Olympic medalist and the American female record holder in the marathon, Deena Kastor, talks to run angel about her new inspirational memoir, Let Your Mind Run, and how she applied positive psychology and brain science to achieve unparalleled athletic success.
Your new book focuses very much onthe power of positivity on performance. What inspired you to sit down and write aninstructional memoir?
I was inspired to write Let Your Mind Run, because my husband pointed out the countless times I’ve helped teammates and other runners alter their perspectives for the better. It was my mission to write this book, not so much that people would learn more about me, but that they would discover more about themselves. So, in that regard I consider the book more of an instructional memoir on the power of positivity on performance.
Would you consider yourself to be a person who has always had an optimistic view on life?
I haven’t always been optimistic, but I have seen the profound powers of positivity and have made it a lifelong practice. It has taken time, but the practice of optimism has become more of a habit due to the commitment of paying attention to my perspectives and thoughts.
Is having a positive mind-set a skill or behavioural habit one can develop almost immediately or is it more a long-term objective necessitating dedication, practice and perseverance?
Immediately, you can reap the benefits of being positive. One positive choice has rewards, but when you pile hours, days and weeks of making good choices, the effects are profoundly large. Simply by paying attention, you discover your behaviour and seek alternatives to ensure growth, success and happiness.
What can someone reading this interview do right now to in taking the first steps in practicing the power of positive thinking?
One easy and powerful step to optimism is writing down a list of 5 things you are grateful for. Do it again tomorrow, and the next day. The only rule is that you can’t duplicate items. If I were to write a list right now, it would include: Afternoon tea in London. Getting my clothes cleaned during travel. Running through Royal Parks. A committed husband who’s holding down the fort at home. My sponsor, ASICS, for this trip connecting my ideals of physical and mental potential. This computer that allows me to stay connected when it feels I’m worlds away.
What happens when you write down things you are grateful for is that you are giving your attention to the good in your life as opposed to oppressing about the easy things there is to complain about. When gratitude is brought to the helm of your attention, negativity melts into the background. Feeling good, worthy and proud of the goodness in your life releases hormones that allow us to thrive instead of bombarding us with negativity’s stress hormones.
Injuries are very much part and parcel of being a runner, what role can the power of positivity play in helping a runner overcome an injury?
Positivity can prevent injury or help you regain your health faster. If we are running and living with a stressed out, negative perspective, our bodies are rigid and tight which can quickly lead to injury. If we are relaxed and have the hormones of dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin and endorphins that come with optimism, our bodies are powerful and flexible. So optimism can keep you healthy. If already injured, these same wonder-hormones can help heal. Changing your goals from running a race to a more appropriate goal of gaining health is a good first step. Next, add some “strategic joy” by surrounding yourself with things you enjoy. Take a look at your gratitude list for ideas. Fresh flowers. Coffee with friends. Reading or crafts with your child. Movie and popcorn with your significant other. With a good strategy, health is closer than ever.
How do you handle disappointment, on and off the track?
It's okay and natural to be disappointed, but I used to think disappointment meant I was a failure. Once I acknowledged my judgmental relationship with this word, and inevitably redefined it, I saw how disappointment was rooted in a desire to be better. I expected and wanted more out of myself, so I got back to work in order to continue, as opposed to halt, all the momentum I had. It is okay to feel disappointment, grief, frustration and disgust, but we should define these feelings in ways we can grow from them.
Training and racing takes enormous physical effort, how would you promote the benefits of incorporating a positive mind-set to an athlete who may feel success is down to an effective training plan, mileage and a healthy diet?
A training plan you believe in, recover and good nutrition are all part of athletic success, but we will only reach our true potential with the support of an optimistic mind. We must flex and strengthen our way of thinking along with our physical bodies to really know what its like to thrive.
What can non-runners take from your book?
I have found that the same quality of thought and dedication that moulded me into a successful athlete, have also ensured my success as a wife, mom, motivational speaker and advocate in my hometown of Mammoth Lakes, CA. Only with the dedication of addressing my mindset did I come to live such a fulfilling and happy life. The practices I share in Let Your Mind Run are not limited to running, but are universal for all life’s successes, big and small.
As a writer I imagine that you have ideas around that next book, can you give us a hint as to what this may look like?
