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Deena Kastor: Rejuvenated For 2007 After Being Disappointed With 2006 Despite 2 American Records and Being Ranked #1 in the World in the Marathon
by: , LetsRun.com

In a day and age when 23 year-old tennis stars like Kim Clijsters are retiring, a 30-minute phone call with soon-to-be 34 year-old Deena Kastor (her bday is Feb 14) is strikingly energizing. So much so that by the time the call was over, this 33 year-old interviewer felt like bumping up his 30 mile weeks to 130 and giving the Olympic marathon trials another shot.

There certainly is no need to worry about Kastor being burned out or perhaps content with what she has already accomplished. Not a chance. Kastor, who first made her mark on the US national running scene nearly 20 years ago in the fall of 1987 (then competing as Deena Drossin) when she placed 11th at the Foot Locker (then called Kinney) Cross Country national championships as a freshman in high school, is always setting new goals that keep her focused and motivated - perhaps more motivated than ever.

"I've been running for 22 years and this is the first time that I actually trained over the holidays," said Kastor. "My training's going great right now."

Kastor decided to train over the holidays this year because, despite the fact that she set American records at both the half-marathon (67:34 at the Vattenfall Berlin Half-Marathon on April 2nd) and marathon (2:19:36 at the Flora London Marathon on April 23), she wasn't pleased with her 2006 campaign.

Despite 2 American Records & World #1 Ranking, Deena Not Pleased With 2006
"I was actually really disappointed with my whole 2006 season," said Kastor who became the first American and just 8th women overall to break 2:20 in the marathon last year. "I guess it seems pretty snotty to say that considering the world ranking I was granted at the end of the year (Kastor was ranked as the #1 marathoner in the world by Track and Field News and Race Results Weekly), but really from January 1st until the year ended, I felt like the whole year was a struggle, nothing was very fluid or smooth. I was able to pull off a great performance in Berlin and London, but when I look at the whole year in general it was a really challenging year for training and racing for me. The year was definitely bittersweet."

2006 was very challenging from a training standpoint for Kastor. She was able to pull off two amazing performances in April, but a lack of good training seemed to catch up with her later in the year as she finished a disappointing 6th at the 2006 ING New York City Marathon in 2:27:54.

Kastor attributed much of her problems in 2006 to a "series of bad decisions" on her part. In a nutshell, she felt like she took off too much time for the holidays and when she started her training as she traditionally does on January 1, she felt like she was already behind. Then once she started training, "she didn't take to the training very well" at first. Then add to the mix colder than normal weather and a slight back problem and Kastor felt like she was playing catch-up all year long.

Kastor said she didn't have a "smooth training stint" until the 3 weeks between Berlin and London last year. Both those races went very well, but the rest of the year wasn't something she enjoyed. "It was just a challenging year all the way around," said Kastor. "I think it was just the stress of starting January 1st of just feeling very behind on my training."

Kastor is determined not to make the same mistakes in 2007. "I learned my lesson. I'm never going to relive 2006 again. My training is going great right now."

Kastor is training specifically for the 2007 Boston marathon. With cross country nationals coming up, however, one day a week she has been getting on the grass and doing some interval sessions to prepare for US Nationals.

Deena Returning To Her Cross Country Roots
Before making her mark as one of the world's best marathoners, Kastor made her mark as a cross country runner. Kastor hasn't lost a US long course cross country championships since her last year in college. In 1996, Kastor finished 20th at Stanford in US cross, which was interestingly enough the same year that Lynn Jennings won the last of her record 9 US titles. Between 1997 and 2003, Kastor reeled off 6 straight US long course titles (the race wasn't held in 1998). Throw in the one US short course title that she won in 2000 and a victory in Boulder would move Deena to within one of Lynn Jennings.

Deena hasn't just been successful domestically, she is one of the world's best. In addition to regularly annihilating the US fields, she has had great success on the world stage. In both 2002 and 2003, she was runner-up at the world cross country championships.

Kastor now considers herself to be a "marathoner now more so than a cross country runner" but it should not be surprising that she is very excited to be competing in cross country again at the 2007 US XC Nationals in Boulder.

"Cross country has always been a huge passion. I love the sport. It's the essence of distance running and is distance running in it's most natural form. It's where I feel my roots lie in the sport and I've felt cheated these past years as I haven't run (cross country nationals) since 2003," says Kastor, who went to US Nationals in 2004 with the intent of competing but thought the icy conditions were too much of a risk given it was an Olympic year.

"To me, this is a celebration of the sport, being able to go to Boulder and be a part of cross country this year. I definitely don't have the same perspective as the past when I used to run cross country. I feel now that I just owe it to myself to get out there and enjoy the sport in its most natural environment."

Kastor's mental perspective on cross country has changed and she's likely to bring a different race plan into the race as well.

"Instead of going in as this feisty aggressive cross country runner, I'm going to cross country nationals just excited to be a part of it again. Previously in cross country, I was aggressive from the gun, and went out and tried to kill myself from the start and see how much of a lead I could get. Now I just want to go out and be conservative the first couple of laps, make sure the footing is good."

"They seem to have been getting quite a bit of snow this season and I want to be conservative so I'm not risking anything in the long run also. I do have a win in Boston as my ultimate goal this spring. I definitely am going into it with a different perspective than I ever have before," said Kastor, who will skip World XC if she makes the team in Boulder as travelling back and forth to Africa less than a month before Boston would be too hard to recover from.

