Thirteen years ago, Deena Kastor ran her very first New York City Marathon. Though up to that point Kastor had mostly specialized in 5K and 10K races, she fell in love with the electrifying atmosphere and distance of the marathon. She has been chasing goals in marathoning ever since.
At the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Kastor became just the second American in Olympic history to medal in the marathon when she took the bronze. She followed by breaking numerous records (even some of her own) over the next several years. But she’s not slowing down any time soon.
On Sunday, Kastor will line up with 45,000 friends on the Verranzano-Narrows Bridge in the New York borough of Staten Island to take on the NYC Marathon again. This time, her goal is to cross the Central Park finish line in just two hours and 25 minutes — and reach the podium as a top finisher.
In the week leading up to the race, Kastor spoke with SI Kids about how she got her start as a runner, her favorite places to run, and even offered some tips for those interested in following in her footsteps.
How did you first get your start in racing?
I started running when I was 11 years old. My mom wanted my sister and me to be involved in sports so that we could have good mentors. She also wanted me to be around other kids. Running seemed like an individual sport from the very beginning, but it was very team oriented. That first day at practice, I didn’t want to turn around. I just wanted to keep running, so I found a sport I loved. I’m not sure if I’m good at it because I loved it, or partially was good at it because I had some talent, but I was very fortunate at 11 years old to find something that I would stick with for the rest of my life.
What are your favorite conditions or terrain to race in?
I really love running in the Santa Monica Mountains. I love trail running, but I specialize in road racing. I try to train specifically on the road for my hard days so that I’m training specifically for my sport. I kind of get rejuvenated on the days in between when I hit the trails and get to explore.
You’ve run in several different countries. Is there one race or location that stands out as a favorite?
I’ve traveled to some amazing places around the world, but I’d say my most intriguing trip was to Maracas, Morocco. In the marketplace, there were people still traveling with donkeys carrying their carts of produce, and it made me feel like I was going back in time. Today, social media has us so integrated with one another globally, it just seems like Maracas is stuck in time, and I loved feeling that way when visiting there. Travel can be such a great education and open your mind. It makes you more compassionate and understanding of other people, and makes you value what you have here in the U.S.
What’s the ideal age for a kid to start seriously training as a runner?
I started running when I was 11, but my 3-year-old daughter right now loves to run. My husband and I pull her along in a bike and she’s so enthusiastic she wants to rip out of her seatbelt and join me in the evenings. Obviously you don’t want to push kids or have any mileage be so hard on their joints, but I think dabbling in running around the block and running on some trails is really good for them. It’s so natural for kids to want to move and it’s a great way to explore.
Can you take me through some of your long-term preparation?
I think the preparation comes in the months previous, just putting in the mileage. I run about 110 miles a week. I try to get my pace down in one run during the week and then go longer distances at a little slower then race pace later in the week. Mixing it up is always really fun. It’s just refreshing not to do the same six-mile loop every single day. That way, running remains exciting because I’m exploring new trails, and running different paces and distances throughout the week.
How do you prepare on race day?
I always have my goal in mind. I’m a very goal-oriented person, so choosing a goal – whether it’s to complete the marathon, to run a specific time, to make it to the podium, or to get Top 3 in the awards – having that goal in my mind as I prepare is really important. As the week of the marathon approaches, it’s more about rest than about getting in the training. I’ll run every day, but it’s more about picking my feet up and relaxing a lot so that I’m rested and I have some energy stored for race day.
What about stretching, warming up? Do you run a lot to warm up?
I like to just run for warm up and then stop and do a few stretches and drills, but nothing too taxing. I operate off of a pyramid of hard training in the top and at the base of that pyramid, which is really your foundation for your training and working, is nutrition. In the center of that pyramid, I believe that everything you do should be joyful. So really just having a good attitude with anything that you’re trying to accomplish. You’re going to get the most out of something when you’re doing something you’re really enjoying.
I know if you’re running all those miles you have to be hungry, so what does the nutritional aspect of your training and preparation look like?
I used to say that I could eat anything that I wanted. I eat an extraordinary amount of very nutrient rich food. I like to have a combination on my plate everyday of proteins for muscles, carbohydrates for energy, and then a lot of colorful fruits and vegetables with vitamins and minerals. If we’re going to be operating at a high level we need high-energy food.
What about gear or equipment? Is there certain gear you recommend?
Yes, I think going to a running specialty store is your best bet and a great place to start. I have kind of a buffet of shoes in the mudroom of my house. I have trail shoes, trainers, and hyper speed shoes for races. I alternate between those few shoes. It’s similar to the way I mix up my run throughout the week, I also mix up the shoes that I’m wearing so my feet aren’t being locked into one shoe.
Why is running such a great sport?
Running is such a great sport for all children, not just because it unlocks endorphins and great hormones in your body for mind and body function, but also because it doesn’t have any barriers. No socioeconomic barriers, no gender barriers, all the kids could really be involved in the same sport. I think that’s probably what makes running more unique than any other sport is that anybody can participate and gain the benefits from it.
Photo courtesy Asics