Jul 26, 2019

Let Your Mind Run

A review of Deena Kastor's book about running with positivity

The cover of Deena Kastor's book Let Your Mind RunI’m generally not very big on reading “running books”. I tend to find them superfluous, cliché, and often just downright cheesy. But this spring I found myself DEEP in a marathon training motivation funk. Physically, I felt ok. I was even (mostly) hitting the paces in my prescribed workouts, but this training cycle just wasn’t sparking joy for me. Desperate for some sort of inspiration to muddle through to race day, I came across Let Your Mind Run among the book offerings at the running store where I work. I recalled once having been seated at the same table as Deena Kastor at a work conference dinner and thinking that she was, indeed, a lovely and delightful ball of positivity. And the subtitle of her book suggested that it was possible to “think my way to victory”, which in my mind suggested that this book may unlock my inner marathon superstar by training ONLY my brain. (Versus training my brain AND doing regular running.) In any event, I was desperate and this book was there, so I bought it and began reading it voraciously as my last hope to salvage a crumbling marathon training cycle.

Part memoir, part guide to positive thinking

This book is a memoir of Deena Kastor’s running career and a chronicle of her development and practice of positivity and gratitude as a training tool. I was certain that the solution I was seeking for my own running slump lay in the mental aspect of training, so I was optimistic that Deena could help. (She is a very successful runner, after all.) But I was also skeptical that this book could turn out to be overly touchy-feely or unrealistically “if you believe it, you can achieve it!” “Ok, Deena! I’m counting on you to help me right this sinking marathon training ship!” I think I said aloud to myself as I settled in to do some inspirational reading.

And I truly did find this book to be helpful and enjoyable. Deena’s running talent and accomplishments in and of themselves are downright awe-inspiring, and she and co-author Michelle Hamilton present them in an easy, conversational, unpretentious way. I liked and appreciated the way that Deena walked the reader through not only the external experience of each race, but her inner monologue on every run. I thought she did a lovely job of constructing the evolution of the mental aspect of her training as she progressed from unbeatable high school superstar, to burnt-out collegiate athlete, to America’s fastest female marathoner, to coach, mom, and running icon.

Deena keeps it real

Additionally, I was moved by Deena’s sharing of the wisdom, inspiration, and motivation she drew from her relationships with her first professional running coach, Joe Vigil, and her husband, Andrew Kastor. I found the warmth, authenticity, and intimacy of these two relationships to be palpable. For me it was a nudge to reflect on and feel gratitude for the relationships I draw strength and positivity from in my own life. Furthermore, I appreciated that Kastor did not just preach positivity in the book. She was a true student and practitioner of the concept. She found knowledge and inspiration to fuel her practice in books such as The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield and The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. She also built very intentional habits and behaviors outside of her training, such as keeping a gratitude journal, meticulous planning and executing optimal sleep and nutrition strategies, and creating simple methods to find and enjoy positivity in even the most mundane daily tasks.

This stuff really worked for me! (Kind of…)

So, it’s true, Deena got my buy-in with this book. I really, actually found myself saying things on runs like “This hill is making me stronger! That’s what Deena Kastor would say!” Sometimes I said things out loud to my friends and sometimes I just said them in my head, but there is no doubt that reading this book made me more aware of my inner running monologue and armed me with some corrective strategies to address and reframe it when it veered towards the negative. (Which was often.)

How did my big goal race go, you ask? Well, I’m sure that my pace over the course of the marathon looked like a bit of a dumpster fire to my friends watching their race trackers at home, and it is true that it was the slowest marathon I’ve run in a while by a long shot. However, I am proud to say that upon realizing that it wasn’t my day to run a PR, I was able to reframe the experience, regroup, and truly enjoy the day, and the energy of the course. I crossed the finish line with a huge grin on my face, hand in hand with one of my favorite, dearest running friends feeling joyful and proud of my positive frame of mind. I do feel that Deena and Let Your Mind Run are at least in some part to thank for that.

In conclusion...

I picked up this book looking for a panacea for my abundant personal training woes. Although it did not turn out to be that, as that is a perfectly unreasonable expectation, I truly did find some valuable and applicable takeaways from it. Of course, I found Deena’s physical training routine, her emersion in “the athlete’s lifestyle”, and her sheer talent and ability to be most unrelatable, albeit, an interesting read. But her honest, comfortable tone made her as a person seem very accessible and relatable, and I DID find that I could apply her sport psychology and positive thinking tactics to my own training and life in ways that yielded real improvements. Call me a big, cheesy running nerd (because that is what I am) but I just think it’s really neat that I, a meager middle-of-the-pack recreational runner, am using and benefitting from the very same mental training strategies as Olympian and American marathoning legend Deena Kastor. Perhaps you would find that to be neat as well? If so, I recommend giving this easy-reading, positivity-packed book a read!