accept the fact that I would get nothing done. I would watch it live, and then I’d watch it again in the evening. I’m like what’s going on? I was watching the race walking. I was watching the judo. I was ALL IN.
What were the stories that spoke to you?
KARA: I was really interested to see Lily King, and how she spoke out about doping. Katie Ledecky, so fascinating how much better she was than everyone else. Simone Biles, a total pocket rocket, so strong. In Track & Field, I enjoyed watching Bolt make history. The men’s 400m. The women’s marathon was very exciting.
What was your reaction to Lily King speaking out?
KARA: At first there was a collective gasp – because athletes had never been that vocal before. It took a good 24 hours, but a day later, people are like “It’s okay that an athlete is saying if you’ve been banned twice for doping, you shouldn’t be allowed to compete at the Olympic Games.” And that’s a shift.
It’s encouraging to see this shift. You’re not a sore loser if you point out the dopers. And that’s the way it should work. If you’ve been caught, you’ve made your bed, and that’s your consequence. You shouldn’t be able to compete. Lifetime bans, I believe in them.
Right now, if you’ve been caught, it’s about who has the most money and best lawyers. In my mind, if you broke the rules, then you don’t get to compete anymore. I’m harsh on that stuff. Or maybe a first ban of 8 years. The consequences need to be harder.
The ways around the doping protocols have been proven. People know how to micro dose. They know how to work the system. Jama Aden’s hotel was raided and they found tons of EPO on him, and all his athletes are there – but they were all competing in Rio.
There needs to be more funding in private investigators, someone sleuthing where these athletes are and what they’re doing.
Totally. It feels like they’re always one (maybe five or six) steps ahead.
Okay, so changing gears, what’s your hope, athletically, for the rest of this year and 2017?
KARA: If I can get healthy, I want to aim for the Worlds Marathon Team in 2017. My Trials performance puts me in a good spot for that, but obviously, I’ll have to be able to train. And it will also depend on how people run in Chicago and New York.
There are a lot of variables, but I’m totally okay with just saying I want to see if it comes together. Mark and Heather don’t want me to retire, they want to set a next goal, so we’re in agreement on that.
That’s fantastic. And you have your third retreat coming up in October! Are you feeling ready?
KARA: Yes! Our third Podium Retreat is October 13-16th in Tuczon, Arizona – at a beautiful resort.
It’s the largest one yet. And it’s the first one I planned 100% myself. Adam did the first one, we did the second one together, and this one has been all me. This time, I took ownership of it completely.
I’m really excited. We have a couple new speakers. It’s going to be really good. I’ve loved it the last two years, but I did feel like it was a bit rushed, so this year we added a day.
What was your original inspiration to do the retreat?
KARA: After the Olympics in 2012, Tracey Katona took me to Canyon Ranch where she teaches dance. At the time, I was upset about my race, but I wanted to bring happiness to people. That weekend, I took all of her dance classes. I loved the atmosphere there. Some people had danced professionally, some people just loved dance, and some people had never taken a dance class in their lives, and they were all just doing it. Their love for dance brought them together. By the end I was bawling. Afterwards, I said “I want to do this. I want to do this for runners.” It wasn’t until 2014 that I could pull it off.
The first year, I said come to my retreat, and they came – but I didn’t want it to be about me. So I didn’t share that much. But that was a mistake. And then during the second one, I realized it was okay to talk to about myself. It’s not being cocky to say they want to hear my story. Let my voice be heard.
Agree! Last year was incredible!
Will you tell your story again this year?
KARA: Ha, yeah, that’s what Adam said I should do. To be honest, I feel like I blacked out last year, I don’t remember. That’s kind of good. I’ll bring that pure energy again. When I try to rehearse something, it’s terrible. It’s never gone well when I have a lot of rehearsed material. In fact, when people say, “I’ll send you the questions in advance.” I say, “Don’t bother.”
Good to know. I’m never sending you questions in advance.
KARA: Laughs, yeah don’t.