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It's become a cliche to laud athletes-turned-new-mothers for losing the baby weight, regaining their competitive momentum and successfully plunging back into their sports. But Olympic distance runner Kara Goucher had a little more to contend with in her return to racing this month.
Goucher finished Sunday's Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Half-Marathon in 74 minutes -- a slower pace than she had intended, but impressive when you consider what happened in the week leading up to the race, as her 4-month-old son, Colt, underwent emergency surgery for a staph infection in a lymph node.
Mother and baby are both doing fine, as they say, after their respective physical ordeals, but Goucher's training went out the window as she kept watch at the hospital. She called it the most stressful week of her life.
"About six miles into the race, the adrenaline was like gone from my body," she told reporters on a Wednesday conference call to discuss her next stop -- the New York City Half-Marathon on March 20. "It just felt like, 'Oh, my gosh, I'm so exhausted and I still have seven miles to run in this race.' At that point, I kind of thought about him and I thought, 'You know, it took me two hours and 25 minutes to push Colt out; I can certainly manage this for half that time.' I just thought, 'Take advantage of this opportunity and get through it.'"
Goucher, 32, trains in Portland, Ore., with coach Alberto Salazar. She gave birth to her son in September, part of a runners' mini-baby boom, and began running a week after Colt was born.
"My mom was visiting, and I said I was going to go out for a walk, but I put on my running clothes because I knew in the back of my head I was going to try to go run," she said. "But the first couple of weeks I was just so tired. Colt didn't know what day or night was at that point. I didn't know anything about babies at that point, so I was just totally overwhelmed. So the first couple of weeks that I was running were just surviving, kind of."
It would be another two months before she settled into a routine of morning and afternoon runs with lifting in between. She nursed until earlier this month.
Goucher will race just one full marathon -- Boston in April -- before she attempts to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team at the marathon trials a year from now. Meanwhile, she'll race on the track and hopes to compete in the 10,000-meter event (one of her two Olympic events, along with the 5,000) at this summer's world championships.
"Honestly, I think it will be a benefit," she said of her maternity leave.
"On a personal note, I was sort of able to reconnect with why I started running in the first place, because I did travel around to a lot of races and stuff. I think that time off, even though I was pregnant and I ran through it, it gave me sort of a rest, and I think in a year from now I'll be, by far, in the greatest shape I've been in my life."
New York was the site of Goucher's marathon debut in 2008, when she finished third there.