Master Class: Interview With Deena Kastor

Deena Kastor ran straight into the record books earlier this year. Photo: www.photorun.net

Catching up with the U.S. running legend in the wake of her U.S. masters half marathon record performance

At 41 years old, most elite runners would be hanging up their racing flats and sitting in the stands, but not Deena Kastor. The Mammoth Lakes resident and holder of numerous American records is still racing and still raising the bar in the sport. In March, she came close to setting a new American Masters record at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Dallas Half Marathon, battling fierce headwinds to clock 1 hour, 11 minutes, and 57 seconds—7 seconds shy of the mark held by Colleen De Rueck. But a month later she set the record, recording a 1:11:38 at the More/Fitness Half Marathon in New York City. Along with racing, a busy Kastor is the president of the Mammoth Track Club and cares for her 3-year-old daughter, Piper.

During this interview, when asked about Meb Keflezighi’s win at Boston, Kastor got emotional. The two, who are close friends, trained together as teammates with the Mammoth Track Club in the early 2000s and both medaled at the 2004 Olympic Marathon in Athens.

We caught up with Kastor earlier this week to talk about her recent Masters mark, her training and when an American woman may win the Boston Marathon, among other topics.

Tell me about your recent American Masters record in the half marathon. Were you surprised by your performance?

I don’t think I was necessarily going for time in either the Dallas Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon or the New York Half Marathon, which I’ve done this year. I love the Rock ‘n’ Roll series. I went there to be a part of the event. I was scheduled to do Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans, which I’ve always wanted to do, but then I caught the flu when I was driving to the airport so I pulled back on that trip and rescheduled to do Rock ‘n’ Roll Dallas, which was another one of their series that was on my bucket list. I shifted gears and got ready for that, and I think that this year I haven’t necessarily been focused on my own training. I’ve been focused on helping my Mammoth Track and Club teammates. By helping them in practices each day I got to into pretty good shape. When I got to Rock ‘n’ Roll Dallas, the media was asking about that record [Masters half-marathon American record] being broken and if that was my goal for the race. I said I’d like to run 1:11 or under and they said that could be close to American record pace and I said I don’t like to focus on records, because it takes a good day.

It proved right when I got out there on race day and it was so windy. For the first 9 miles of the 13.1-mile race there was a really fierce headwind. I ran by myself the entire race. Those were definitely not record-breaking conditions, but I was still able to get a couple of records en route. I had already had the More Fitness Half planned and I wanted to go back and join in the event for the celebration of health and fitness and women’s running. It was really exciting to return to that race, figuring I was in better shape than the previous year. I forgot my watch at home. To me, it was just getting out there and pushing through the hills of Central Park. I didn’t think that the course was conducive to an American record. But because I train in Mammoth Lakes where hills are kind of our entire team’s forte here meant that I was able to really charge and stay strong. I was able to get the record, and I didn’t really realize it was the record. I knew that they had announced it was the course record when I came through the finish line, but it was probably like 10 to 15 minutes later when I found out that it was an American record as well.

RELATED: Kastor Sets U.S. Masters Half Marathon Record

That’s a nice surprise.

Yeah, it was a nice bonus in a trip to New York. But it was mostly about making the decisions to go to Rock ‘n’ Roll Dallas and the More Fitness Half, because I love those events. I have a great relationship with the New York Road Runners, and love running their races. I’m actually heading out there next month to run the Oakley Mini 10K, which is another event they put on that I like. After all these years in the sport I’ve created great relationships with people in the sport and I love returning to their events to take part in them.

Are you doing anything different with your training since you’re a Masters runner and a mom?

Yeah. I feel I have a lot in common with the businesswoman who raises the family and also loves to run. And I feel like because so many women have paved the way and showed me that you can balance all of those things that I’m able to do it. I’m heavily into the Mammoth Track Club and writing grants and solidifying sponsorships and then getting opportunities for our athletes media-wise. I feel I am so in the thick of the Mammoth Track Club, because we’re not just elites. We are also professional runners. We have general membership. We have people from all over the world who are members so I was shipping out shirts and emailing advice all the time. It’s definitely consumed a huge chunk of my day being the president of the club and then having Andrew as the head coach.

I’ve also really enjoyed my partnership with Asics. I just came back from a weeklong sales meeting in Palm Springs. I took part in every meeting and gave the closing speech. Instead of my performance representing the brand, I’m getting more involved with their accounts. On top of all that, I’m trying to be a gold-medal mom. I’m trying to lead by example and show my daughter that I’m following everything that I’ve learned and that I’m passionate about. Andrew and I feel very fortunate that we get to spend a lot of our day with her. Despite the fact that we both travel a bit, we get to share a lot with her like my playtime in the day. We just finished making snow globes upstairs, because we actually had snow this morning. It’s just those little things that allow you to bond through the day and show you that you are as immersed in them as you are in other stuff.

