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Agoura HIGH grad DEENA KASTOR is running strong 10 years after her Olympic Bronze

Written by KYLE JORREY Photos Courtesy of DEENA KASTOR 

DeenaKastorAt 5 feet, 4 inches tall and barely 100 pounds, Deena Kastor is proof you can’t measure a world-class athlete by size or stature.

Nearly 10 years since racing to national prominence through the ancient streets of Athens, Kastor remains one of the most influential figures in American distance running, even as she approaches the twilight of her career.

In 2004 in Greece, birthplace of the Olympics, the Agoura High School alumna won bronze in the women’s marathon despite scorching hot temperatures and 50 percent humidity, becoming the first American woman to medal in the event in two decades. Her gutsy performance forever placed Kastor in U.S. Olympic lore, and if not for an untimely foot injury during the 2008 Bejing Games, many believed she would have gone on to win gold.

Now 40, Kastor defies age, continuing to compete at the highest levels of her sport as a member of USA Track & Field, most recently toeing the line in August at the World Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Moscow. When she’s not competing for Team USA, her name is regularly near the top of the leaderboard at distance races around the country—she finished third at the 2013 L.A. Marathon—and she still holds the American women’s record in the half-marathon and marathon, the latter a mark that’s stood for seven years.

While she hasn’t ruled out another run at the Olympics (she placed sixth at the 2012 Olympic Trials), Kastor, who makes her home in Mammoth Lakes, is dealing with a new set of priorities. She and her husband, Andrew, welcomed their first child, Piper, in 2011.

The gifted runner recently agreed to speak to Beyond the Acorn to share her thoughts on health and fitness, and discuss how her career path has changed since the birth of her daughter.

Beyond: Looking back on 2013, what kind of year was it for you?

DK: I have had a busy year of training, racing and traveling. Along with continuing my own running career, I am also the president of the Mammoth Track Club. My husband, Andrew, is the coach of the club, which has produced 12 Olympians, two Olympic medals and 64 national champions. Along with helping endurance athletes reach their own running goals, I feel it is important to have a positive impact on the sport of track and field, so I am on the USA Track & Field board of directors. The governing body of this sport has fantastic leaders, and they inspire just as much as the fantastic athletes it supports.

Beyond: How has the birth of your first child changed your perspective on racing? On competing?

DK: Being a mom has been my favorite job, but I have great pride in sharing my passion of running and fitness with Piper. There’s no greater joy than seeing children run so freely, so I also strongly support efforts to introduce kids to the sport of running. The positive impact of running reaches every corner of our being, and it’s wonderful to be involved in a sport that manifests success in such a variety of ways.

Beyond: There’s been some reporting lately on the heavy toll marathons can take on the human body—does that concern you at all? How long do you expect to continue running marathons?

DK: Marathon running does take a toll on your body, which is why preparation is so important. Limiting marathons to two a year so you are amply prepared, as well as taking a good rest phase afterwards, is important. I believe the distance is vitally healthy but can be abused if you are not prepared well or you don’t take time to recover afterwards. The positive benefits of long distance running powerfully play into your entire life.

Beyond: How has your training regimen changed as you’ve gotten older? Are you still pushing yourself toward specific goals or is it more about maintaining a certain level of fitness?

DK: I have a lot of miles on the odometer of my legs! More than every car I’ve ever owned added together! As I have aged, I focus on quality more than quantity of miles. I used to run 120 to 140 miles a week. Now I run 80 to 100.

Beyond: What’s the best advice for someone who is just getting started running to get in shape and improve their overall health?

DK: The best way to keep with a running routine is to join a group or club. The knowledge and synergy of a group are sure to motivate you to keep with your new routine. If you commit for two months, you will find such great benefits, not only in your running but in life, that you will surely stick with your new lifestyle. Becoming a better runner also gives you the tools to be a better businessman or businesswoman, be a better father, mother, son, daughter, parent. It is remarkable how the lessons in running parallel life.

Beyond: Where do you draw your motivation from to get up and go train on the days when you wake up and don’t want to get out of bed? Has it gotten more difficult to stay motivated?

DK: Everyone has days where they are a little less motivated. Even when I’m committed to a lofty goal, I can find some days more challenging. If the wind is blowing, if I’m not fully recovered from a workout or the monotony of training is leaving me flat, there is (still) always a reason to get out the door. I find that at my most tired, it simply takes a run to invigorate me again. If it’s windy outside—my nemesis—I download a few new songs on my MP3 player and I end up feeling charged by the music. If my runs are feeling monotonous, I explore a new trail. To override lack of motivation gives you the tools to override the same lack of motivation in your job or life. There’s so much to look forward to and it simply takes a step in the right direction.

Beyond: What are your absolute favorite places to run?

DK: I simply love training in the Conejo Valley. We have traveled the world and found ourselves in some of the most inspiring running destination cities, and nothing beats exploring around Paramount Ranch and Malibu Creek State Park. My go-to when I’m visiting my parents is Cheeseboro Canyon. I am also partial to Sycamore Canyon, which is the run which made me a marathon runner. In 2001, I fueled myself to take on the entire canyon from Newbury Park to the beach and back, which is 18 miles round trip. After that run, I decided to train for my first marathon.