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Duluth's Goucher ready to conquer Boston

The cover of the May 2009 edition of Runner's World features Kara Goucher as she prepares to run the Boston Marathon. (Submitted photo)

Women are introduced halfway into Tom Derderian's book "Boston Marathon, the First Century of the World's Premier Running Event."

That's where Kara Goucher started reading, and became inspired.

"It's almost overwhelming to think of all the amazing runners who have run along the Boston course," Goucher said recently. "I'm excited about being part of something that has such a rich history. I'm excited to become part of that history."

On Monday, the Duluth-raised runner will step to the line of the 113th Boston Marathon at 8:30 a.m. in Hopkinton, Mass., a challenger in the elite women's field that will start first. It's her second career marathon and first in Boston. Goucher, 30, says she desperately wants to be the next American woman to win a major marathon in the United States.

The last American woman to win the Boston Marathon was Lisa Weidenbach in 1985. The last American man to win the Boston Marathon was Greg Meyer in 1983.

The first woman to unofficially complete the Boston Marathon was 23-year-old Roberta Gibb, finishing in 3 hours, 21 minutes, 40 seconds in 1966. Women still weren't allowed in the race the next year, but Kathrine Switzer registered as K.V. Switzer and officially finished in 4:20 as a 19-year-old journalism student from Syracuse University.

The race, the world's oldest 26.2-mile run, didn't recognize an official women's winner until 1972 when Nina Kuscsik ran 3:10:26.

"The more I read [Derderian's] book, the more excited I got," Goucher said. "I'd love to be a chapter in the book."

The competition will be stiff, including defending champion Dire Tune, 23, of Ethiopia, who has run 2:24:40, and former champion Lidiya Grigoryeva, 35, of Russia, who has run 2:25:10. Goucher debuted at the distance Nov. 2 in the New York City Marathon, placing third in 2:25:53, the fastest first-time finish in U.S. women's history.

Boston's prize money for the top three finishers, men and women, is $150,000, $75,000 and $40,000.

Goucher, who lives in Portland, Ore., is viewed as the next great marathon hope among American women. Running Times magazine ranked her No. 1 in the United States for 2008.

"She's shown what she's capable of, and a lot of people want an American to win in Boston," said Patty Wheeler of Duluth, Goucher's mother, who will be at the Boston finish line. "That's a lot of pressure, but Kara has really taken to the distance. She likes the hard-core training."

Performances in the past 10 months have pushed the Nike-sponsored runner toward the top of American distance running, aided by coach Alberto Salazar. Since last June, she claimed her first U.S. title, winning at 5,000 meters on the track in the U.S. Olympic Trials; placed in the top 10 at 5,000 and 10,000 meters in the Summer Games in Beijing in August; set the women's course record at the U.S. 10-Mile Championship in St. Paul in October; set personal bests indoors winning in the mile (4:33.19) and 3,000 meters (8:46.65) a week apart in January and February in New York and Boston; and won the Lisbon (Portugal) Half-Marathon in 1:08:30 on March 22.

In training for the Boston Marathon, she has had eight weeks of 100-plus miles and five weeks of 90-95.

"To be able to run fast at shorter distances, right in the middle of marathon training, really shows how strong Kara has become," said Kendall Schoolmeester of Portland, Goucher's younger sister and a former Duluth East and University of Colorado runner. "There's a careful balance between confidence and looking too far ahead, but she believes she can win."

Goucher was particularly focused during two weeks of altitude training in Flagstaff, Ariz., spanning March and April, said Adam Goucher, Kara's husband and a former U.S. track Olympian at 5,000 meters. He said she got away from the pre-Boston hoopla and was able to tackle some serious sharpening workouts.

"That did her a world of good, and she's as ready as can be. She's hands-down the strongest I've ever seen her," Adam Goucher said. "If she does everything she's capable of Monday and gives everything she has, and there's nothing left, she'll have done her best. But, in reality, she's going there to win and that excites her. She wants to be a part of history."

On the cover of Derderian's book in 1996, the centennial year of the Boston Marathon, is a smiling Uta Pippig of Germany, the women's champion in 1994, 1995 and 1996.