Long-distance runner Deena Kastor won the bronze medal in the women’s marathon at the 2004 Olympics and holds American records in the marathon and half-marathon. She is also an eight-time national champion in cross country. With the Foot Locker Cross Country Championships for high schoolers set to take place in San Diego on Saturday, we caught up with Kastor to reminisce about competing in that race, and asked about where her career will take her next.
What memories does the Foot Locker National Championships bring back for you as a runner?: The curse of never winning is a little bittersweet. I was fortunate enough to make it all four years and never got that national title. But what sticks out most are the relationships with the other runners, people I still keep in touch with, like Kira Jorgenson, who was a winner here.
Probably my fondest memory was the year -- luckily the apparel sponsor, Asics, is much better now -- but one year the apparel sponsor gave the West team white uniforms. It was that really thin nylon material, and we decided since it was televised that year that we were going to get red nail polish and paint “Happy Holidays” on our underwear. We have shots from behind the start line of all the runners lined up in their color-coded boxes and the West team with “Happy Holidays” written on our behinds.
There’s a big pressure here to perform, but painting our underwear and strategizing how we were going to get our butts on camera the next day was a really great icebreaker the night before.
At this point in your career, what message do you want to send to the runners out there this weekend?: The Foot Locker Championships really are the epitome of the sport of cross country. We all have league meets and state meets, but this is one of the only national championships so it’s a big honor just to be a part of this competition. It’s a great competitive field every year and the winners go on to do great things in college and beyond.
But so do the people who don’t end up winning. I never won a national championship here, and I never won a national championship when I got to college, though I was a runner-up a couple times. I still went on to be successful at a professional level because of the persistence and hard work and love of the sport. So don’t treat it as an end-all race, even if it’s the last race of your senior year. It’s just the beginning.
What do you need to consider your day complete?: Hmm, can it be two things? A run and a glass of wine.
What’s one thing that you will never do? Smoke. I feel that my lungs (and my feet) have been my prized possessions over the years. They don’t let me down. They rise to the challenge every day, they grow and expand and have developed in such a way that smoking would just completely destroy everything I’ve ever worked for.
What song best describes your life? Is it Kool and the Gang that does “Celebration”? I think so. “Celebrate good times, come on!” I really do believe that every day is a celebration. Maybe that’s why I drink a glass of wine every day. I just feel so fortunate to have been born into a family that is supportive of everything I do, to have great mentors, and to have an amazing family that I chose in my husband, Andrew, and our 2½-year-old daughter. It’s been an amazing 40 years and I can’t wait for the next 40.
At this point in your career, what do you really want to do?: I will always run, so I don’t feel like I am ever going to retire. I live a runner’s lifestyle every day and I love it. I feel like the years I was really performing at my best I was giving back to the sport that way, by helping to inspire people through performance.
Now I feel like I can give back in other ways. I’m really into youth initiatives and helping kids find the sport and stay in the sport. I’m also on the board of directors for USA Track and Field, and the only reason I sit at that boardroom table is to do what I can to help the sport of track and field. So whether it’s bringing more attention and fans, or wider participation, or highlighting elite athletes, I’ll do what I can. That may mean a bit more travel … but if it’s for the betterment of the sport, I’ll be there.
What’s your biggest weakness? My biggest weakness is wind. That’s the first thing that comes to mind. Wind is my nemesis. But my other biggest weakness is saying no. As crazy and busy as Andrew and I are, though, we would never cut out anything we’re doing because we love it all. Maybe the inability to say no isn’t a weakness -- here I am backpedaling. It leaves us busy and always tired and completely exhausted, but there’s nothing we feel we’re willing to cut out of our schedule.
Do you hope your daughter will run at Foot Locker someday?: One of my biggest joys was watching her run a half-mile turkey trot on Thanksgiving and having the time of her life with this big smile across her face. I’d support any sport she wanted to be a part of. But my focus these last couple years, along with Andrew, has been to be a good role model and empower her to make good choices that way. My biggest misconception with parenting is thinking I was going to be in charge of teaching her all these things, but really they observe so much we just need to be examples of what we want from our kids and guide them in that way.
As I stand her looking at this big collage of photos over the years, Amy Yoder Begley, Carrie Tollefson, Melody Fairchild, all these amazing names who have stayed in the sport, to see her being introduced on the start line here someday would be just awesome.