Deena Kastor: Make the Positive Choice

(Updated below with information on her memoir)

Deena Kastor has a positive outlook which has fueled a tremendous career.

Runner’s World ran a short interview a few years ago with Kastor, one of the world’s best marathon runners, and the American record holder in both the marathon and the half-marathon.

The interview covered her return to running, turning 40 and other topics.

She was asked to recount lessons from her running career:

Coaches Matter

A few things stand out including her gratitude to her coaches for their contribution to her remarkable career.  Coaches matter.  What a coach says and how she says it will be remembered.  When asked about the lessons she’s learned over the years she cited a coach in both examples.

Clearly both coaches have had very positive long-lasting effects on her.

Benchmark against the best

Deena Kastor also reminds me of one of the keys to coaching elite performers. Elite performers in many fields, not just sports, typically compare themselves to the best in their field.

They aspire to be the highest level and therefore want to benchmark their efforts against the standard set by the best.

Here’s the quote:

What are some of the lessons you’ve learned over the years that you’ll take into 2013?

DK: Words of advice that both of my coaches have given me. Joe Vigil, after I won my first major championship, cross country nationals in Portland, Oregon. I defeated Lynn Jennings, who was a nine-time champion, and he said, “I’m not going to give you a pat on the back until you can run with the best in the world.” That taught me that he was proud of that moment, but that there’s always more to accomplish. To me, it’s been fun to accomplish something, then reset my goals to see how good I can be.

It is apparent that she trusted her coach enough to hear his words positively and find the implicit praise. But more importantly, she relished the challenge of being compared to the best in the world.

Authentic Approach

At the same time Deena Kastor establishes that a runner should remain true to herself, focus on her own plan, style and strengths:

Coach [Terrence] Mahon, before the Chicago marathon in 2005—he’s usually very eloquent and philosophical on the way to the start—that day he told me to define myself. I reflected on that awhile and during the 26.2 miles and realized there were so many moments in the race when I made a decision. You don’t realize how many thousands of choices that get made during a race, to give up or give in, follow the race plan or throw it out the window. If you can always make the positive choice, you’ll get closer to your goals. In pursing that, you are defining your character.

I feel that way when I’m racing, and in life now. When we make choices, we choose how we want to define ourselves to ourselves, our families, to the other people who are helping us reach our goals. I feel so fortunate to have had such great coaches who have given me life philosophies I can carry into the future.

Clearly, her coach’s philosophical approach fit Kastor’s style as a runner and person.

She reminds us in this response that the choice to follow your own path, whether in a race or a career, does not happen just once, but must be reconsidered and re-established over and over again.

The entire interview is worth a read. You can find it here.

The same qualities that build a better person also build a better athlete.

Coach Vigil in Road to the Top


Deena Kastor has recently published a memoir about her journey as a runner. Its interesting to see the evolution from a young runner fueled simply by talent to one who learned to manage her mind and train to compete.

Again, she points us to a coach who influenced her, Joe Vigil. After a debilitating bout with plantar fascitis that almost led her to quit running, she began working with Vigil who taught her how to plan her training but more importantly taught her how to think about running.

It was not just the positive statements he employed, which were valuable, but the framework he espoused.

One of the more striking observations was that coach Vigil never mentioned winning. He also talked a lot about traits, but not one of them was winning.

As the book unfolds you realize his words aren’t fluffy self help but direct, challenging and filled with belief in her ability and the power of working for it.

She made a choice as she drove to join this new coach to rely less on her talent and more on her training and mind. The scene in the book is one of the better examples of growth versus fixed mindsets you will find.

That’s the amazing thing about the mind once you develop a mental level of expectations it stays with you.

Joe Vigil

Part Two of this book is incredibly motivating. I kept wanting to get up and go. Work on my own program and not just with running, but with all the new skills I’m learning.

I’ll be featuring Let Your Mind Run in my upcoming newsletter.