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Q&A: Deena Kastor Returns to the New York City Marathon

Fresh off setting a Masters half marathon world record, Kastor will toe the starting line on Sunday in NYC.

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Photo courtesy of Photo Run
Photo courtesy of Photo Run

This Sunday, Deena Kastor will toe the line at the New York City Marathon. At 41 years old, fresh off setting a masters half-marathon world record in September, Kastor is still favored to be among the top finishers in the race. Kastor spoke to Women’s Running about her goals for the race, being a working mother and how to seek inspiration in the sport.

How is your taper going?

I have a few more runs I have to tackle before I can really kick my feet up and rest entirely. My mileage is definitely lower this week. I always look forward to that. I just know from the past that I know if I get into that taper mentality a little too soon, then my last workout doesn’t go too well and I think I’m out of shape. Over the years I have learned what mindset works for me. I can decompress and know everything is done when I get on that airplane and fly to New York.

What are you most looking forward to in New York?

Once I get into New York, I get to have a narrow focus. At home I’m not only a professional runner, but I have a lot of other commitments like being a mom and a member of the community. But when I get to New York, I only have one hat on and that is of an athlete and an ambassador to the sport. So I think it is fun to have that tunnel vision and focus solely on one task.

What are your goals for the New York City Marathon?

I feel that my training has gone pretty well this summer. Andrew [Kastor, Deena’s husband and coach] says I am in about 2:25 or 2:26 shape. That is the benchmark I am going for time-wise. I also really love the thrill of competing against the other women. That kind of tactical plan seems to be pretty flexible when you get into a race. I can kind of gauge what the other women in the field are doing and adjust the plan throughout the race. I tend to have a fitness level and a time goal in mind, but I also want to leave it open to adjustments depending on what happens out on the course.

You ran a masters world record time of 1:09:36 at Philadelphia Rock ’N’ Roll Half Marathon in late September. Was that a confidence boost within your marathon training?

Yeah, it was a great confidence booster. But it also taught me to be flexible. Based on my training, I thought I would have been slightly faster, but the day was 70 degrees and 90 percent humidity so the conditions weren’t conducive to running fast. I think what it taught me was that with proper training, you can stay on task. We are rarely handed a perfect race especially in the marathon. You worry whether you get the right amount of calories or if you slept well and trained and tapered perfectly. I mean there is so much that goes into that 26.2 miles going flawlessly. For me it has never gone flawlessly, which is why I keep coming back to see if I can get it right the next time. But I think that’s the nature of the beast in the marathon but also running in general. We just get out every day to try to better ourselves through the sport, but we find we better ourselves as people in the pursuit.

It’s true. As a runner, it is hard to ever be satisfied.

But it is also a really healthy juxtaposition because we are proud of our accomplishments but we are not satisfied. I love that runners have that innately in them. It connects us all no matter what our motivations, pace, gender or age. The common theme that connects us is that we are proud of the accomplishment but always knowing we have a little more in us.

What challenges do you face as a mother of a toddler and professional athlete?

My first role as a mom was actually a hard transition when Piper was just born three and a half years ago. They don’t come with a little textbook teaching you how to do everything. You just kind of find your way. I found that once I set priorities of health and family first and running and profession second, everything fell into place. It gave me room for overlap because sometimes getting out for a run is good for my health while making me a better mom. I feel that setting those priorities helps me gauge what is important and when I should sit on the sidelines for a minute or two while I indulge in my other roles.

As your husband and your coach, does Andrew make it easier to continue in the sport?

Andrew has been amazing since it was just the two of us in support of my running. We are so grateful that we have jobs that allow us to spend so much time with our daughter too. We realized after having her that running was something that wasn’t selfish. It was something that was very generous. It is something we could offer Piper to show how much joy the sport gives us. I feel like we’ve done a good job at showing her how important it is to follow your joy and passion. To see her put on her little ASICS and bolt out the door with a big grin on her face and not turn back is really rich and rewarding.

What type of inspiration do you draw from those around you in the sport and from your Mammoth Track Club teammates?

After I had Piper, I was looking at all the other mothers out there who fit running into their lifestyle as well as having full-time jobs. They really inspired me to be able to stay committed to this sport on such a big level. And as far as my Mammoth Track Club teammates, they are significantly younger than me so I love that enthusiasm, passion and focused commitment they show at practice every day. They bring an intensity with them because they are trying to prove themselves, but they also have a youthful hyperness that is infectious.

What advice can you give to those who aspire to run the marathon or may be running their first 26.2?

Surround yourself with a community of people who support you. It’s really important. Find people in the running community to adopt you. You know running for good reasons: your health and empowerment. Join a local training group so you can meet up with people. If you don’t have time during the week, you can at least run with people on a Saturday or Sunday. The miles go by so much quicker when you are sharing them with others. Creating your team has probably been the most valuable thing for me over the years that kept me in the sport.

Sometimes you have those lonely days where you are getting out the door before the sun rises because you need to get to work. Put a postcard on your bathroom counter that gives you an affirmation or a power mantra. When I get to a hotel room, I sometimes write my mantra at the time on the mirror so I can see it when I first wake up in the morning and when I go to bed. So if you don’t have that support around you on a daily basis, make it yourself and support yourself in that journey.

What are the positive thoughts that help you through setbacks in training?

It is our obligation to find what keeps us moving forward. We don’t have the answers all the time and those answers that work one time may not work indefinitely. So its always just refreshing our motivation and really relying on new things to keep us excited and exuberant to chase our goals.

What does the New York City Marathon mean to you?

I love it. It was my very first marathon in 2001, right after the events of September 11. So it was a patriotic and empowering event. I look back on it and I think every marathon is patriotic in its own way. But on that day, because of the events of September 11th,  the city came together to host the world again in this amazing marathon: 45,000 people on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge with this larger than life American flag blowing over us. It was such an amazing experience that it still gives me chills to think about. Going through the five boroughs and working my way back to Central Park was a tough journey, but in the end it was a gratifying one to cross that finish line. I was hooked on the sport in that moment. I wanted to come back again and again.

ASICS has continued to be my sponsor and one of the title sponsors of the NYC Marathon. It has always been great to go to New York and represent them. I have only raced New York three times, but I go back to be a part of the race in any capacity because of what it does for the running community in general. It really does change lives. It’s just great to be part of an event that can have such a great impact on the world.