This week’s guest is one of America’s greatest ever distance runners, Deena Kastor. She won the bronze medal in the marathon at the 2004 Olympics, and she’s won both the Chicago and London Marathons. This sort of resume qualifies Deena for legend status among active runners, but I’m equally impressed by her mission to use running as a tool to improve people’s lives. I recently sat down with her to catch up on what she’s up to.
Tell us what inspired you to start running?
My parents are very social and they wanted me to join the local track club in Agoura Hills where I grew up. Our first run was in the nearby Santa Monica Mountains and I remember not wanting to turn around. It is no coincidence that my passion for running and the success I had immediately fed off one another. I have loved this sport since the first day 26 years ago!
You’re something of a running pioneer in Mammoth. What’s so great about the training up there?
I remember coming to Mammoth in High School for summer running camp. I loved it here. When Andrew and I were choosing a place to live 10 years ago, I immediately thought of coming to Mammoth. If it was a great place to visit, it would be an awesome place to live. We have traveled the world for races and competitions and haven’t found a place we like better than home. As a distance runner, training at altitude is our greatest weapon. Summer is such a fun time of year as the High School, College and Junior College teams continue to use Mammoth for running camps. Andrew and I try to give them a great experience by offering Thursday night talks in the park during the month of August, in which we chat, answer questions, feed the runners watermelon and give away free ASICS stuff. We also have a few races throughout the summer months that our local running club, High Sierra Striders, organizes. For visitors wishing to join in on their team practices, they meet every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday and welcome runners of all ages to join them. It is my greatest wish that the positive experience here gives these student-athletes some success, but moreover has them yearning to make Mammoth “home” some day.
I know that you’ve been instrumental in getting the Mammoth Track Project off the ground. Can you share that story with us?
There is only one thing missing in Mammoth to make us the premiere running destination. A track. We have 7 Track & Field Olympians in our Mammoth Track Club yet have to travel to Chula Vista, California for a period of time during track season so we can get in specific training. Andrew and I have worked diligently in the past two years to prepare for a synthetic track and infield. The Mammoth Track Project is close to breaking ground. The facility will be green in that we are using recycled tires in the material for the track and infield as well as not needing water to irrigate a grass field. The stadium will be made of concrete and natural rock and we are working on solar power for the locker rooms and concession stand. The track facility is also at the center of many trails in which runners can choose to explore the surrounding terrain or stay on the oval to train. We are wrapping up a daunting pile of paperwork which needed to be signed by involved entities, and we’re working hard on fundraising. As much as I look forward to breaking ground next Spring, I am really anxious for the programs we have lined up once the facility is completed. It is my mission to keep the track well utilized with a variety of camps, all-comers meets, soccer matches, concerts and other events. I want to get the entire community of Mammoth using the facility, but also lure people from around the world to choose Mammoth as there running vacation destination. From recreational runners to elite athletes of any sport, I believe all can benefit from training at altitude. I also believe running can make you better at anything you do whether you are a skier, martial artist, rock climber or stay-at-home dad. Our Track Project motto is “Elevate your fitness, stay on track”!
What do you see yourself doing when you’re no longer running professionally?
Running will always be a part of who I am, long after my professional career is over. I hope to be instrumental in keeping Mammoth a destination for so many athletes. I will continue to dream of what a perfect running world would look like, then chase it down and offer it to those who live and visit here. So much of what I love to do is involved in making running a good experience for children so they can incorporate running into a healthy lifestyle. This simple act of putting one foot in front of the other has so many benefits. WE know this and it is our duty to share this secret with others in hopes to enrich their lives. All one has to do is witness the starting line of a major marathon, walk through a marathon Expo, or visit a group training on a Sunday morning to feel the positive effects this sport has on those committed to it.
Do you feel that running can be a source for positive change in the community?
Running can be a great source of positive change in any community. I have seen it first-hand here in Mammoth with how so many locals joined Andrew’s running club when he started it back in 2003; the membership has grown substantially every year. The running races Andrew organizes continue to be family events for those who live here as well as visiting families. The residences and business embrace the 20,000 runners that visit each summer, and we have had the entire community support the Mammoth Track Project since it began as a pipe-dream. I look forward to next summer when the track is complete and children run and laugh around it’s perimeter as their parents look on. That day will be the beginning of a healthier future for each one of those kids and all we had to do was offer them a place to run wild.
(Photo: John Barnhart/StyleCraft)