By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
JOPLIN, Mo. —
As a kid, Deena Kastor was clumsy at just about every sport in which her parents supported her. Every sport but one — and in it, she would wind up becoming an Olympic medal winner and American record holder.
Now, Kastor, who turned 40 in February, is a mom, which means balancing taking care of a busy 2-year-old with training for one of the most physically demanding jobs there is: distance running.
She considers herself fortunate, she said, that her job and her passion are the same thing.
“So the only thing I need to balance with that is being a great wife and mom,” she said.
Kastor plans to share some of her experiences, and perhaps provide inspiration, as the featured speaker at the Joplin Memorial Run pre-race banquet slated for Friday night at Missouri Southern State University.
Her career, one might say, began at age 11 in California.
“When a bunch of kids were joining a local track club, my parents signed me up,” Kastor said. “I enjoyed it from the first day we ran on trails in the Santa Monica Mountains. I continue to run with that same joy today.”
That joy, along with a rigorous training regime and diet, propelled Kastor to a bronze medal in the women’s marathon at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece. She also racked up numerous victories in marathons and half-marathons, is an eight-time national champion in cross country and is the only American woman to break 2:20 in the marathon.
It takes constant work, she said.
“If you are a runner, every decision from waking to retiring affects your performance. I try to stay on top of being organized so I am not running with stress. I take rest time just as seriously as I do training. I run more than 100 miles a week with two workouts every day except Sunday when I run one long run. Monday, Wednesday and Friday also add a gym session to lift weights, do plyometrics, stretch and posture exercises.”
Kastor loads her diet with quality foods in order to perform optimally in running and in life.
“I eat and cook with only organic foods,” she said. “With all the protein we eat, I must know the source it comes from. We order our grass-fed beef from a ranch in Monticello, Mo.,” she said.
Despite her years of doing it, however, the marathon never gets easier.
“It’s 26.2 miles no matter which way you slice it,” she said. “I love the lessons the distance brings and that we never really perfect it. I guess because we never really perfect ourselves. So I love what I learn about myself, the human spirit and our physical and mental capacity through this sport.”
The mental element to running was particularly important to claiming her Olympic medal — just the second women’s marathon medal in Olympic history for an American, following a gold by one of Kastor’s heroes, Joan Benoit-Samuelson, at the 1984 Olympic games.
Kastor tailored her marathon race plan specifically for the brutally hot, sunny conditions, and perfectly executed it in 2 hours, 23 minutes and 25 seconds.
But she’s also had low points like everyone else, she said. At Mile 3 in the 2008 Olympic Marathon in Beijing, China, she had to pull out of the race because she broke the third metatarsal of her right foot.
“It certainly was a low point, considering I was preparing for another successful Olympic experience,” she said.
It also offered perspective.
“It seemed intense enough to offer a grand lesson,” she said. “Here I thought I was the most healthy and fit of my life, only to learn of a severe vitamin D deficiency that kept me from absorbing calcium.”
A self-described “stickler for covering up in the sun” because she has battled melanoma three times, she now knows to focus on eating foods with high amounts of vitamin D.
“Health is a combination,” she said, “of so many things: Lifestyle. Attitude. Diet. I try to be healthy from the inside out.”
It took a long time for her to recover from such a severe break.
“It was important not to ruin the healing my body had already begun,” she said. “I didn’t set my foot on the ground or even let a bed sheet on top of my foot for a month,” she said.
Her first race after recovery was the Shamrock Shuffle 8K in Chicago in March 2009. As the country’s largest 8K, it drew a field of more than 13,000 runners. Kastor, then 36, took a first-place win in the women’s category. She also was the oldest of the top five male and female finishers.
In March 2010, Kastor competed in the first spring running of the New York City Half Marathon, where after running the majority of the race in first place and on her way to breaking the course record, she dropped to second place to finish behind Great Britain’s Mara Yamauchi.
Kastor and her husband, Andrew, had Piper in February 2011, and by 2012, she was fully engaged in the race circuit again.
In February this year, three days after she turned 40, she won the Rock ‘n’ Roll Pasadena Half Marathon in a course record of 1:12:57. A month later, she took third in the Los Angeles Marathon, and in April, she headlined the More Magazine/Fitness Magazine Women’s Half Marathon in New York.
That race, her most recent, provided a special kind of inspiration.
“The race consisted of 10,000 women all running loops in Central Park. It was a blast to share the weekend with such empowering ladies,” she said. “So many of them balance careers, families and running, so I am very inspired by them all.”
When she’s not training or racing, Kastor said, she loves normal, everyday activities associated with motherhood, like taking Piper on walks with the family’s 110-pound mastiff, gardening and camping.
She’s grateful that she and Andrew have flexible jobs so they can be with Piper so much, and that they have friends who can influence their daughter in positive ways. She, like many mothers, also finds joy in simple moments.
“One of my happiest moments as a mom was seeing my daughter run around the track at its ribbon-cutting ceremony,” she said.
“Every day I am amazed by her,” she said. “As a parent, I feel I discipline less and more observe how brilliant she is.”
She also plans to instill in her daughter something running has taught her.
“Long-distance running is truly a metaphor for life. It teaches us that short cuts never pan out and that there is great pride in putting one foot in front of the other to reach a goal,” she said. “Once we figure this out, everything is possible.”
The banquet at which Kastor will speak is open to race participants and non-runners alike. The cost is $18 per person and includes the meal and presentation. Serving starts at 6 p.m., and Kastor will speak at 6:30 p.m. Registration may be completed online at www.joplinmemorialrun.com.