Deena Kastor, the 36-year-old Olympic bronze medalist in Athens, had hoped to return to the podium in Beijing. But, a freak injury around mile three of the marathon quickly ended those hopes and led to a lengthy recovery. The Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8K in Chicago on March 29 was her first race back since the Beijing games. And while her time of 27:15 didn’t come close to her own American 8K record (24:36 set at the Shuffle in 2005), she still managed to win the overall women’s race in the ice and snow.
Can you talk about your injury and what exactly happened in the Olympics last year?
I had gotten sick in the middle of the summer training for Beijing for about three weeks. I went on antibiotics and it cleared up the virus. But being sick weakened the integrity of my bones, mostly because I’m adamant about wearing sunscreen and I didn’t have any Vitamin D in my system to absorb calcium. So it was very sophisticated problem….In a nutshell, it’s been a great learning process. Battling skin cancer year after year, I’ve been doing a great job protecting my skin and covering up by wearing hats when I’m running and being so extreme in covering up from the sun that I created this deficiency in Vitamin D that had me weakening my bones. Unfortunately, getting sunshine isn’t an option for me. But I’ve tried to incorporate Vitamin D into my diet more and now I take supplements. ..Now I’m being tested to make sure I’m not threatening my structure any more. Everything now is great. Just getting those test results back, knowing that I’m healthy again gave me confidence that I could get back to running and racing.
In Beijing, when you got to the line, were you aware that anything was about to go wrong?
No, I had no indication whatsoever that anything was wrong with me. That’s why it was such a shocking injury. I went in with goals of another Olympic medal, and I fell short at mile three at a very pedestrian pace. I mean, it was obnoxiously slow. It was strange that I could injure myself when running so slowly, but I did…The doctor said it appeared to be a trauma fracture, that I must have stepped wrong. And I just remember that there was a lot of grouping and side-stepping because it was crowded, but I don’t remember stepping on anything or making any kind of weird movement. It broke when I was in perfect stride. There was nothing impeding me. The sound and the feeling is something that I’ll never forget.
Is the marathon a frustrating race? You only get to do one or two a year, and something can happen like your injury in Beijing, and you can’t do another one for a year?
I guess it could be frustrating if you look at it that way. But I love staying at home and doing great chunks of training and for me, I really picture race day as an opportunity to show off what you’ve been working so hard for in the last few months. So I really like that you have once chance to lay it on the line. There’s a lot at stake, and for the most part it usually goes right… only a couple of times that it’s gone dreadfully wrong. But I wouldn’t change the highs of it for anything.
Do you have a favorite marathon workout that you’d like to share?
They’re called marathon simulation runs and when they go well I know that I’m doing well. It’s at 20, 22-mile run and it gets harder as the run goes on so that by the end of the run, your doing 5:20 pace, marathon pace for the last 10K. It’s definitely a taxing run, but it’s thrilling.
Will you be back for the marathon this fall?
Yes, well, I’ll definitely be back in town for the race. Last year I commented on television. I always try to fit Chicago into my schedule whether I’m racing here or not. As far as racing goes, I’m definitely going to race a fall marathon, I just haven’t decided which one yet. It’ll be a marathon major, so Berlin, Chicago or New York. They’re run in different months, so it will obviously depend on fitness build-up and which one works better with where I am.