The Longest Race: Inside the Secret World of Abuse, Doping, and Deception on Nike's Elite Running Team

Book by Kara Goucher and Mary Pilon
Reviewed by Tom O'Grady

At its core, The Longest Race is a tale for young women with lofty goals. This is an important fact to remember even in 2024 when we've made great strides in empowering women and towards greater gender equality. The Longest Race begins with a look at Goucher's childhood. This look back at the past is important in giving the reader a better understanding of Goucher's family dynamics, the loss of her father, her relationship with her stepdad, and how her love of running evolved.

After college, Goucher describes how she landed her Nike contract and became the first woman invited onto the Nike Oregon Project program. There is a lot of emphasis on the incremental improvements and setbacks faced by early in her career. There is special attention to the dynamics within the team. The head coach of the Nike Oregon Project was Alberto Salazar. Salazar's impressive running resume is discussed as is his coaching philosophy.

Running professionally puts an individual into a unique circumstance not encountered by many other athletes of the same caliber.  Athletes are considered independent contractors by the shoe company that provides the bulk of their income. The income provided by these sponsorships can vary greatly from barely livable to incredibly high (only a few of the very top athletes received the more lucrative contracts). According to Goucher, she was brought into Nike Oregon Project as little more than an afterthought. The real steal in Nike's eyes was her (at the time) more accomplished husband, Adam. This fact, the fact that Kara Goucher was female (the only female in the male dominated Nike Oregon Project), her dismal salary, her battle with injury and setbacks, and early childhood family dynamics are all important to understand as the story unfolds.

Salazar is initially portrayed as a well-intentioned coach who is willing to try even the most eccentric ideas about training and recovery if it means giving his athletes an edge. Some of Salazar's methods are genius and ahead of their time while others are a bust and leave the reader scratching their heads. As the story unfolds, we learn Kara Goucher gradually begins to outshine her husband on the track and it's here that we start to learn more about Salazar's willingness to push boundaries and make Goucher feel uncomfortable.

There are several points when reading Goucher's accounts that will make the reader's head spin and skin crawl. You wonder how Salazar was able to get away with these actions and why Goucher did not disclose some of these encounters until she wrote this book. It's important to keep in mind her perspective at the time though. Goucher was afraid that calling out Salazar for his actions would put her and her husband’s livelihoods in jeopardy.

Most readers will probably ask themselves why women put up with the kind of treatment Goucher faced while with Nike. Readers will also likely find it hard to understand why Goucher stayed with Salazar and the Nike Oregon Project. These are easy questions to ask when reading the book and when you have perfect hindsight. Hopefully, the details of the story will provide insight of why it is so hard for individuals to come forward in similar situations.

The Longest Race is a story about healing and recovery as well. Goucher eventually leaves Nike and finds continued success in running after leaving Nike as well. Goucher also revives her love of running and finds success in empowering women athletes. As many are aware, Salazar ultimately received a lifetime ban from coaching.

Finally, The Longest Race is a testament to how hard it can be for women to be heard and tell their story even after the details of Salazar’s and Nike Oregon Project’s misgivings became public. I recommend those who read this book also read the New York Time’s story The Wind Beneath Kara Goucher’s Wings? A Solid Teammate that tells the tale of how this memoire was initially overlooked by potential co-authors. It’s vital to Goucher’s story that this book was eventually written with the help of a competent co-author because it helped keep Goucher’s story objective and remove what must have been so serious emotions from Goucher’s telling of the story.




Tom O’Grady is an elite runner, coach,
writer and college professor with a joint appointment at NYSDOH/UAlbany School of Public Health. In addition to writing diverse articles for the Pace Setter and other running journals, he is the Pace Setter’s official book reviewer.






Loading Conversation

Partner Clubs

Partner clubs offer group runs and local races to the Capital Region running community

Create Account

Log In Your Account