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The movements, recently, of Kara Goucher and Ryan Hall to new coaches remind us, once again, what a unique obligatoriness the sport’s world-wide habitué thrusts upon those that carry, at least for a while, the mantle of their hopes. Think of it – an elite running career – a sort of albatross and at the same time a love affair. Wasn’t it the legendary Japanese marathon runner Toshihiko Seko who said, “the marathon is my only girlfriend, I give her all I have.” Elite training, albeit typically a labour of love, requires a monstrous body of backwork until desired results are attained, then the pressure arrives and so go the patience of both those who place said athletes upon the proverbial pedestal as well as the athletes themselves; and it can all come crashing down with one sub-par performance. Queue the perpetual comeback stories, but they have to end eventually.

Runners dispatch themselves to the mountains and mild-to-warm training climes to enhance their training environment and so it seems switch coaches too. The physical toll becomes a badge of honour, should the burden of training, full-time, be rewarded by reaching great heights; few do.  Those that do, save for the Haile Gebreselassie’s that run among us and there aren’t many, in fact there is precisely just one seemingly age-less Emperor among us, preserve little time at the top. So it is with great interest that we find Goucher at 35 and Hall at 31-years-of-age having recently moved coaches. The re-entrance to elitism, after a sort of exile, is not unknown. In this case, Goucher has one last crack, while Hall almost needs to resurrect his career; the latter holds greater possibility.

Hall, again will be coached by himself with God’s guidance, I think, for now. He was recently receiving guidance by famed Italian coach Renato Canova, but he did not start a handful of consecutive major races he had scheduled to run. The move was announced in December 2012, since then Canova, who coached and some would say cherry-picked the most talented African runners, departed to China. In July of 2013, Hall returned to being self-coached and God-guided. He started off, as many kids do, being coached by his father, a recreational and age-group competitive marathon runner himself. After competing for Stanford under the tutelage of the legendary Vin Lanana, Hall, the younger, moved to Terence Mahon for several years before turning to trusting in himself and his faith for guidance. Things haven’t been the same since.

Kara Goucher recently announced her move to Mark Wetmore, the famed – perhaps iconic coach of the University of Colorado Buffaloes, her alma mater. Wetmore is one of the most successful coaches in NCAA history.  Goucher was coached for the past two years by Jerry Schumacher, who also coached Shalane Flanagan and Lisa Uhl, two of America’s best distance runners. Goucher rose to her highest level under Nike Oregon Project’s Alberto Salazar, for two years before the Schumacher era. Many are curious as to why she left Salazar and why she isn’t going back; why would anyone leave success, mid-stream? Salazar coached Olympic gold medallist Mo Farah and continues to coach Olympic silver medallist Galen Rupp.

Goucher, who owns a 10,000m best of a 30:55.16 and a half-marathon best of 1:06:57, seeks to climb that hill at least one more time; a pursuit of the ultimate performance, she did say she wants to regain some of her former speed, she should, while she still has the chance. Her days are somewhat numbered, and the fans know it, the obligatory weight must come more from intrinsic motivation.

Outside the running columns, trackside video interviews and popular chat forums, what connects Goucher and Hall to the fans? What connects any elite athlete to the fans? Performance! Performance first and arguable consistency second; the ultimate performance can trump an entire career, and it is the runner’s position to continually pursue the next, sometimes the final courageous elite performance. Truth is, Hall, a man who owns a 59:43 half-marathon and 2:04:58 marathon bests– both national records – cannot possess divine knowledge, he has to keep faith in his career, but seeking guidance from a living and breathing coach would be his wisest move.

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