Book Review- The Longest Race. Inside the Secret World of Abuse, Doping, and Deception on Nike’s Elite Running Team by Kara Goucher with Mary Pilon

It seems like so many elite runners are coming out with books lately and each one has their own unique story. This book by elite runner Kara Goucher is a page-turner filled with her personal running journey but also the scandal that happened when she was running with the Oregon Project. But first some background on the authors.

Kara Goucher is a three-time NCAA champion, two-time Olympian, silver medalist in the 10,000 meters at the 2007 World Championship, and podium finisher at the Boston and New York marathons. She currently is a running analyst for NBC Sports and cohost of two podcasts, the Clean Sport Collective which promotes fair play in sports and Nobody Asked Us with Des & Kara, with elite runner Des Linden.

Mary Pilon is a New York Times bestselling author of The Monopolists and The Kevin Show. She cowrote and cohosted the audio series Twisted: The Story of Larry Nassar and the Women Who Took Him Down. She previously covered sports at The New York Times and business at The Wall Street Journal. She is a story producer on BS High, HBO’s documentary about the Bishop Sycamore High School football scandal.

The Longest Race is written in chronological order of Goucher’s life and goes back to when she won her first race at the age of 6, a one-mile race her grandfather took her to. After that race, she was hooked on running. She briefly lived in New York and New Jersey until her father was killed by a drunk driver when she was three years old. Her mom moved back to Duluth, Minnesota along with Kara and her two sisters to be with family.

Goucher tells of her many wins on the cross country and track teams but also her difficulty to be recruited by a college after struggling with slowing times her senior year of high school. She ended up running at the University of Colorado where she met Adam Goucher, who she would end up marrying. Adam was an accomplished runner as well, with many track and cross country titles and an Olympian.

During her fifth year of college, Kara was the women’s NCAA cross country champion in the fall but didn’t do as well at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in the spring due to a knee injury and feared no one would offer her a sponsorship to go pro. However, John Capriotti from Nike offered her a four-year contract, which she excitedly took.

Despite struggling with injuries, both Kara and Adam were offered the chance to move to Portland, Oregon to be a part of the newly formed Oregon Project coached by Alberto Salazar, a legend in the running world. He had earned many running titles including Olympian in 1980 and 1984 but his most famous race was the “Duel in the Sun” showdown where he out kicked Dick Beardsley in the last 50 yards of the 1982 Boston Marathon and set a new Boston record just before he collapsed and was rushed to the hospital for an IV drip of six liters of saline solution.

Goucher tells the story how Salazar treated the runners on the Oregon Project as family and was a father figure to herself and Adam, and seemingly the other runners as well. But little by little, Salazar’s shady side surfaced. Goucher mentions sexually charged comments made by her coach and other men working for Nike, her coach’s excessive drinking, and even massages given by Salazar himself, despite the fact that he was not a trained massage therapist and Nike had no shortage of those on staff.

Those massages did indeed turn completely inappropriate on two separate occasions, according to Goucher, when she and her coach flew to races in other countries, basically when his fingers traveled a bit too far. She was so shocked she thought it must have been a mistake and neither said nor did anything at the time to anyone. It was only years later that she admitted to others what had happened.

In addition to inappropriate comments and behavior mentioned in the book, there were several times when Salazar did some questionable at best things when it came to athletes on the Oregon Project and certain medications not sanctioned by the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). It wasn’t until 2014, after the Gouchers had left the Oregon Project that a reporter with ProPublica reached out to Adam with suspicions about the Oregon Project and doping. What followed turned out to be an enormous scandal covering athletes from all over the world.

Many runners were stripped of former medals due to doping, while others, like Kara were being upgraded. Although Kara had been awarded the bronze medal at the 2007 World Championship in Osaka, the silver medalist was found guilty of unauthorized drug use, meaning Kara was then the silver medalist. An anonymous whistleblower from within the International Association of Athletics Federations provided British and German journalists with files on 12,000 blood samples from 5,000 athletes who had competed between 2001 and 2012. It went deeper than doping. IAAF president Lamine Diack, along with other IAAF officials, were charged with money laundering and corruption.

There are many more details covered in the book, too many for me to discuss here. In fact, I found the book so accurately detailed at first I thought it was unusual, until I remembered the intense interviews the Gouchers underwent when they were interviewed by the FBI and other groups before the doping scandal with Salazar and others broke. It was obvious Kara kept careful notes of everything, no doubt in her running journals but also private journals, as she mentions in the book.

In the end, this book just made me sad for the sport and how tarnished it became in the 2000’s when the scandal broke. It also made me sad that Kara suffered in silence for so many years and how she had to endure the inappropriate comments not only from Salazar but other male executives at Nike, and her poor treatment by the company especially during her pregnancy, which she details in the book. I should note that both Kara and Adam Goucher were not found guilty of any inappropriate use of performance-enhancing drugs or any other wrongdoing during any investigation. Alberto Salazar, on the other hand, was suspended for doping allegations then barred for life from coaching by SafeSport for sexually assaulting an athlete (Kara, although she was not personally named in the report).