Boston Marathon The Priority This Spring
Speaking of Boston, Kastor is very excited to be competing in the most tradition-rich marathon in the world for a number or reasons, including one that many LetsRun.com runners have probably experienced.

"It feels a bit of a joke that I can be talking to someone who may not know all of my credentials, but immediately when they find out that I am a marathon runner, they will ask me, 'So have you run Boston?' And as soon as I say 'No,' the person will say 'Well my son has qualified twice and has run it twice.'"

"So it's like I haven't legitimized my career unless I've run the Boston marathon. On a laymen's term, this marathon legitimizes a marathoner," said Kastor with a bit of a chuckle.

"A win there would just be incredible. I was born in Boston and a lot of my childhood memories are from there so for me to go back to the East coast and to run this race, I'm really excited for it."

Kastor was indeed born in Boston but she only lived there for a week before being raised in California. That being said, New England is very much in her roots and it is easy to tell she has a true affinity for the area. Every summer, up until she was 18, her family would go to the beach south of Boston where her mom was born and raised to spend a month on the beach.

"It's where all of my childhood memories come from. Even though I was raised in Southern California, all of my childhood memories are on the beach in Boston growing up."

After winning in Chicago and breaking the 2:20 barrier in London, Kastor has sought out to win the two big American prizes that she hasn't won, New York and Boston. New York did not pan out last fall, but she certainly seems motivated to make amends for last year's mistakes this time around.

Kastor said she is training specifically for the challenging nature of the Boston course and focusing a lot on "hill strength". She thinks that her work on the grass for cross country will also help her with Boston as "training for cross country gets you very strong for a course like Boston as well."

Motherhood May Be In The Future
Even though Kastor is perhaps more motivated than ever, the fact of the matter is she is 33 years old, and she won't be able to be world ranked #1 forever. She has given thoughts to the future and a family.

"I love this sport and each year I just keep making new goals that keep me charged and fired up to continue training but I am getting older. Andrew (her husband) and I have thought of having a family and having a child to raise. That's definitely in the future but I also plan on being in the sport forever."

A post-Olympic child wouldn't be the end of Kastor's competitive days, however.

"(I could see myself) maybe after the Olympics, having a child and coming back and running one or two marathons a year and keeping it at that - not getting on the track and getting into year round racing - keep it more low key and stay at home more (and traveling less) and put in a couple of races a year. My travel time would be spent more giving talks and being a part of the sport in a more giving way than racing all the time," added Kastor.

Kastor may have her mind on a family of her own down the road, but her immediate focus is on making 2007 a year to remember. Unlike a lot of distance runners who become totally self-absorbed, Kastor's spirit is full of warmth for others. Love for her training partners, love for Shalane Flanagan and yes even love for LetsRun.com's visitors.

High Praise For Her Training Partners, Her Competitors and LetsRun.com
She described the training group in Mammoth Lakes of Ryan Hall, Sara Hall, Jen Rhines, Ian Dobson, Kate O'Neill, Mike McKeeman (her personal training partner who runs nearly every step with Deena),her husband and massage therapist Andrew Kastor and coach Terrence Mahon as being an "awesome group".

She went out of her way to point out how her training partner, Mike McKeeman, had hit the A standard at the Philadelphia marathon (2:17:50) and said she found that to be "pretty exciting."

Even more exciting for us was Ryan Hall's recent 59:43 half-marathon record for Americans. We asked Deena her thoughts about the record.

"Before his half marathon, I think all of us here knew he was capable of shattering the record because of what his workouts were. He was just so smooth going through every workout with such grace and ease. We all knew he had it in him but you just hope that when you see your training partner putting these workouts in that they can put it together on race day and he did it beautifully. It's a huge art to be able do that. So many people can do these fantastic workouts, and they can't put a good race together time after time, but he just did it so beautifully that it was exciting to see - well deserved," said Kastor.

Kastor definitely was enthused about Hall's potential in the marathon.

"My husband and I just booked tickets to watch the (Flora) London marathon because we know something spectacular is going to happen there too. We don't want to miss that one," said Deena.

We also asked Deena what she thought about Shalane Flanagan's recent 8:33 American 3k indoor record.

"I think it's awesome. Shalane is an awesome girl. She's very likable, great with the media and a great role model in our sport and I wish her continued success."

"I think American distance running is doing so well right now after so many years of it being stale, stagant, and unimpressive. It just seems that each year it's getting better and better. People are breaking down these barriers and records that have been there a while."

"It's an exciting time right now. I think for the individual athletes doing these things (like Ryan and Shalane) it's awesome for them, but from a media standpoint, I think it's going to help launch our sport, or at least give our sport the potential to have household names to follow. The opportunities our athletes are giving our sport is phenomenal right now. We can be up there with baseball and basketball because of what people are doing right now. If we keep getting people like (them) - people that are so good and so loved, if we keep getting them to perform they way they are, our sport is an awesome place."

PS. Kastor also was full of praise for LetsRun.com (and we in turn thank our loyal visitors) as she thanked us for being the #1 referrer of visitors to her newly designed website, DeenaKastor.com (after Google).
*Also her coach, training partner and husband all have a training site we just found: www.spiridonrunning.com

Robert Johnson, the men's distance coach at Cornell University, can be reached at

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