Early October was a whirlwind between racing in the Chicago Marathon, playing my first Pink Feathers show in Portland, and attending Kara Goucher’s Podium Retreat in Tucson, Arizona. I’m still willing myself to write about Chicago (it was rough), so I’m kicking off with a recap of the retreat!
This was my second year attending Kara’s Podium Retreat. I initially signed up for it because, duh, Kara Goucher. I’ve been following her career since I began seriously running and paying more attention to the competitive running world in 2007 or so. I look up to her the most out of any runner I’ve met or read about. She’s a fiery competitor on the road and track and unlike many athletes, shows unabashed raw emotion when sharing about her experiences with training, racing, and motherhood. I could go on and on about my favorite Kara moments, but I’ll just list two:
- The 2009 Boston Marathon. Kara’s goal was to win and she put herself in the position to. It came down to her and two other women at the end, Dire Tune and Salina Kosgei. I remember watching on TV and seeing Kara rip off her gloves somewhere in the last mile, throw them aside, and give everything she had to the finish line. She fought right down to the wire. She placed third, which was a huge feat for an American, but she wasn’t running for third. She burst into tears after crossing the finish line, and later at the press conference said “I’m proud of how I ran. I’m proud of how I did and I raced the best that I could, but I wanted to be the one who won for everybody.”
- The 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials. After two life changing years, in which she went public on BBC with accusations toward her former coach for unethical practices, left her former sponsor Nike for Oiselle and Skechers among others, dealt with multiple injuries, and even considered quitting the sport altogether, Kara rebuilt herself from the ground up into top form going into the marathon trials in LA. She was ready to show the world that she was back on her own terms, and she did, finishing with a time of 2:30:24 on a blazing hot day. Only, three other women were faster and she did not make the US Olympic Team.
My intention isn’t to highlight Kara’s losses, but her true spirit in the way she handled them. She’s a fighter, she’s resilient, she wears her heart on her sleeve, she has strong convictions, and she expects only the best from herself.
I went into last year’s retreat, held in Breckenridge, Colorado, excited to learn more about training, nutrition, and everything else that goes into being a world class runner. Those things were covered, but they quickly became secondary to the core message of the retreat, which was to examine the way you treat yourself, share your story, listen to others, and make friends with a bunch of kickass women. It was completely therapeutic in a way I wasn’t expecting. I told myself then that I had to come back the next year, which brings us to the 2016 retreat in Tucson.
I went into the retreat this year without the nervous butterflies I had the year before. I had gone solo before, but this time I paired up with two roomies, Kim and Cynthia. Upon arrival, I was greeted enthusiastically by Kara’s staff and longtime friends that I had met the first year: Lottie Bildirici, founder of Running On Veggies, Anna Paffel, Dr. Amy Oldenberg, Tracey Katona, founder of Katona Pilates, and Shanna Burnette, co-founder of ModCraft. They set me up with some great swag including gear from Kara’s sponsors, Skechers, Nuun, Zensah, and Oiselle.
The first evening kicked off with a happy hour and dinner outside under twinkling lights in the gorgeous Tucson evening.
I got to say a quick hello and give a hug to Kara, the woman of the hour, as well as many attendees I recognized from last year. I made an effort to talk to women that looked a little unsure or were standing alone, because I’ve totally been that person. It was like summer camp all over again, or the first day back to school. Later in the evening, former retreaters were invited to come up to the microphone to share about their past experiences. I thought, “no way am I doing that.” Public speaking is probably my #1 most dreaded thing. Then one by one, former retreaters were called up by name to speak, which I was not expecting. I thought it would be voluntary! Before I knew it, Tracey, who was playing host up on the mic, announced that there was a certain blonde singer-runner-model in attendance and invited me to come up. Gahhh! Tracey welcomed me with a big hug and likely sensing my panic, stood up there with me, offering an arm around my shoulder as I spoke. As my mind started churning with all the many things I wanted to say, I came up with something about how I had been a Kara fan since around the time I started running, how I was a singer but also painfully introverted, and about how last year’s retreat was so meaningful after hearing Kara’s life story and meeting so many amazing people, and how I knew I had to come back. I’d like to think my little speech was very eloquent, but it was not. It was full of rambling, nervous laughter, awkward pauses, the whole deal. Despite being slightly mortified by the whole experience, a few women came up to me and told me they thought I did a good job despite being nervous, some told me I was cute and endearing, and several women came up to me and told me that they can totally relate as they came solo to the retreat as I did last year, despite being shy or introverted.
