Deena Kastor turned 40 on Valentine’s Day, but hitting that milestone was not what prompted her to run in Sunday’s L.A. Marathon.
The thought occurred to the American marathon record-holder last year when she was working, jogging down Hollywood Boulevard interviewing runners for television. She was feeling the great emotional punch from the crowd and said to herself, “Deena, I want to be doing this.”
“Deena’s a planner,” said her husband and coach, Andrew Kastor. “She’s always looking for what’s next.”
As recently as five years ago, the L.A. Marathon seemed in danger of disappearing, but former Dodgers owner Frank McCourt came to the rescue with funds and by helping develop a new course called the “Stadium to Sea.” The race began at Dodger Stadium and ended at the ocean in Santa Monica.
“So here I am running with the pack on Hollywood Boulevard, talking to people and being surrounded by all the energy that makes a marathon so amazing to run.” Kastor said. “And I’m in one of the best cities in the world, where I grew up, and when I finished my TV job I turned to Andrew and said, ‘I’m running this race competitively sometime soon.’ ”
To some in Los Angeles, Kastor is better known as Deena Drossin from Agoura Hills. She graduated from Agoura High and won three state Division I cross-country titles plus two state 3,200-meter track championships.
From there she went to Arkansas, where she received a degree in writing as well as winning seven individual Southeastern Conference titles. Faced with the choice of finding a job or continuing to run, Kastor, still Drossin, went to Alamosa, Colo., a runners’ paradise set at about 8,000 feet, the perfect altitude for long-distance training.
She worked with distance guru Joe Vigil, who discovered in Kastor a runner willing to take criticism and turn it into a positive. Vigil said Kastor was running only 40 or 50 miles a week, “what high school kids do,” he said. “That changed quickly.”
There have been plenty of titles since. And the name change. Andrew Kastor, from Huntington Beach, came to Alamosa about four years after Drossin. He was more coach than runner by then, and when Vigil left for a coaching job in Arizona, Kastor began working with Drossin. The relationship led to marriage and a partnership that has been successful.
Kastor has won plenty of titles in her career, including a bronze medal in the marathon at the 2004 Athens Olympics. In 2006, she broke the American women’s record and won the London marathon with a time of 2 hours 19.36 seconds. She also won the 2005 Chicago Marathon in a time of 2:21.25 and became the first American to win a major marathon since Kristy Johnson in 1994. Her Olympic bronze had been the first for an American woman since Joan Benoit won the inaugural women’s marathon at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
The Kastors now live in Mammoth Lakes in a house that is built at exactly 8,000 feet. Andrew said it is the perfect life. The Kastors have no television, but they have a 2-year-old daughter, Piper, and helped found the Mammoth Track Club.
Last year, Kastor finished sixth in the Olympic marathon trials, a result that didn’t devastate her coming so soon after the birth of Piper. But she had planned to compete in the U.S. track and field Olympic trials in Eugene, Ore., but for the first time in her career she had a serious injury.
“I was training great,” she said. “But all of a sudden I had a lower-back injury. I could barely walk and I didn’t know why it happened. We finally figured it was excessive travel. We had driven to a race in Pasadena, a 5K, then drove to Stanford for a 10K, then flew to Boulder for a 10K and each trip it got a little tighter.
“After racing Memorial Day weekend, it was spasming for two months. It was very scary. I couldn’t pick up my daughter. After seeing doctors and chiropractors, it was an acupuncturist in Bishop, Karl Chang, who, in one two-hour session, made the pain disappear. And it hasn’t come back.”
Andrew, who coached his own freshman team at Saddleback College when he came down with mononucleosis and couldn’t run, said what he admired about Deena is, “She has an insatiable will to set goals and always strives to achieve them.
“And then, when she does, she’s thinking about what’s next. She gets me out of bed every morning.
“She’s not blessed with fast twitch muscles, she doesn’t have a big kick, but she does have a ginormous VO2 max, that engine that feeds the body. Her strategy is usually to take it out hard then run scared.”
Kastor expects to face a strong contingent of African and Russian runners in the L.A. event, and her goal is not to set the fastest masters time now that she’s 40.
“I’m training to win,” she said.