Next book? You’ve got to be kidding! Writing Let Your Mind Run was the most challenging thing I have ever done. I haven’t forgotten that yet.
DEENA ON DEENA:
What career accomplishment are you most proud of?
Sorry, no good answer. I am a student and have learned from all the races, victories and defeats.
How is training for a marathon different from training for any other event?
Training for a marathon takes more time on your feet than shorter races, and yet nutrition is a big part of its energy game. Our bodies aren’t wired to withstand the energy demands of the distance so fueling is essential even though it’s a challenge to stay ahead of the game. That being said, there is such satisfaction in giving your all to a difficult task.
What do you eat / drink while in training?
The marathon is 42 kilometres long. I drink CytoMax every 5K, with the exception of 25K and 35K when I dilute 2 blackberry GUs in 5 ounces of water. It is a boost in calories and also has a little caffeine.
What are DK’s guilty pleasures?
I have a lot of pleasures, but none of which I feel guilty for. Stopping on a run to take in the views. Wine (red, white, rose, bubbly, old, new). Talenti Chocolate Almond gelato. French Presses. First class plane tickets. Getting into bed before the sun goes down.
Do you listen to music during a run?
I only listen to music if I’m on the treadmill. It needs to be house music, loud and with a fast beat. It’s the only way I get fired up to run in place.
What do you say to yourself on the start line?
I usually speak in cliché’s. You asked for it. Here goes nothing. Ready or not, here I come.
What are you thinking about during a run?
During a run I think about running. Until, of course, if it gets too challenging and then I try to think about sitting on the porch. I put my mind wherever it needs to be to get the best out of the mile I’m in. Sometimes I think about pace, fluids, distance to go. Other times I think about purpose and goals. I eventually evolve into my own personal cheerleader, willing me through the next landmark.
Your running hero or athlete?
My first professional Coach is my hero. He taught me that all that we obtain, whether its food, money, time or knowledge, increases in value the moment it is shared. He helped lead me to my life philosophy: If you have it, share it.
Do you have a favourite race?
Is the one I do next. Whatever that may be.
When running I like to wear…
The ASICS Nimbus shoe. I almost always wear a hat to protect my face from the sun. Majority of the time I’m in capri tights and a long sleeve. I’ve had melanoma on three occasions so I take skin care very seriously. COOLA suncare is a brand I rely on because its ingredients are organic (they also aren’t toxic) and I still feel my skin can sweat and breathe after I apply it.
If you could take any three persons on a run with you, past or present, who would they be?
Maya Angelou, George Washington and Madonna.
When I’m not running, you’ll find DK…
When I’m not running, you’ll find me cooking or baking in the kitchen with my family.
The greatest lesson running has taught you?
Running has taught me that we need a community to engage with and reciprocally inspire for success and happiness.
What we don’t know about Deena Kastor is…
Before Let Your Mind Run, most people didn’t know I was adopted or collected French Presses. But I have one more secret. I LOVE PHOTO BOOTHS. It doesn’t matter where or when I see one, I just have to feed it dollar bills and pose with goofy faces. If you happen to be with me, you get dragged into the booth too.
On my book shelf at home…
I always have a mile-high stack of books to get to. Right now I am reading both The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls and Big Potential by Shawn Achor.
What has parenting taught you about running?
Running has taught me a lot about parenting, like being focused and mindful to get the best out of the moment. It has made me thoughtful and intentional with my seven year old daughter. But parenting has also helped influence my running. Only after having Piper have I gained patience and broader perspective.
The best advice you would give to a husband and wife team working together… (like ourselves here at run angel HQ!)
Best advice: Together, anything is possible. Identify one another’s strengths and depend on each other to use that strength. Next, identify weaknesses so that you may find a gap in which you need outside influencers to help. Always say please and thank you, and repeatedly remember all the ways in which you fell in love so no story can stands before it.
How important is being aware of your surroundings when out running alone?
It is critical to be aware of our surroundings whether in a group or alone. Every great CEO of every successful company values safety as their number one priority. It is above ideals of profit, customer relations, efficiency, and show. Since we are the CEOs of our own bodies, we should value safety as our number one priority too, because only when we are safe, can we effectively do all the other things that inspire us.
Let Your Mind Run: A Memoir of Thinking My Way to Victory by Deena Kastor & Michelle Hamilton