Deena Kastor, American record holder in the marathon and half marathon and 2005 champion of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, is in town for race weekend, and we had the chance to talk with her earlier this week about all things race weekend.
The Bank of America Chicago Marathon is just a few days away now. This is a race that you have been involved with extensively, especially over the past couple of years, and it's obviously played a major role in your career, winning here in 2005 and setting the Masters record back in 2015. What does it mean to you to be here for race weekend now?
I think for the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, no matter what capacity I'm here for, I'm going to be here. Whether I'm running the race or helping the race organizers in any way they see fit, from running to get them coffee or a cold drink, or doing commentating, or this year being able to partner with Bank of America and Apple Pay to set up some really fun initiatives throughout the city as race weekend arrives.
Can you tell me a bit more about those initiatives?
Absolutely. [On Friday] the expo's opening, which creates a whole other heightened buzz around marathon weekend. Once everyone gets their bib number, it becomes real that they're actually running. At the expo, you'll be able to utilize your Apple Watch or your phone, your mobile wallet. I think if there is a leader in mobile banking, it's definitely Bank of America. I've been using them for a few years since their app became available just to make my life more convenient, being a professional athlete and traveling a lot and being a busy mom. It's just added a convenience to my life and now it's added convenience to this race weekend. They're going to have some tap and go places along the course where if you donate a dollar to the Chicago Parks Foundation you get some free merchandise, just some fun things to get people more comfortable with being able to actually make payments with their watch, which is pretty novel in this day and age. It's advancing so exponentially. We don't want to be left in the dust.
What other involvement will you have this weekend? Will you be there on Sunday?
I'll be at the expo [Friday]. I love being at the expo because I feel that that experience for everyone really makes the weekend, getting your merchandise and your bib number just add excitement to launch you into the weekend. I'll be running the International Chicago 5K on Saturday and then I'll be out on the course cheering and then at the finish line draping medals around people as they cross the finish line. I love doing it. It totally inspires me to be at the finish line.
At this point, no one can make any new physical preparations for the race. The hay is in the barn, as they say. You're not going to get any stronger now. But there are other kinds of preparation you can do between now and the race, nutrition-wise and mentally. What would be your advice to runners two, three days out from the race?
Get in your rest. Stay off your feet. Be hydrating well. Eat foods that have carbohydrates in them to top off your carbohydrate stores, but the number one thing that I think people can do is to believe in the process of their preparation. I think a lot of times when we're faced with challenges--and the marathon is a challenge; it's why we do it and why that finish line feels so amazing--is being able to overcome that challenge and still continue. Prep yourself with some positive sayings or mantras or power words, being able to have some of those tools available along the course. Reciting your purpose: why this is important to you, why running this race is important, whether it's raising money for a cause or awareness for a cause or whether you're trying to run a personal best, there's a lot of purpose behind the commitment of what we do. It's important to reflect on that in a time of challenge during the race.
Are you coaching any athletes running this year?
My husband is the coach of the Mammoth Track Club, and I do a lot of the mentoring because I'm running with them side by side. We have Alexi Pappas who runs for Greece and is the 10,000-meter record holder for Greece, and Sarah Attar, who's the first ever female Olympian from Saudi Arabia, and she's a two-time Olympians. She'll be running for that Olympic qualifying time.
I recently read your book Let Your Mind Run, and it seems like the mental side of running is something you're a big proponent of How do you apply the mental aspect of running in your coaching and for athletes in general, to really dial in the mental side?
I think whether I'm coaching or mothering my seven year old, teaching that having a positive perspective or even just being your best cheerleader is going to give you great gains. We can go into the scientific part of it and talk about the hormones that are released under stress as opposed to the hormones that are released when you have an optimistic mind and often the optimistic mind is always going to be the one that supports and uplifts you more than running with tension and stress. It really is important from how we're speaking to others and encouraging them to our own self-talk and even the tone of our thoughts. All of that seems to matter, and once you start unlocking that and seeing how it expands your physical potential, it's just the beginning of toying around with optimism and the great power that it gives.
It seems like positivity is a characteristic you need to develop over time and two days may not be enough to completely change your outlook on life, but with a couple days left, how would you recommend getting into that positive headspace and not letting the negativity overwhelm you?
I think this point in time is a critical time keep out doubt. That's when it wants to creep in, you haven't done your 20 miler in two weeks. "Have I lost fitness? I'm feeling sluggish and tight and my calves are tight," or whatever is feeling off in your body. I think it's an important time to go through your training log and really reflect on and absorb all the work you've done and get yourself into a place where you pat yourself on the back for putting in that work and also believing that if this program has worked for tens of thousands of people in the past, then it certainly is going to work for me.
What about after the race? There's often emotions involved with that. Sometimes they're positive, but in my experience at least, more often than not, there's that, "I wish I could have...." How do you avoid getting caught up in that kind of mentality and staying positive moving forward with the rest of your running?
I think it's fair to, if you're having an off day at the finish line after you've been grinding through the miles and you've given it everything you got to get to the finish line, if it wasn't exactly what you had hoped for, to have a pity party for a few minutes. That's okay. It's all right to feel disappointed because being disappointed means you cared about the outcome and you want better out of yourself. But then to say, okay, if this disappointment is stemming from wanting better, then how do I get better? Having that growth mindset to keep at it until you're satisfied with the outcome.
One of the lines that really stuck out to me in your book was towards the end. It said, "We have to repeatedly return to the thoughts that support our desires. We have to manage our emotions in order to keep belief, trust, and confidence as our energy and driver." How do you put that into practice during a run? I know it can be easy to spiral down in negative self-talk.
Yes, for some reason it's much easier to spiral down than spiral up! I don't know what that is about our human behavior. I think that the second your tone becomes off--it's really the art of paying attention: paying attention to how you're speaking. If you can pay attention and realize that your tone is off or you're being condescending or completely debilitating because of your thoughts, that it's important to address it. The quicker you can address it, the better, but it's a game. I like to think of it as a game instead of something so stressful that I have to manage myself, like just what I need is one more thing to manage, but to think of it as a game of, "Wow, so this isn't going to get the best out of me, but what kind of thoughts would? What could get the best out of me?" Sometimes if my hamstring is cramping up, I think of my other hamstring, but then that one doesn't feel as good as I want it to, so I think of my upper body, and then you keep troubleshooting and going through it. Then it's like, "Go to my head. Let's think of my purpose. I'm here not because the race matters but because my choices matter. I'm creating a habit of thought and that's why this decision is so important." You want to be the best person you can be in that decision, and then the next, and them the next. I think when you can really give your best in each of those micro decisions, you can be proud of the outcome, even if you fall short.
About the race more logistically, what is it about the Bank of America Chicago Marathon that makes it so unique?
I think Chicago in and of itself is one of the world's greatest cities, and I don't live here, so I can say that with honesty. Logistically, to be able to walk out of your hotel and easily get to the start line, to get to the finish line, and easily get back to your hotel [adds convenience]. I think for spectators it's so easy if you have someone running the race to get to three or four points along the course, very easily get to those points and be able to cheer for them. It's not just sending your runner off and then waiting at the finish line. You actually get to see quite a bit of that which is exciting for the spectator and for the runner. Then, of course, the sport and food culture here is so great. I think you have to be a sports fan to live in here, and certainly with all the great restaurants that are here, you know Chicago are good diners as well.
Any other last minute advice?
Go to the expo and see all the great vendors that showcase their brands at this event, because it's the place to be this fall.