That being said, I did find the book intriguing and found the pages flying by as I read them. Kara Goucher’s story is a unique one, and one that I would like to say didn’t happen to other runners, but two other female runners from the Oregon Project were also effected negatively by Salazar. Mary Cain came forward and said that Salazar shamed her for her weight in front of other Oregon Project team members and Amy Yoder Begley said Salazar told her he was kicking her off the team because she had “the biggest butt on the starting line.”

I can only hope that because of the courage of these women to come forward, do the hard thing, and speak up, things can only get better in the sport. Unfortunately this kind of thing probably happens more than anyone realizes. When the runners are pros and their career and salary are at stake, it’s difficult if not seemingly impossible to speak up against their coaches, especially ones with male-dominated companies like Nike.

Kara Goucher says she received death threats and endured negative comments when she came forward about Salazar. Despite all of the heartache running has brought her, she says she still is in love with running and is hopeful things will get better as long as people refuse to remain quiet when it comes to doping or sexual abuse. I would like to be hopeful as well and think this book sets a precedent for the ability to be more open and be able to speak up.

Have you read this book? If so, what did you think? Is it on your list of books to read?

Happy running!


Book Review- Good For a Girl. A Woman Running in a Man’s World by Lauren Fleshman

When I heard former elite runner Lauren Fleshman was coming out with a book, I excitedly checked to see if my local public library had a copy. Sure enough, they had several copies ordered and I put myself on the waitlist. When I picked up the book and skimmed through it walking out to my car I could tell it wasn’t just another book written by a runner. This was Lauren Fleshman’s own personal journey in running, not just some generic story.

I suppose I should back up a bit and not assume everyone is familiar with Lauren Fleshman. She literally grew up running and after graduating high school in Southern California ran on a scholarship at Stanford University. She won many running awards and was 15-time All-American and five-time NCAA champion. She also finished in the top five at the NCAA Cross Country Championship three times.

After graduating with an MA she went pro with Nike and joined Oregon Track Club Elite in Eugene, Oregon. Injuries in her foot plagued Fleshman for several years and held her back from ever competing in the Olympics, although she won several other events during this time including the Diamond League events and 5k national championships. In 2012 her contract with Nike expired and she signed on with Oiselle, at the time an up and coming all female athletic company. Fleshman retired from professional running in 2016. In the peak of her running career, she co-founded a company that made energy bars called Picky Bars, which was later sold to Laird Superfoods in 2021. She has also coached many athletes, most notably for Littlewing Athletics, a professional running team sponsored by Oiselle.

Lest you think she lived a perfect life, Fleshman faced the gender bias that was all too common for girls like her growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, which I can also relate to. This idea that women are inferior to men, especially physically, had a profound effect on Fleshman and it’s obviously a theme throughout the book. She also personally experienced the pressure for athletic girls to lose weight to the point of doing irreparable harm to her body, specifically with broken bones caused by amenorrhea in Fleshman’s case. As an adult, she has made it a point to try to reverse the damage done to girls and boys as well in high schools and colleges when it comes to body image in relation to performance in sport.

As she gives specific examples by telling her unique story, it becomes apparent that Fleshman didn’t have an easy life. She had to fight for everything she achieved and her fight was likely even harder since she had minimal female role models or advisors along her journey. Perhaps that’s why it’s so important for her to get her story out to young girls in sport and make sure they are better informed than she was.

Another overarching theme throughout the book is Fleshman’s relationship with her father and her need to make him happy. He was an alcoholic but it seems other than one instance mentioned in the book he wasn’t abusive to his family, at least not physically. Her father seems to have been supportive of Lauren and the rest of his family but she nonetheless had a drive to always do things to make him happy. This is a conclusion she only comes to later in life that is part of her need for perfection, not only in running, but in all aspects of her life.

The pages flew by when I was reading this book and every night before bed, I found myself sucked into her storytelling, wondering what would happen next. At 260 pages, it’s an easy read and isn’t full of advice, running or otherwise, workouts, or anything other than Lauren Fleshman’s own personal journey as a runner. If you can’t tell by now, I enjoyed this book and would recommend it for others, especially runners who may be able to relate to her stories a bit more, although you certainly wouldn’t need to be a runner to appreciate her story.

Have you read “Good For a Girl?” and if so, what did you think? Do you like to read memoirs by runners? If you haven’t read this book, is it on your list of ones you want to read?

Happy running!


Book Review- Run Like a Pro (Even If You’re Slow). Elite Tools and Tips for Running at Every Level by Matt Fitzgerald and Ben Rosario

Have you ever been curious about what it’s like to be an elite runner? I personally have never wanted to run for a living but I know many runners who are at least curious about that type of lifestyle. This book claims that elite runners aren’t as different from us mortal runners as we might think.

