How Deena Kastor Used Her Mind to Become a World-Class Athlete

Deena Kastor is arguably the best distance runner of a generation. And she didn’t get there just by having the most physical talent…

Deena Kastor

During much of her career, Deena relied on talent and a hard-charging attitude to win races. She led from the gun and ran her competition into the ground.

For awhile, it worked. She won three California state cross country titles and two 3200m titles as a higher schooler. She also competed at the national cross country meet all four years of her high school career.

At the University of Arkansas, Deena was a four-time SEC champion and 8-time All-American. But things starting going downhill at the end of her college career when she didn’t win the cross country championship.

Soon, her racing was fearful. Deena started asking herself hard questions:

  • If I’m not a talented runner, then who am I?
  • Why am I so worthless with all these injuries?
  • If I couldn’t succeed in college, what chance did I have at turning pro?

This story could have ended there and you’d know Deena Kastor as an excellent high school and collegiate runner.

But it didn’t and you know the rest of the story.

Today, Deena’s accomplishments are eye-popping:

  • 2-time silver medalist at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships
  • US records in the marathon (2:19:36), road 10-mile, road 15k, and road 8k
  • Former record holder in the half marathon, 10,000m, and road 5k
  • Bronze medalist in the 2004 Olympic Marathon
  • Winner – 2005 Chicago Marathon, 2006 London Marathon, and 2008 Olympic Marathon Trials
  • Winner – 2006 London Marathon
  • US record holder for the Master’s Marathon (2:27:47)

This is just a sampling of a dominant career that has spanned decades.

But what in the world happened?! How did Deena go from feeling worthless to winning world marathon majors and medalling in the Olympics?

It started with changing how she thought about running.

Deena Kastor on a “Good Attitude”


After college, Deena traveled to Amarosa, Colorado to train under Coach Joe Vigil. That’s when her running took off.

To discover why and how this happened (it wasn’t better training), Deena joined me on the Strength Running Podcast to discuss the mental journey she’s taken throughout her career.

Our conversation focuses on several topics:

  • How to turn negative thoughts into positive thoughts – while running or in everyday life
  • Why Deena used to race “with fear” (and how she recovered from this dangerous mindset)
  • The mental expectations she’s had to abandon to reach higher levels of performance
  • How to “participate in the process” rather than overly worry about results

These are all major themes of her award-winning memoir Let Your Mind Run: A Memoir of Thinking My Way to Victory.

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Please give Deena a shout on Twitter and thank her for speaking with us today! Her example is an inspiration for any runner who’s in love with running.

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