Kastor and his wife Deena own the California club that boasts a strong professional lineup.
Without a doubt, the Mammoth Track Club is one of the top training groups in the United States. For over a decade, the group based in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., has drawn elite runners such as the fastest American marathoner, Ryan Hall, and top coaches like Bob Larsen [Meb Keflezighi’s coach] and Joe Vigil.
The club went under a transformation when Olympic marathon bronze medalist Deena Kastor and her husband Andrew took over the reigns from Terrence Mahon less than two years ago. Competitor recently caught up with Andrew to talk about what it’s like to lead the Mammoth Track Club and where the club is heading.
There is a lot going on with the Mammoth Track Club right now—a lot of change. How are things with the club?
We do have a lot going on right now. The club started out as Team Running USA Californian back in 2001 with Coach Vigil and Coach Larsen. It then kind of morphed into a track club with Terrence Mahon at the helm. In November 2012, Terrence took a job with UK Athletics and Deena and I took on the club. I’m confident that we have the right formula and the right recipe to pass down to future generations of American distance runners. We’re holding to that mission and passing along whatever knowledge we’ve gained the past 18 years of professional athletics. It’s been going well so far. The last 12 months have been going well.
What is a day in the life of Coach Kastor like?
Today is a great example. We had our general membership of the Mammoth Track Club, which is a body of 80-100 members nationwide. Most of them reside in the Eastern Sierras. We were at the new high-performance track that we put in about 18 months ago at 7 a.m. We had about 45 athletes doing 800m repeats. I was supervising that workout for about an hour. And from there I drove up back into town and met elite members of the club and supervised a 1K workout with a 600m float as they prepared for their future races. It’s already been a busy morning. I then went and helped a girl who was nursing an injury at a pool. I’ve been to three workouts and have got about 3-4 miles of jogging in. There are a lot of moving parts with this club. We have athletes running road races all over the country simultaneously. We are pretty much a half marathon- and marathon-centric group. I think that bodes well. When we took over the club we had 800m runners and marathoners. Mahon was the coach and there were track races in Europe and then marathons and road races here, so we found that it’s better vibe to have everyone training for the same event roughly. We have people training for a fall and spring marathon. Right now, we have our athletes focusing on these longer races.
Sounds like you are super busy. Are you writing training schedules for all these people?
Yes. I’m writing all the training schedules. I put together race schedules as well. These athletes are putting their trust in me for racing and training schedules.
You mentioned the club’s new focus on the half and marathon. Does that have something to do with American success at this distance on the world stage?
That’s a great question. I think that the young club of athletes are gravitating toward the marathon. There are a few post-collegiate runners who are gravitating right to this distance, because they need to survive. They need to put food on the table. That’s where a lot of the money comes from—these longer distances. I think this is a wake-up call for a lot of the older athletes. The younger athletes are upping the game this way.
At the beginning of the interview you mentioned the general members of the club. I noticed you included them first. Are you trying to increase that outreach?
Yes. We are. Anyone that becomes a general member will get training tips and a T-shirt as well as a bumper sticker. It’s a way to identify with the club. I’m a big Lakers fan. It’s kind of like buying into the Laker organization by having the team jersey. It’s where your dollars are actually funding a team or a club. We definitely want to reach out.
How is your own running going?
[Laughs.] That’s funny that you should ask. I was actually going to try and get a Boston qualifier in so that I can get to know the course a little bit better and can coach it. I was, the key word is was, going to run the Eugene Marathon through 10 [miles] to get a qualifier, but I developed a bit of a calf problem. I took two weeks off. It’s a wake-up call that I need to focus not on my own running goal, but rather the team goal. So my focus now is to get 30 to 45 minutes of running every day just to make sure I can decompress and wash away some stress.
What’s it like to be a dad?
It’s really fun. Deena and I are so fortunate to be in business for ourselves. We don’t have a 9-5 job. We work every day, and that is one of the downsides, but one of the upsides is that I get to have lunch every day. I get to travel to races. I get to bring Piper. She’s been all over the country. At the age of 3, she’s been to 7 or 8 states—different towns. We meet different people. People tell me that it goes by really fast when you are a parent. I look at her and say to myself that it doesn’t go by that fast. She should be 10 by now. [He laughs.] I don’t know how she’s not 10. We are with her every single day. It’s just a really fun experience. We are only doing it once. We are just having Piper. We are giving 100 percent of our attention to her and her development. I took her skiing. After her third birthday I took her down the hill. She’s a natural. I held her hand. Doing stuff like that is great. If you have a 9-5 job, then you only get two weeks off a year. We are taking advantages of these opportunities for sure.
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Have you invested in a pair of running shoes for her yet? She does happen to have some good genes in those legs.
[Chuckles.] I want to introduce Piper into a variety of sports. I definitely want her to learn some discipline through sport. The No. 1 sport in Mammoth right now is snowboarding. Snow sports are top here, then maybe mountain biking with soccer a close third. There is a lot of variety here in town. We are dedicating our lives to distance running. But Piper loves to run—especially downhill. She likes the speed and that turnover. So she may have something from mom and dad.
Now to training questions: You are an expert coach on altitude given Mammoth’s location. What kind of advice would you give to someone who is training at altitude for the first time?
You know that old saying about, “kill your TV?” Well I say kill your GPS watch. Forget about pace when you come up to altitude. Mammoth and most high-altitude areas in the U.S. are very picturesque with many alpine trails no matter where you are if you are above 6,000 feet. Really enjoy the setting and your surrounding as opposed to training for the first 5-10 days. Allow your body to adjust to the training. Your pace will be really skewed. Even me. I’ve been at 7,500 feet above for the last 16 years and I still get winded going up the steps. Not everyone adapts. You have to be patient. Look at it as a running vacation. Try to get the time that you normally get in with a run. So if you are doing an 8-minute mile for 8 miles, go for 64 minutes and forget about the miles. Take it easy for the first five days. Enjoy the purity of the mountain air.
Anything else to monitor while running at altitude?
Yes. Stay hydrated. It’s much more dry at altitude. We have an average here at Mammoth of 25-30 percent. You are losing moisture when you run up here. Your ventilation rate is also higher at altitude. Instead of breathing 10 times per minute or 8 times per minute at sea level, you are breathing 12 to 14 times per minute up here. Every time you exhale you are losing moisture, so drink water and minimize alcohol and caffeine consumption.
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