Matt Fitzgerald has written over 20 books and has been a contributor to many publications like Runner’s World and Outside. He is a runner and while in his late 40’s he had the opportunity to run with the NAZ elite Hoka team in Flagstaff, Arizona for three months. Another of Fitzgerald’s books, Running the Dream: One Summer Living, Training, and Racing with a Team of World-Class Runners Half My Age (which I have not read) is apparently partly about his experience in Arizona and trying to achieve a lofty goal time at the Chicago Marathon. In this book, Run Like a Pro, Fitzgerald also discusses some of the things he learned from that experience in Flagstaff.

Ben Rosario, the co-author, is the head coach of the Northern Arizona (NAZ) Elite team, which he and his wife Jen founded in 2014. The NAZ elite Hoka team is considered one of the best distance running teams in the United States. Rosario’s contributions to the book includes Coach’s Tips at the end of each chapter.

The book is broken down into 14 chapters but the last five chapters are training plans, starting with beginner’s, intermediate, and more advanced levels each for the 5k, 10k, half marathon, marathon, and ultramarathon distances. Several of the chapters include topics you would expect like nutrition, recovery, and managing mileage but there are also chapters on mindset (Think Like a Pro) and how to learn to pace yourself (Pace Like a Pro). I believe mindset is a huge divider between “middle of the pack” runners and “faster” runners. If you think you aren’t capable of running fast, you likely won’t be. Of course you have to put in the work but if you don’t think you can ever get faster, chances are you won’t.

Some points from the book that I thought I’d highlight here includes one that shouldn’t be surprising but really drives home the difference between faster runners and slower runners. In a 2017 study in Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine with 97 marathon runners, they found the faster runners trained much more than the slower runners, and there were incremental increases with a link between training runs and marathon times. In other words, if you run 30 miles a week on average and run a marathon, you’re probably going to be considerably slower than someone who trains 60 miles a week for a marathon, and someone who trains 60 miles a week will likely be slower than someone who trains 80 miles a week. Of course there is a limit and everyone needs to find that sweet spot of enough miles to be challenging but not too many to break down the body.

Another point Fitzgerald emphasizes is we should be measuring our runs by time, not distance. Like he says, on marathon day, someone running 10-minute miles will take longer to finish than someone running 7-minute miles so you need to prepare by spending that time on your feet. He also says to consider your event focus, but not too much. If you’re training for a 5k, your first thought might be that you don’t have to run that long of long runs since a 5k is only 3.1 miles. However, he says elite runners stay in shape for running anything from a 5k all the way up to a marathon, with the mindset that if you’re fit enough to run a marathon, you should be fit enough to run a 5k as well.

One of the most important points in the book and one that I really need to get better at is the 80/20 intensity balance. This means you should run 80% of your training runs at a slow enough pace that you can carry on a conversation and the remaining 20% of your runs should be at a high intensity. He says too many runners fall into the moderate intensity rut, where you don’t slow down for the majority of your runs so that when it’s time to focus on speed work, you don’t have enough left in the tank to run them as fast as you would if you would have slowed down on the other runs. It’s emphasized to sit down and calculate the paces you should be running for each run to make sure you’re meeting the 80/20 balance.

As you might expect, there are pages and pages of what I’ll call body work exercises, like form drills, plyometrics, and strength training exercises. Form drills (like butt kicks) are important for good form, plyometrics (like box jumps) increase running economy, reduce ground contact time, improve running performance, and increase leg stiffness. Form drills are usually done during a warm-up but sometimes during a run and plyometrics should be done on their own a couple of times a week. Strength training moves are also included and should be done once a week to start, building up to twice a week. There are also corrective exercises in the book such as foam rolling, hip flexor stretches, balance exercises, ankle mobilization, and toe yoga.

The book is rounded out with subjects like rest, sleep, stress, and nutrition. One thing to note about rest is that it means sitting around and playing board games or something similar, not running errands for a couple of hours in a day or doing housework. As you’ve probably heard before, most elite runners sleep around 9-10 hours a night with a nap in the middle of the day. I’m not sure about you, but it’s just not feasible for me to just run, eat, nap, do exercises, cross-train, and sleep, with little to no stress or other obligations in my life, like the elite runners are supposed to do. But then again, that’s their job, not mine.

Bottom line, this book has some useful tips for us “ordinary” runners and reminders for stretches and exercises that would be good to do but is it really that simple that if you follow the advice in the book you’ll become as fast as an elite runner? For most of us, of course not. We’ve got jobs, families, housework, and a million other things, while running is just something we do on the side. Is it possible to get faster if you follow the 80/20 balance, incorporate some of the stretches and drills in your running, and do your best to eat healthy, get a good night’s sleep most of the time, and keep your stress level manageable? Absolutely.

Have you read this book? Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be an elite runner?

Happy running!


%d bloggers like this: