Deena Kastor: Let Your Mind Run

“Every aspect of a run, from the pain it produced to the weather conditions, offered me a choice: Is this a thought that will slow me down? Or can I find a perspective that will speed me up?”
― Deena Kastor, Let Your Mind Run: A Memoir of Thinking My Way to Victory

I first picked up Deena Kastor’s book en route to training for the 2018 Chicago Marathon. It was my first “serious” training cycle, incorporating hard work outs, long runs and aiming to PB by a fairly wide margin. At the time, I was looking for inspiration. Something that could give me a bit of a spark, because as I was going through the miles, I was also beginning to feel burned out. And with burn out came the creep of negativity. What if I can’t hit my goal? What if I do all this training and it’s just a waste? How am I going to do this for 42 km if I can’t even run this pace for 2 km?? 

I’ve read my share of running books before and since reading Let Your Mind Run, and I can say without a doubt that it is my personal favourite of them all. In her book, Deena weaves together the stories of her training and most accomplished races with how she learned to let go of negativity, approach her running with positivity and gratitude and, eventually, how this shift in mindset allowed her to reach excellence in both her running and her life. 

Deena speaks of succeeding at running mostly by her talent in her early years but at a certain point in college, she allowed doubt, fear, negativity, and pressure to overtake her pure enjoyment of running. It wasn’t until she began working with a new coach, Coach Vigil, that he shared his philosophies of mindset, bringing a good attitude to workouts, and running with your heart and mind instead of just your feet.

Having read this book many times, I find that I learn something new each time, but there are always a few lessons that stick in my mind.

Mantras for your Mindset

A mantra is a short phrase that is repeated several times during a difficult run, it can even be used as a sort of “pump up” phrase to focus on before the run or race. Deena talks of several mantras throughout her book. Simple ones such as saying “CHARGE” before she would reach a hill so that she could imagine that she was a warrior rushing up the hill into battle or Deena has also repeated “Define Yourself” during tough times, something that her coach said to her before reaching the starting line of the Chicago Marathon. Personally, I use a simple phrase, like “run with your heart” and repeat this over and over to keep my focus on anything other than the toughness of the race. Especially during the last 10k of a marathon, anything that can be used to strengthen your mindset is a powerful tool. 

Me with Deena Kastor before the 2018 Chicago Marathon. She said my mantra was great and I smiled all evening.

The Power of Perspective & Attitude 

Early on while beginning to work with Coach Vigil, Deena noticed that he would always tell her to “bring a good attitude” to practice. At first, she was confused about what attitude had to do with her training, but Deena then discovered that the mentality that she brought to everyday tasks in her life as well as her training affected her running. Changing her vocabulary from words like “hard”, “cold”, and “tired”, to “challenging”, “tough” and “adapting” gave her a new perspective. Eventually, she became more aware of how her thoughts affected her workouts, even noticing, for example, how annoyed she would feel if her hamstrings were fatiguing. Then shifting her mentality from irritation to a viewpoint of “I’m gaining strength where I need it.” which motivated her more as she embraced the idea of getting stronger rather than focusing on something negative.

Using Visualization

Deena talks of using visualization to experience the course before ever setting foot on the road. She imagines the feeling of the wind on her face, how her competitors would bounce around her and use fierce strides to try to drop the pace. Immersing herself in the competition and experiencing the toughness before actually enduring it, allowed her to reinforce that there was nothing the competition or the course could throw at her that she had not already dealt with. Before a tough race, I try to picture the last time that I had a good race, or imagine myself crossing the finish line achieving a goal. Then, I try to focus on one or two small details, like my legs turning over, or my arms pumping, along with repeating a mantra so that once I do tackle the race, I have already practiced the physical part in my training as well as the mental side.

Let Your Mind Run is for the runner or person who has ever wrestled with negativity, fear, doubt. Or if you have ever wanted to strengthen another side to your running, exploring your mindset is a great way to do so without lacing up your shoes. It’s often said, mind over matter, but if I were to Deena Kastor-ify this mantra, perhaps I could say, Positive Mind over Matter. And really, more positivity is perhaps exactly what we could all use these days.