Photo: Alexi Pappas
After reading American marathon record holder, Deena Kastor’s memoir, Let Your Mind Run: A Memoir of Thinking My Way to Victory, which reveals how changing her mindset revolutionised her running performance, I knew I had to invite Deena on to Lessons in Badassery to find out more.
In this Q&A, the 45-year-old Olympic bronze medallist and multiple American record holder chats about positivity, gratitude and how adjusting her mindset unlocked the secret to her running success.
How did changing your mindset alter your approach to racing and training?
Your mindset is your approach to running. Running with a positive perspective opens your energy level and allows you to perform to your potential. Stress and fear restrict your physical body and therefore inhibit your potential.
In your book, we read how your approach to life changed when you started a gratitude journal. How did this translate to your running?
The practice of gratitude is one of the more powerful things you can do for your performance and perspective. Giving tribute to the things that bring you joy releases good hormones in your body, but also causes the negativity to fall into your blind spot. The continued practice enforces that you continuously look for items or ideas to write on your list. It really creates a snowball effect of optimism at its most personal. When running is part of your day, the focus is on being grateful for the time to run, the scenery, and your own ability, as opposed to the fatigue you may feel.
You’ve used visualisation a lot during your career – how did this help your performance?
When your mind sees you accomplish a task, it begins creating the neural pathways to have it come to fruition. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy at its finest. The more you visualise, and the more senses you add to the experience, the more convinced your subconscious will be that you can accomplish a difficult task.
While practising visualisation you listened to Bjork – how did the music help?
The music I listened to during visualisation helped reinforce the outcome of the visualisation on race day. The adrenaline, good association, readiness, and win were wrapped up in the song, so I walked to the start line confident.
I loved in your book how you found positives in every running situation – did this take practice?
It took years to accumulate the many tools I learned to get through fatigue or challenge. And I get excited when faced with adversity so that I can use the tools I’ve learned or possibly find a new tool to get me through.
Did you notice a big difference in your running when you switched to positive self-talk?
We can be our worst enemy or our greatest cheerleader. I learned early in my professional career that I had a condescending inner voice. Even when I consciously changed this, my tone was nasty.
You’ve revealed that you highlight great workouts in your training log and look at them the night before a race. Does this help cement your self-belief?
Highlighting great workouts in your running log, and then revisiting those workouts the night before the race, both reinforces the good work while simultaneously pushing aside doubt and nervousness.
What books have helped you build a positive mindset?
I love Shawn Achor’s The Happiness Advantage and Josh Waitzkin’s The Art of Learning.
A lot of runners struggle with negative talk. What are your top tips for creating a positive mindset?
Learning to take control of your thoughts begins with paying attention. Then, ask yourself if your mindset is serving you in the best way possible and begin playing with your words and tone. The shift is always profound to me.
What kind of run training do you do – is it intervals, mile repeats, off-road, road, track, long runs, elevation, or a mix?
There is no one miracle workout, but the combination of the above that builds us best. I still live at altitude, climb hills, and pursue speed work, tempos and long runs. Although I don’t run twice a day anymore, the extent of my busy day sometimes feels like a workout in and of itself!
You’ve raced track, road and cross country during your running career. Do you have a favourite running terrain these days?
I love running anywhere, but exploring a new trail is still the most soul-filling experience.
You’ve been a competitive runner for most of your life – do you still have a competitive streak?
My competitive side only emerges when I’m running. It’s a fire that is still very much within me, though I compete less now.
What is your pre-race ritual?
My pre-race ritual is coffee and breakfast, then showering, putting on my uniform and – carefully and with my race goal in mind – pinning on my bib number.
What are your must-have items of kit for training and racing?
ASICS cap to protect from the sun, ASICS Lyte Racing shoe, COOLA Suncare, Joyous Organics Chapstick and water.
Who are you sponsored by at the moment?
ASICS has been my sponsor for 18 years. Their name is a Latin acronym for Anima Sana in Corpore Sano, or a sound mind in a sound body. It is the only shoe brand whose mission and identity align so well with my own.
What’s the most valuable advice that legendary distance-running coach, Joe Vigil, gave you?
The same qualities that build a better athlete, build a better person.