Deena Kastor’s Secrets to Better, Happier Running

Deena Kastor running in a group of people

This year and every year

Deena Kastor is arguably one of America’s best distance runners. She’s podiumed at the Olympic marathon (Greece in 2004) and holds national records and championship titles in many distances from the marathon down. Today, at 44, Kastor is still running strong—33 years after taking her first running step at the age of 11. How has she managed to stay at the top of her game for so long? Well, we asked her. Here’s what she had to say:

Training isn’t all about the miles or the workouts. It’s also very much about the time in between. And, without the right knowledge, it’s often hard to take advantage of that downtime. How have you approached recovery throughout your career?
Recovery is equally as important as training. Recovery time is when hormones replenish, muscles rebuild, and metabolic adaptation occurs. Someone who trains hard every day is missing out on the performance boost that recovery supports. Take some easy days, and see your fast days get faster.

One could argue that your longevity in the sport is partly attributed to your ability to recover and take care of your body. What’s your secret?
The secret to being injury free and also having a long career is attributed to both recovery and optimism. With recovery and optimism, my stress levels are low, my joy is high, and my desire to see myself improve is constant.

As an optimist, how do you think a mindset focused on proper recovery set us up to be successful runners?
Your mindset is your life. It’s the lens through which you see through, feel, and act. To begrudge a day off because I asked you to, isn’t going to serve your recovery as well as if you thought, “Wow, I really deserved and enjoyed this quiet time with the morning paper,” instead of rushing out the door to see if I can run the neighborhood loop faster than yesterday. Chances are, sitting at the kitchen table will allow for tomorrow’s loop to be your best yet.

If you could pinpoint one thing most runners don’t do enough of when it comes to recovery and injury prevention, what is it and, further, how do you encourage someone to add more of it?
If you’re adding in miles, or a yoga class, or anything else to your already busy schedule, make sure you are also adding more rest. It can be as easy as getting into bed 30 minutes early or indulging in a Sunday afternoon nap. I'm always a proponent of working on mental health. Pay attention to your thoughts and perspective and then shape them to better serve your situation. We have more than 50,000 thoughts every day. If you can redirect many of them to support, encourage, promote, and bolster yourself, you’ll see results immediately.

Massage is a sure-fire way to recover faster after hard efforts. But for the majority of us, paying for weekly, bi-weekly, even monthly massages are out of the question. How can we maximize the benefits of massage ourselves, especially if we’re faced with limited “roll out” time each week?
Body care isn’t an indulgence, it’s necessary. If you only have one hour to get in your morning run before work, run 50 minutes and stretch and self-massage for 10 minutes. If there’s a spot that feels particularly tight and you can’t reach it, trade a few minutes with a spouse or running buddy and give it attention. There are plenty of great devices available to reach, dig into, or smooth out your muscles. All of them are great when used with the intention to care for yourself.

How does all of this carry over into nutrition and sleep? What’s your advice for maximizing these critical aspects of training?
Our bodies aren’t made of silos. What we eat and think, how we train, how we sleep and recover, and also the health of our relationships has an effect on our running and our lives. I like to think of all these things not as “I should,” or “I have to” but “I deserve this,” because I owe myself that type of respect.

I also have a single word I’m using for 2018, and that is QUALITY. If I eat quality food, train with great quality, experience quality sleep, and surround myself with quality people with whom I spend quality time, then it seems as though 2018 will be one of the best years yet.

Your ability to live a positive life and approach training optimistically has led to a high level of success. Why?
I have experimented with my thoughts and perspectives over the years and have seen a profound boost in my performance when being positive or optimistic. It led me to be just as diligent with my mental training as I have with my physical training.

We spend so much time on our physical bodies and don’t realize that we can also work on the fitness of our minds. In order to reach our greatest potential, whether running or in life, we have to increase the quality of our thoughts and actions. After all, what we repeatedly think and the actions we repeatedly take, not only make up our experiences, they become our habits.

** Check out Deena Kastor's forthcoming book, "Let Your Mind Run," available here.

Deena Kastor on Recovery