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Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon: Goucher comes home

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Duluth native Kara Goucher finishes the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon in 1 hour, 18 minutes, 15 seconds. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)2 / 2

The strain Kara Goucher has been under recently showed up during a post-race news conference this morning after the former Duluth resident finished the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon.

The tears that flowed from Goucher’s eyes weren’t because her time of 1 hour, 18 minutes, 15 seconds was 8½  minutes behind her course record set in 2012 nor because it was slower than the 75-minute expectation she had set.

Instead, the 39-year-old Boulder, Colo., resident’s mind was on a stressful personal crisis that doesn’t involve on-the-course running.

“It’s something I’ve been dealing with a long time and it’s something that came to a head the last couple months,” Goucher said. “Everyone in my family is fine, but it’s put a lot of stress on my family and myself in particular. A month from now I’m going to be much better. It’s been really draining.”

Goucher said she couldn’t discuss the situation publicly until the issue was resolved.

“I wish I could talk about it, but I’ve been going through a lot of stress and pressure and traveling,” she said. “Honestly, if it wasn’t Duluth I wouldn’t have come. It was hard but I still had fun.”

Goucher, who hasn’t run competitively since placing fifth in the 2017 Garry Bjorklund, didn’t feel fit from the beginning and said she considered dropping out early despite embracing the 50-degree temperature and cloudy skies.

“I thought the weather was great,” she said. “I thought I was in sub-75 shape and had I felt well the weather really would have helped me. I knew right away it was going to be a battle.

“If I was in any other city, I would have dropped out at Mile 3.”

Goucher has plans to run a marathon in December, but is uncertain which one. Her plans for her running career are near a crossroads as she has yet to determine whether to continue to pursue world-class marathoning or try her hand at ultramarathons.

“I don’t know if my body could handle it, but a 100-miler would be the ultimate,” she said. “I think I would start with a 50-miler and see if I’d survive that first. Boulder is a big ultra-running community so I’ll probably pull my friends aside and ask their advice before I do my first one.”

Goucher is still hoping to qualify for the marathon in the 2019 World Championships before making any decision.

Monicah Ngige (Clint Austin / DNT)“I just want to see what I can do. Can I be competitive on the U.S. stage? Can I be competitive as a master?” she said. “I don’t really know yet because I haven’t done marathon training in a couple years. I just want to see what I get out of myself.

“If I worked really hard and had great training and I had no interruptions and I ran a 2:35, then maybe I would know I’m aging a little bit and then I’d consider trying something new.”

Monicah Ngige, a 24-year-old who trains in Nyahururu, Kenya, but lives in Lansing, Mich., won the women’s half-marathon in 1:09:55, 10 seconds from breaking Goucher’s race record.

Ngige, who ran with eventual runner-up Sarah Crouch for nine miles before speeding up and cruising to a minute-and-a-half victory, had some extra incentive from her sponsor, Nike, to do well in just her second half-marathon.

“They give me the Nike gear, but they give me the option (to make money),” she explained. “If you run this half-marathon, get a good time, then they pay me. I hope they (are pleased with the result).”

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Mkungo cold but victorious

Panuel Mkungo (Clint Austin / DNT)Panuel Mkungo doesn’t need to worry about 50-degree temperatures in Kenya.

The 24-year-old who trains in Elkton, Md., said it took plenty of time for his body to warm up in the early morning before he pulled away from two competitors to win the men’s Garry Bjorklund.

Mkungo was timed in 1:02:50, about a half-minute off his personal-best time but nearly a minute faster than the time he ran in finishing fourth a year ago in the Bjorklund.

“Today was I coming here to win the race,” Mkungo said.

Mkungo, countryman Macdonard Ondara and Fernando Cabada of Lakewood, Colo., ran together until around the 10-kilometer mark of the 13.1-mile race when Mkungo opened up a sizable lead.

“I was trying to wait to move until 15K, but then I decided to go from 14 kilometers,” Mkungo said in explaining his move to the front. “I was feeling good, running well and controlling the pace. But I was slowed by the cold so I couldn’t manage to go faster. I tried to push to the end but at times I felt too cold, so I decided to stay with the pace until my body warmed up.”

Mkungo ran a 1:02:21 in the 2017 Philadelphia Half Marathon and had targeted a time of 61 minutes here in Duluth.

However the pace was relatively slow with Ondara, the 2016 Bjorklund champion, laboring to keep up.

Mkungo said Ondara was affected by drinking cold water so he tried to stay away from it until his body warmed up.

Cabada, who has contended in this race several times and was eighth a year ago, finished second in 1:03:22.

Kenyan Boniface Kongin of Albuquerque, N.M., was third in 1:03:41 and Ondara came in fourth six seconds further back.

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