‘Let Your Mind Run’ Book Review: A Victory In Sharing Insight On How To Chase Wins
When we become passionate about the sport, it’s hard not to want to fully submerge ourselves in all things running. The deeper we dive, the more we learn about the racing greats. We aspire to be like them, follow their careers and want to know what makes them tick. While many professionally runners have penned books, Deena Kastor stands out from the pack with hers. Not only does she inspire and allow runners to peek inside the mind of an elite runner, but she also shares insight on how using mental strategies and how changing the way we think helped her chase wins.
And when applying the same mentality, we can too.
Who Is Deena Kastor?
Kastor’s book, Let Your Mind Run: A Memoir of Thinking My Way to Victory with Michelle Hamilton chronicles the athlete’s career from young girl winning school cross county meets to Olympian and marathon record-breaker.
Detailing her start at running at 11-years-old much of the support of her parents, Kastor quickly found she had talent. But up until her teen years, she relied on that skill and talent as the main reason why she was a winner.
Under the guidance of Coach Joe Vigil, Kastor turned for a high school cross country star who then went on to run at the University of Arkansas to a professional runner who made her passion her career—breaking records along the way.
Her accolades include being the U.S. record holder for the women’s marathon at the 2006 Flora London Marathon with a finish time of 2:19:36. She holds the record for the women’s road 10 miles with a time of 51:31, the 15k with 47:15, and the 8K with 24:36.
Kastor won the bronze medal at the 2004 Olympic Marathon in Athens, one the 2005 Chicago Marathon, placed sixth in the 2006 New York City Marathon, and placed fifth at the 2007 Boston Marathon.
Lessons Through Experiences: The Wins And Loses
Much like the story of any professional athlete, Let Your Mind Run includes Kastor’s many, many wins as well as her losses. Hearing her training and what she experienced in certain races allows insight into the mind and spirit of this extremely focused and dedicated runner. No doubt full of talent, it is her heart that she truly runs with.
Fueling the heart is her desire to win. She is motivated by competition and is aggressive. Which is why sometimes losses cut deep. There was even a time in college where she paused from running, seemingly over it—something many recreational runners experience in their own journey. She comes off relatable but in a class of her own.
It is when she takes a leap of faith and trains under the wing of Coach Vigil where the motivational phrases come pouring in. This is executed in a way that is far sounding clique. It’s hard not to be inspired by his teaching as we watch Kastor grow. It makes the reader want to better themselves as a person, and the runner focuses on achieving their own small victories.
This is mainly based on the power of positivity and how changing the mindset to embrace struggle and fatigue, to eliminate the negative thoughts and look for the positive in any situation. By doing so, having a good attitude could drastically put a good run in motion, as well as a good day.
What It Takes To Be Champion
One of the best aspects of this book aside from the pearls of wisdom in the positivity department is the fact that we get to see what it takes to become a record holder in distances like the marathon.
Long before Kastor even dreamt of mastering this distance, she put in the work for shorter long distance events. She shared how Vigil amped up her mileage from week one of trainer her and how she had to fight to be one of the boys with her training teammates. Vigil also stressed the importance of sleep and how rest during the day impacted performance. She was prescribed daily naps and to keep stress at a minimum. While we aren’t as lucky, we can take away from what it takes to build endurance and stamina and how to balance time dedicated to fitness and time the body needs to rest.
A common theme throughout the book is growth. To become a champion, Kastor had to grow as both a runner and a person. She had to grow physically in terms of pushing her speed, learning her limits and pushing past them and increasing endurance. She also had to grow mentally. Kastor had to overcome feeling not good enough as a runner. Then later when she wasn’t accepted because of her success. The elite runner had to be her own friend and be comfortable in her own skin. She had to learn to overcome injury and embrace setbacks at not being ready yet for the peak in her running.
While we learn it takes lots of mileage and intense workouts on hills and in high altitude to become an Olympian and marathon record holder, what really drives a champion is a love for what they do. The runner is always looking to learn and continue to grow, which is why she does continue to race and attempt her personal bests each time.
There is a section in the book where Kastor struggles with running and realizes there is a difference between a commitment to run versus an obligation. This is something this runner has experiences after being committed to training, seeing success and then losing interest. She experiences this again after becoming a mother, something many (like again, this runner) can relate to. She talks about starting back slowly, enjoying running as play and setting goals.
She talks a lot through the book about having a shift in perspective and how to get back into the grind. She also talks about how we are often our own roadblocks. We put a goal in our heads and once we reach it or get close to it, we think we did it. But really we can be pushed more to achieve even greater things. For example, following her first marathon, she feels stronger than ever. With this new confidence, she no longer has a fear of not placing in the cross country worlds overseas. That year she finished in 2nd place and wasn’t drained. She realized she set her goal to run with the best in the world, not beat them. Just like we have a “Plan B” when a race isn’t going well “we should also have a plan when our strength exceeds our expectations.”
This translates in going for that sub 2:00 half when feeling strong or that sub 30 5k after coming so close in training runs.
Sometimes we as runners can take chances, granted that we put in the hard work during training.
Letting The Mind Run
I started applying the lesson Kastor discusses into my own running. I began to run with my mind. When a run felt tough, when I felt like I was lacking energy or my mind wandered too far, I used her focus techniques. This included locking into a landmark like a tree or a pole and telling myself to give it all I had until I got there. I used longer stretches to allow for surroundings to disappear and pretended, like Kastor, to throw a lasso around that mark and was being pulled in.
When my legs grew tired, I wanted to stop or slow down, I quickly moved to positive thoughts. This included appreciating my legs for allowing me to run. I nodded to nature, breathing in the scenery, thankful for a beautiful day. When it was windy, instead of thinking about how it pushed me back, I thought about training for a half in the humid heat of the summer and how grateful I was for the coolness. When a hill slowed me down and began to suck my energy I thought about how much stronger I was for climbing it.
Towards the end of the book, Kastor talks about her Chicago Marathon win and how she wanted to feel better about winning in terms of the effort and amount of exhaustion that came with that run. She remembered running greats like Joan Benoit Samuelson finishing gracefully at the1984 Olympics at the L.A. Coliseum. She talks about admiring the way Gabriela Andersen-Schiees finished even though she was dehydrated and hurting. “In running, you learn that the way you run matters more than place or time. These women knew this. They ran to their physical, mental and emotional capacity that day, displaying the strongest version of themselves.”
It is a lesson, lead by example from these greats and Kastor, that we can all take away from.
Through her own personal success and failures and stories of other great runners, Kastor’s main message in the book is that any goal put out in the universe can be achieved with the right hard work and positive attitude. And when it comes to being a runner, whether you are a pro or a recreational one, all that matters is that in each run we strive to be the best versions of ourselves with each stride. As a result, each run is a victory.