As far as training is concerned, I only train once a day now. That one time a day is pretty involved. I make sure it’s quality and that I’m getting in the work. Because of my travel schedule, I’m probably only running 5 days a week, which is about 70 miles a week. This is a drastic cutback from the120 to 140 miles that I was doing when I was just selfishly pursuing running itself. I feel that I am doing everything that I love. We are super busy. There’s not a thing I’d cut out even though we get in bed at night and fall asleep before our head hits the pillow. But we wake up refreshed to conquer all the things that we’re enjoying. We’re immersed in everything we love. We love the running community. Running to me is this lifestyle. I’ve challenged myself through running—keeping up with tough workouts an going to some of these races. It’s a lifestyle I will never get rid of, because I enjoy it. I enjoy what it gives back to me. It’s that thought process of pushing through that grind when that going gets tough. I’ve learned to be strong in situations that could weaken me. I really value the lessons that running gives.

It’s been an honor to pursue running for this amount of time and take on some of these other roles. For the Mammoth Track Club, I really want to see the next generation of Olympians come from this group. We have a fantastic group of athletes. Andrew and I are easily saying that we could put three people on the Olympic team with the possibility of several more. We’re really impressed with this group and are really invested to see that they get the best out of their fitness and potential and rise to the occasion come 2016.

RELATED: Running Fast Into Motherhood

All that you’ve said about these changes, so you are seeing running from a different angle, right?

[Laughs.] Yeah, absolutely.

You’ve taken your mileage down and are still capable of great performances. Does looking at the sport differently help you with your racing and training?

Yes. I think it’s smart when you age to lower the mileage and increase the quality of your work. We’ve done that naturally, because I’m only running once a week and I’m traveling a bit so that automatically cuts the mileage out. Last Sunday when I came back from all these sales meetings I was able to get in 16-mile long run in under 6:00 pace. I was surprised with that. This morning I was running 5 flat for 6 times a mile. Just being able to do these workouts at 41 years old is exciting. If I have the fitness like this then it makes sense to go to some of these races and enjoy that fitness in a race situation. What I love about races is being able to connect at a broader level to the running community. I think that running is so relatable—whether you’re a first-time marathoner and are still going through those peaks and valleys during the race and during training and it’s exciting when you can work out of a bad patch and find a stronger self on the other side. We all go through that together and it’s so fun to connect with people and offer advice. Up here at Mammoth Lakes we are so consumed with what our professional athletes are doing as well as our general members, making sure they feel valued. It’s exciting to me. I want to be able to run at this level, but also want to connect with people.

RELATED: America’s Best Women Marathoners

An American man won this year’s Boston Marathon. When do you think an American woman will next be able to win it?

Oh wow. I would have predicted this year. It would have been wonderful to have Americans both at the top of the podium. Shalane [Flanagan] had a wonderful performance, a personal best in a great race. I know it was a little bittersweet for her, but to run a personal best in an aggressive race was really awesome and she should be proud of the fitness that she was able to work up to in order to have that level of performance. It was really inspiring. I’m going to get emotional just thinking about it. When Boston truly needed a hero, Meb [Keflezighi] came through and did such an amazing job. I’m very, very proud of him.

On the women’s side, I feel like so many women are inspiring people through running with Shalane and Molly Huddle and Emma Coburn. Jenny Simpson is still on top of her game. It’s so wonderful to see women on a world stage competing at such a great level. As long as we have these great races and keep putting women on the start line at Boston, there’s going to be a breakthrough. Shalane has promised to keep returning to Boston until she gets a victory there. It’s inevitable that it will happen. Every marathon teaches us such grand lessons. She probably learned a lot in using her own energy leading like she did. She can maybe hold back and use other people’s energy for the first half of the race and then put the hammer down. I think that’s a tactic should maybe use next year to pull off a win.

Thanks, Deena. That’s all the questions I have.

Of course. I actually got a call from Shalane yesterday. She asked me last minute if I wanted to run BolderBOULDER with her. I think we might be putting together a team with Shalane, Sara Hall and I running the race this weekend. I don’t even have a plane ticket yet. I’ll probably find out later today if that’s going to be a sure thing. She got my mind churning yesterday. I might be booking a flight this weekend to spend Memorial Day in Boulder.

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