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Happiness in Motion: Deena Kastor is Chasing New Challenges

Three-time U.S. Olympian and American marathon and half marathon record holder Deena Kastor says her life has been nothing but full since she opted not to race in the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon this past February in Los Angeles. But she also says she’s not retired, either.

Kastor bowed out after straining a glute about a week before the race. Despite having several last-minute, intensive chiropractic sessions, she realized that gritting through 26.2 miles in the mid-day heat of Los Angeles with an injury wasn’t how she envisioned making another run at her fourth Olympic team.

“That’s not where I am now. I wanted to enjoy it. I wanted it to be about health and wellness and sport,” says Kastor, 43, who is also president of the ASICS Mammoth Track Club, which has a development training team of Olympic hopeful athletes, youth programs and a summer training camp for adults. “I didn’t want the Trials to be a struggle. Deciding to be there for my teammates instead felt right.”

By also choosing not to compete in the U.S. Olympic Trials on the track in July, it means this will be the first Olympic qualifying cycle since before 1992 that Kastor hasn’t participated in. But with U.S. records in the marathon and half marathon (2:19:36 and 1:07:34, respectively) still firmly in her possession, not to mention a bronze medal from the 2004 Olympic marathon and numerous masters records, it’s not that she has anything left to prove.

However, the decision not to compete in the Olympic Trials allowed her to spend more time on the trails around her home in Mammoth Lakes, Calif. Kastor used to “treat” herself with a few trail runs after completing a marathon training cycle, has been able to add dirt runs to her schedule with welcome regularity.

“This lore of trail running has really been just a tease for years,” she says. “Now I can go into the hills and enjoy it”

But, she’s still in training. In fact, her coach, husband Andrew Kastor, says she’s in the best “trail shape” of her life. Which is good because Kastor is about to undertake her first trail race as part of June 21 ASICS Beat the Sun, a 140K, six-person relay race around the Mont Blanc mountain range in France, Switzerland and Italy that includes with expert and age-group runners. Kastor, who’s running three of the 12 relay legs for her squad, The Americas 2, for a total of 30K of running, says she’s never quite taken on something of this magnitude. (Her team also includes two-time U.S. Olympian Ryan Hall.)

“I’m really excited to learn about this specific event and experience what it’s like,” she says. “I want to come back next year and do even better. That’s why I haven’t retired from this sport, there are always new ways to test yourself mentally and physically.”

Kastor’s positive outlook on sport and life is something she’s been consciously honing for 10 years. Even the cheeriest people can have negative, defeatist thoughts. The shift comes in being aware when those happen and reframing them in a new light. For the dynamic mom of a 5-year old daughter, shifting one negative thought in the middle of a long run opened a well of energy.

“’I’m so sore,’ or ‘I’m so tired’ becomes ‘I’m already out here, and I have to get home, so let’s see what I’ve got.’ It’s about consciously flipping that switch,” says Kastor, who admits it took a lot of work in the beginning. “It’s amazing what can happen when you take away self-pity and whininess and not allow them to become your story.”

Kastor now packs optimism wherever she goes, and recently submitted the final manuscript for her book on that very topic. The book, with the working title Running on Happy, is due out in spring 2017. Resistant to the idea of writing a book until she found a meaningful purpose, Kastor realized this was an opportunity to empower people with her insights on positivity.

“You have to relentlessly condition your mind as much as you condition your physical body. It’s that journey of doing both,” says Kastor, who set new masters world records in the 10K, 15K, 10 mile, 20K and half marathon in 2014 and ran a U.S. masters record (2:27:47) in the marathon last fall in Chicago. “When you can get 100 percent out your mental and physical strength you can accomplish some serious things.”

In the book, to be published with Regan Arts, Kastor uses key moments in her career to demonstrate how positivity created winning performances.

She’s also an executive producer of “Boston,” a documentary about the Boston Marathon, scheduled to premier at next April. According to Kastor, the film is “a tribute to the past and to the growth of the sport and an inspiration for the future.”

The motivator behind all of her projects is helping other runners reach their goals, work Kastor continues through both the ASICS Mammoth Track Club and her July 22-24 Mammoth Running Escape adult training camp, now in it’s third year.

“The camp is a combination of my three favorite things, quality life, quality runs and quality foods,” says Kastor. “I’m living the dream. I love where I live and do what I love. This experience allows me to share it with others.”

The three-day program includes cooking demonstrations, trail runs and talks about the importance of attitude, goals and mental conditioning to get the best out of physical performances.

“What it comes down to in the practice of positivity for me is happier miles and a happier life,” Kastor says.

With so many projects in the works, even the preternaturally upbeat Kastor can become overwhelmed. When that happens, she takes a look at her to-do list, and the result is always the same.

“I realize there’s nothing I want to cut,” says Kastor who says she sees more ultrarunning in her future. “My days are filled with everything I love to do. They may be busy, chaotic and crazy to manage at times, and that’s OK.”