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World-Class All Around: Exclusive Interview With Deena Kastor

The Olympic bronze medalist is ready to rock in San Jose this weekend.

The Olympic bronze medalist is ready to rock in San Jose this weekend.

Interview by: Mario Fraioli

Deena Kastor, shown here at the NYRR Mini 10K in March, will line up for this weekend's Dodge Rock 'n' Roll San Jose Half Marathon. Photo:

She’s won numerous national championships, captured an Olympic bronze medal, and is the only American woman to ever run under 2 hours and 20 minutes for the marathon. In the last seven months Deena Kastor has added an even bigger accomplishment to her already robust resume: that of world-class mom.

The 38-year old gave birth to her first child, Piper Bloom, this past February. On Sunday she’ll contest her longest race since her pregnancy, the Dodge Rock ‘n’ Roll San Jose Half Marathon. The reigning Olympic Trials Marathon champion, Kastor is on a quest to make her fourth Olympic Team this coming January in Houston.

We caught up with Kastor just a few days before she took the starting line in San Jose. Deena, the Dodge Rock n’ Roll San Jose Half Marathon will be your first race over 10K since the birth of Piper. How excited are you heading into the half this weekend?

Deena Kastor: I love the half marathon distance. I definitely look forward to improving my fitness over the next few months as we get closer to the marathon trials and probably doing another Rock ‘n’ Roll half somewhere in the country before the trials in January. But for me I like to have the motivation of getting ready for races, so San Jose was a great fit and it’s just right across the Sierra Nevada mountains where we live, so I’m really excited to get there and just test my fitness a little bit at the longer distance. I still haven’t had too much high mileage in my training but definitely love this distance and look forward to the race.

Since having Piper in February you ran the New York Road Runners Mini 10K in June and most recently the Cow Harbor about 10K two weeks ago. Talk a little bit about the progression that’s occurred between those two races.

I was really far from being fit (at the Mini 10K) but was just really excited to get back into racing and being apart of the running circuit again. I just got back from the Cow Harbor 10K two weeks ago and that was more of a realistic shot of trying to get out there and win a race. And I fell short of it with Janet (Cherobon-Bawcom) tearing up the roads this summer. I was second place there so I just look forward to progressing every week. Piper’s seven months old now and it just seems like as the weeks and months go on I’m climbing back into fitness. It’s been a real steady, but great, climb back to where I want to be.

So is it safe to say then you were pretty encouraged by your result at Cow Harbor?

Yeah, and I just feel as the weeks go on I get stronger and stronger. It’s been a gradual progression. I’m hoping to time it perfectly so that I’m at my fittest come January. But I was really happy with the Cow Harbor race and it seems that even since then that training has gone even better, so it’s just been exciting to watch, almost witness myself gaining that fitness back that I used to thrive on. So to look back at my log over the past few months it’s hard to believe almost. I’m excited and confident and feel that I’m a totally different runner now than I was just a couple of months ago.

Speaking of regaining that fitness, how has your training changed since you’ve had Piper? Have you had to compromise mileage or intensity at all?

Yeah I think just because since I took more than five months off of training I did have to start back gradually and I’m just now getting close to hitting 100-mile weeks, where I used to run 120 to 140 miles a week, so just starting to get back to the triple digits mileage-wise. But I’m really just trying to focus on quality more now and so it seems that my morning runs, which is our more intense session, our harder session of the day, I’m a lot more focused on getting the best out of myself for those couple of hours and then when I’m home I get to be a world-class Mom and spend time with Piper. I’m just really grateful that both Andrew and I have the flexibility to watch out daughter grow on a daily basis, so we’re at a pretty fun stage right now and instead of just having that steadfast schedule in the evening I just kind of get out the door and do that second run whenever Andrew comes home from work and is able to take Piper and play with her while I get out and do my second training run and core work. So it’s really been a lot of fun. I think my days used to be pretty running-focused and getting in naps everyday, where as now I’m probably not napping as consistently but I sure sleep a lot at night.

Heading into San Jose this weekend, do you have a time goal in mind or some other goal you’d like to achieve in the race?

Terrence (Mahon), my coach, and I are driving out there so I’m sure more of a structured race plan will be the conversation on the five-and-a-half hour drive to San Jose.  But whenever I get out there I just give it an honest effort and I’m hoping that it’s somewhere in the 1:11 to 1:12 range and the flexibility of that time will depend on weather and the course and whether I can stay mentally engaged in that time.

Kastor capturing bronze in Athens in 2004. Photo:

Now you had mentioned your first workout of the day is your primary workout. Are you running mostly by yourself or have you been able to get in workouts with some of the other women or men in the group (Kastor is a member of the Mammoth Track Club) during this buildup?

This summer I actually was training mostly by myself and that proved a little difficult. We had so many of our teammates that made the world championships team that went over to Daegu I found that for the first three, almost four months this summer that I was training by myself and I got to this certain fitness level and really couldn’t push past that. In the past few weeks just having my teammates back I can tell it’s just really elevated me and my training so I definitely need people around. I’m a team player and I like to be surrounded by my teammates and feel that we have a great synergy in working together, so it’s definitely good to have them back. I’ve noticed a huge difference in my training since they’ve arrived.

Your (training) group, which has some newer women such as Amy Hastings, who had a great marathon debut earlier this year in LA. Is there a different kind of energy in the air as you build up to the trials in January, as opposed to last time around when you were mostly flying solo?

Yeah, I think all of my teammates have had a great year. Terrence has done a great job of getting the right teammates together so that we work extremely well together. I feel very grateful that we have a great leader in him and I think everybody–now that the world championships are behind us–is excited to move forward and get the Olympic year underway and progress off where they found themselves this year. We do have a great energy in the group but it’s a great testament to our coach and getting the right teammates together to work together to reach our goals. We have anywhere from 800-meter runners up to the marathon and it’s amazing that we can work so well together by just tweaking our workouts a little bit. But it seems everybody is working together on a daily basis and it’s pretty exciting to see that work out so well.

Heading into the Trials in January, a lot of things have changed in American distance running since (the last Olympic Trials Marathon in) Boston in 2004. Talk about the depth on the women’s side of American distance running right now and how much tougher it’s going to be to get one of those three spots in Houston in January.

The marathon is definitely the event next year on both the men’s and women’s sides. The depth is extraordinary. And to me, I feel that it couldn’t be more exciting to be part of American distance running right now because of that depth that we see in the marathon. I’m ecstatic to be a part of it. It’s been a huge motivation for me coming back from this pregnancy to be ready for these trials and we’ve been cautious and calculated and even held back a little bit, been very conservative in my buildup right after having Piper. For me, I don’t feel there’s any room for error here. We really have to have a perfect buildup. There’s no time for injury. There’s no time for fatigue. There’s only time to build and get stronger. As far along as we are right now I feel that we’ve done a perfect job getting back to where I want to be and now, only a few months out, it’s very exciting to me that I could be making my fourth Olympic team.

What would it mean for you to make that fourth Olympic team and go after another medal in London next summer?

That’s my sole motivation right now and I feel very grateful that I have a family that supports me 100% and a new fan in Piper and just such a great team to work with. It’s definitely going to be a tough team to make but it’s pretty exciting to me  that as an American we could really choose 6, 7 or 8 women and all of them will surely represent the U.S. well. We just don’t know who those top-3 women are going to be right now but it’s exciting that there’s that kind of depth we’re bringing to the world stage finally.