She has done it all, and very nearly won it all, but for Deena Kastor the long-term love affair with running isn’t over.
It’s now 34 years since the American first took up the sport, joining the athletics team at her school in California at the age of 11, and in the past four decades there is little she hasn’t done.
Kastor has won the Chicago Marathon, the London Marathon, earned two silver medals at the World Cross Country and in her specialist event – the marathon – she claimed an historic bronze medal for US at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
Her marathon best of 2:19.36, which she ran to win in London in 2006, still stands as the American record despite all the fine marathoners her country has produced since, including New York City Marathon winner Shalane Flanagan and Boston Marathon champion Desiree Linden.
Drive and determination
Despite all that, perhaps what is most impressive about Kastor is her enduring speed and her ageless endurance.
In 2014, she set a masters’ world record for the half marathon at 69:39, then followed it up with a US masters’ record in the marathon of 2:27.47. She was 41 years old at the time, the mother to a three-year-old daughter, Piper, and a woman who could so easily have walked away from the sport years before.
But something brought her back. “I’m competitive, definitely in running but not in anything else in life,” she admits. “I feel that by continuing to train and get the best out of myself, I’m reinforcing the great qualities that this sport has instilled in me, virtues like gratitude and persistence and commitment to goal-setting.”
Kastor wasn’t one of those mothers who bounced back quickly after giving birth. In truth, she had to surrender her fitness entirely and play a patient game as her body slowly recovered.
“I wasn’t able to run during my pregnancy – it was super uncomfortable to do that,” she says. “I wasn’t sure if I wanted to re-commit to running or stay at home raising my child, but I felt immediately after giving birth that desire to get running again.
“It was very apparent I still had the desire to run hard and see what else I had in me – not necessarily to break records or run faster but because running is how I know to condition myself; it’s how I grow physically, mentally, emotionally, so I didn’t want to lose that.”
Having gone through it and made the long, slow return to 100-mile weeks, Kastor has advice for other expectant mothers: “What I observe so many times is women getting so anxious to get back to fitness that they get pelvic fractures because they’re running with different hip positioning after childbirth,” she says. “That’s very common so be very cautious building back up and make sure your core is strong. If you feel like you’re suffering or exhausted, rest yourself – give your body what it’s after. Everybody needs to do it their own way and find what they can thrive with.”
At the peak of her career, Kastor logged 140 miles a week in training and she was just as dedicated during the other parts of her day.
“Everything was intentional – the foods I bought with the intention to heal and become who I wanted to become, sleeping adequately with the intention to restore and revitalise for the next day, and even enjoying time with my family because it gave emotional joy, which was very important to me.”
So far, 2018 hasn’t been her best year in terms of racing, but Kastor now occupies myriad other roles beyond being a world-class athlete: she helps husband Andrew with coaching at the Mammoth Track Club while her book, Let Your Mind Run, became a New York Times bestseller when released this year.
In April, Kastor was one of many to drop out of the Boston Marathon, which was held in freezing rain and high winds. She bypassed an autumn marathon and instead trained her sights on a new target in 2019.
Together with her agent Ray Flynn – the Irish record holder at 1,500m and the mile – Kastor is eyeing up a tilt at the Tokyo Marathon in February. The world record for over-45s is the 2:28.34 that Italy’s Catherine Bertone ran in 2017, a mark that may well be within her scope if all goes well on the build-up.
These days, her typical preparation involves logging 90-100 miles a week and focusing on nailing the key workouts. “I might be able to handle 140 miles a week but I wouldn’t have the energy to do anything else in my life,” she says. “Cutting my mileage back means I can still show up to be a mom and still have dinner on the table. I’m in good fitness right now but definitely not in shape to break records.”
With a new year about to dawn, however, nothing is out of the question. One final query for the flying 45-year-old: is there ever a time she doesn’t see herself racing or, indeed, lacing up her running shoes?
“No,” she says, with a laugh. “I’m so glad I can’t see that yet.”