The next two days were filled with sessions in which Kara and several staffers shared their life stories and lead presentations and discussions about nutrition, being race-day ready, and body image. I was particularly moved when both Lottie and Shanna shared their stories for the first time. It takes a lot of courage to revisit painful or difficult times from your life and share them with a large group of people, many of whom you don’t know. There was, however, an unspoken sense that we were all in a safe space to be open. There were more group activities throughout the day like pilates with Tracey, a dance session (my favorite), and of course running. We gathered for every meal including a buffet breakfast and lunch, followed by a more formal catered dinner in the evenings. All in all, there was a lot of sharing, learning, reflecting, and new friendships being developed. Throughout the weekend, Kara made an effort to speak to everyone and really listened to what we had to say. On two occasions she took the mic and allowed time for the group to ask her anything. She was very open and candid about her life and particularly how her year has been in the aftermath of this year’s marathon trials. While Kara was the one curating and hosting the retreat, I got the sense that she needed this time to reflect and heal just as much as any of us. Like, she has to know that she has a huge following of people that will love her and be in her corner win or lose, but like anyone, sometimes you just need to hear it and be able lean on your tribe when you need it. Being popular doesn’t mean you need to be any stronger or less sensitive than anyone else.
Since I was recovering from the Chicago Marathon, which I had run the weekend before, I opted not to participate in the group runs. Instead I enjoyed some leisurely coffee, reading, and writing time every morning. I did start to feel antsy, as it had been an entire week since I’d last run. I also felt like I had been missing out on the gorgeous scenery as most of my time was spent within the resort where the retreat was being held. So the final morning, I woke up early and drove myself to the nearby Sabino Canyon. I set off on a little hike, toting my purse and notebook, plus a to-go cup of coffee and a bagged cinnamon roll. Amidst all the serious hikers, runners, and cyclists out on the trail, I’m sure I looked positively ridiculous.
About a mile in, I found an offshoot leading to several pavilions and picnic tables among the shrubs, boulders, and cacti. I sat down, enjoyed my breakfast and the sunrise, then thought about what I wanted to write.
Per tradition, at the final gathering of the retreat which would take place later that morning, each attendee would be invited to share something they’re good at and something they’re going to do. I spent a long time staring at the blank paper in front of me. What am I good at? I thought of my running, I thought of music, I thought of how I was such a nervous, shaky mess on the mic just a few days before. Then I thought of the most memorable parts of the past year and what I was the most proud of, from my racing experiences, to songwriting, and musical collaborations and performances. There was one thing tying everything together. Here’s what I wrote, and later shared with the group on our last day:
I’m good at writing. While I’m probably the most uncomfortable when I’m on stage performing a song I wrote or hitting the submit button when posting a new blog entry, those are the times when I feel the most connected to other people and when I feel the most understood. Expressing myself through written word is also when I feel the most vulnerable because unlike when I’m speaking candidly, I say everything I mean to. As nervewracking as that can sometimes be, of all the things I’ve ever done, aside from maybe running, writing feels the most “right.” It took me a long time to accept it, but I’m good at writing- and I’m going to use my voice.
Okay, okay, yes that is super cheesy, and ironically not even well written (hello, grammar and run on sentences). For me, writing songs and writing out my thoughts is my way of processing and sharing my experiences. And in return, I often receive an outpouring of thoughts and stories from those that read or listen. It’s a beautiful way to communicate and understand each other. So to those that have reached out, encouraged me, shared your own thoughts and stories, or have simply read or listened, thank you.
After everyone in the group said their piece, we decided on one word that we felt embodied the theme of the retreat that we could take with us back to our everyday lives as a mantra or reminder of our time together. This year we chose “free.”
Huge thank you to Kara Goucher and her staff for putting on yet another excellent retreat. The experience was meaningful, powerful, and very worthwhile. I hope to continue returning every year as a chance to check in with myself, catch up with old friends, make new ones, and leave feeling ready to take on whatever life throws at me.