Deena Kastor was a star youth runner with tremendous promise, yet her career almost ended after college, when her competitive method—run as hard as possible, for fear of losing—fostered a frustration and negativity and brought her to the brink of burnout. On the verge of quitting, she took a chance and moved to the high altitudes of Alamosa, Colorado, where legendary coach Joe Vigil had started the first professional distance-running team. There she encountered the idea that would transform her running career: the notion that changing her thinking—shaping her mind to be more encouraging, kind, and resilient—could make her faster than she’d ever imagined possible. Building a mind so strong would take years of effort and discipline, but it would propel Kastor to the pinnacle of running—to American records in every distance from the 5K to the marathon—and to the accomplishment of earning America’s first Olympic medal in the marathon in twenty years.
Let Your Mind Run is a fascinating intimate look inside the mind of an elite athlete, a remarkable story of achievement, and an insightful primer on how the small steps of cultivating positivity can give anyone a competitive edge.
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About the Author
Michelle Hamilton is a health and fitness journalist. Her work has appeared in Runner’s World, Bicycling, Women’s Health, and other publications.
Read an Excerpt
Running seemed fail-proof. There were no tryouts, no one was cut, everyone participated and got a ribbon. Most kids started with the sprints, but my mom ruled them out because a few girls in the valley were already racing at a national level, including future Olympian Marion Jones. Ever protective, my mom thought if I got clobbered in the sprints, my self-esteem would plummet, so she had me join the distance-running group.
My dad drove us all to the track on the first day. I was braiding Lesley’s hair when we pulled in to the school and the chaotic scene caught our attention. Kids were jumping into sandboxes, arching over bars, falling into big blue mattresses. Coaches were shouting and pointing and clapping. My mom, with a plush stadium cushion in one hand and my sister’s hand in the other, made a beeline toward the bleachers. I followed my dad, who had offered again to be a volunteer coach. We scanned the field to find the distance team and were eventually directed to a group of about eight boys and girls huddled around head coach Sal Pratts.
Coach Pratts was a big personality stuffed into a short, strong frame. “Today’s warm--up is a half mile on the track, then five minutes on the trail,” he said.
Wary of doing something wrong, I asked, “How many laps is a half mile?”
“Two,” he said.
My dad held up two fingers.
“Where’s the trail?”
Coach Pratts started to give me directions, but then said, “Just follow Noelle, if you can keep her in your sights.”
Noelle was tall and leggy, with short, curly brown hair and big white teeth highlighting a friendly smile. We hit the track. Noelle had been running for a few years and her experience showed, but I found I could keep up with her. This was a relief; I just had to watch her to know what to do.
Our half mile complete, I followed Noelle out the gate. The school abutted the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains, and we followed a dusty trail a short way into the hills. I looked up and was taken aback. The land was open and wild. There were fields of dry grasses and chaparral broken only by large arching oak trees. Rattlesnakes hidden in yellow flowering brush shook their tails, and horses grazed in the fenced--off meadows. I’d seen the mountains on the drive to the mall and thought they were pretty, but never knew you could go into them. When it was time to turn around, I didn’t want to.
I loved running right from the start. It was simple and fun. It lacked rules and structure. There was no equipment to fuss with, no technique to learn. While the kids on the infield waited for their turn to jump or throw, Noelle and I and the other kids ran single file on the dusty cinder track. I remember thinking how lucky we runners were to be in constant motion. We were part of the action all the time. Running was also, to my surprise and delight, both solitary and social. One minute I was dashing down the track as if by myself on the side of the hill. The next, I was whipping around and making funny faces, trying to make my teammates laugh.
Best of all, running didn’t make me feel foolish or ridiculous, like I’d done something wrong. The ease of it made me feel competent and free. Everything we were asked to do, I could do. I ran and counted my laps. I warmed up on the trails, happily shooting out the gate with my teammates to the wild open space, and ran among the rabbits and deer. Sometimes, Coach Pratts let us run through the neighborhood. We stretched across the whole street, a pack of scrawny kids exploring manicured suburbia, unfettered, adventurous, going where none of the other kids got to go.
Table of Contents
Prologue: Olympic Marathon, Athens, Greece, 2004 1
Part I Open
1 Winning 7
2 Losing 28
3 The Magical Vision of the Marlboro Man 35
Part II Grow
4 Getting Schooled in Running 57
5 Assembling an Athlete 73
6 What Are You Thinking? 81
7 A Well of Strength 95
8 Strategic Joy 101
9 Seeing Is Believing 109
10 Positivity Has a Passport 121
11 Love Makes You Stronger 135
Part III Believe
12 A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Optimism 149
13 Going the Distance 167
14 How to Chase the World 191
15 Running on Joy 213
16 Go! Go! 227
17 The Meaning of Winning 237
Part IV Flay
18 A Sandwich on the Deck 259
19 The Positive Path 269
Epilogue: Chicago Marathon, 2015 279
The Optimist's Guide: 7 Mental Habits for Reaching Your Potential and Living a More Positive Life 283
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I love reading about inspiring athletes, especially DEENA <3 - I became a runner in CA not far from where she grew up. Always wanted to meet her (she was a member at my gym in Oxnard) and this book made me feel like I was there, w Andrew and Mike and her training buddies all along. It is so well written, and she goes through a lot of the same mental issues as us mere mortals. It had me so inspired and still does - adding mile repeats to my regimen ASAP. I’m a pro triathlete and my half marathon is less than 10min slower than Deena’s and that makes me proud!! So happy I read this amazing book. She rules. And she is relatable as a person - who knew they were real people!?!! Love it. Tears for Aspen. Hooray for coach Andrew and Piper and Super Deena.
Reading this will help me work more on my mental game.
The joy and wisdom shared by Deena is simply life transforming! I have not stopped smiling and looking for the positive blessings in my life since picking up this book. Thank you Deena!