Runner Reads: “Let Your Mind Run” by Deena Kastor and Michelle Hamilton

Hand holds the hardcover book "Let Your Mind Run: A Memoir of Thinking My Way to Victory" by Deena Kastor and Michelle Hamilton, with the backdrop of grass.

When I was trying for fast mile times earlier this summer, I thought of what I’d read in Deena Kastor’s book, “Let Your Mind Run: A Memoir of Thinking My Way to Victory,” written with Michelle Hamilton. I tried to think positively on my way to a fast (for me) time.

Kastor, who set American records and earned an Olympic medal, writes about her running journey from the age of 11 through her retirement from professional running — and she shares the power of positive thinking.

For example, here’s something I’ve definitely experienced while running — not surpassing how I expect to perform. I usually know about how fast I’ll be able to run a race (when we can have them…). Sometimes, I’ll look at my watch and feel like I’m going too slow — or too fast. But the year(ish) that I ran races without my watch was one of my fastest years ever.

Kastor wrote about a situation her coach, Joe Vigil, relayed to her regarding runner Jim Ryun, his coach Ted Haydon and runner Kip Keino of Kenya. Haydon told Ryun nobody would run faster than 3:40 in the 1,500 at the 1968 Olympics, she wrote.

“No one, though, Coach (Vigil) said smiling, told Kip about the 3:40 limitation. Ryun ran a perfectly paced race, but it wasn’t enough to catch Kip, who ran 3:34 without that mental governor. Ryun misjudged the race and took second. ‘That’s the amazing thing about the mind,’ Coach said, ‘once you develop a mental level of expectation, it stays with you.'” (page 70)

It wasn’t just during workouts that Kastor turned on her positive thinking. Because of Coach Vigil’s wife, Caroline, Kastor started writing a “gratitude list” of 10 different items daily. Since she had to come up with new items all the time, she thought about it all day, she wrote.

“Constantly scanning the world for goodness, I ran with greater lightness, infused with a deep appreciation for Coach, everyone around me, the opportunities before me, and my body itself. Positive thoughts came more quickly now, without a conscious shift.” (page 97)

While she and Caroline had discussed doing the gratitude list exercise for a few weeks, it seemed like recognizing the positives just became part of Kastor’s everyday life.

When Kastor was younger, she thought talent was something she had a certain amount of, she wrote in the book. She seemingly didn’t realize that she could start with the talent she had and work to improve her performance. When she first started running, she won all the time (once she realized it was OK to pass her fast teammate), and as she got older, she went up against tougher and tougher competitors.

It was interesting to read about her races and her progression as a runner. I also didn’t realize that it’s common for pro runners, including Kastor, to live in Europe for a few months and compete there.

I also didn’t know that Kastor was a baker and had to decide between opening a cafe and pursuing running full-time.

I took a photo of one quote in the book that I thought was amusing from my perspective. “You race infrequently during a marathon buildup,” she wrote on page 176.

Well, not if you’re me. Obviously, it makes sense not to put out your max effort all the time — I just find races to be fun. After that sentence, she went on to write about running (and winning) a half marathon in Virginia Beach, which I believe would have been the Rock ‘n’ Roll Virginia Beach Half, a race I’ve run the past few years.

Another page I took a photo of featured this thought on a training run: “Get to the next water bottle and you’ll have the energy to finish this thing. But you’ve got to finish it.” (page 178)

I think I’d taken a photo of that because getting to the next water bottle reminded me of something. I use water stops in my own races as motivators, but I was thinking someone I’d interviewed — or maybe read about — also talked about making it to the next water bottle. However, with a quick search, I couldn’t find what I may have been recalling.

I also liked this quote from her teammate and later coach Terrence.

“Once Terrence was running alongside me and I told him I was in a big struggle right then. ‘Don’t let the fatigue deceive you,’ he said. ‘There’s good and bad patches in a race and it’s your job to get out of the bad patches as quickly as possible and hang onto the good ones.” (page 178)

Upon reading about Kastor’s Olympic Marathon in Greece in 2004, I actually gasped when I read the temperature was 101 degrees Fahrenheit (Kastor wrote that she did too). Running in the heat is so tough for me, and I can’t imagine competing in (or even slogging through) 26.2 miles in that kind of temperature.

I also noted that Kastor took a whole month off from running post-marathon — for example, she mentioned she took that amount of time off after winning the Chicago Marathon in 2005. I always take a week off and I just wanted to throw this out there for people who feel like they need to get back to running as soon as possible. Rest is good!

Using mental strategies isn’t going to get me to Kastor’s level (duh), but I think considering the mental aspect of running and our attitudes can be helpful for any recreational (or pro) runner.

2 thoughts on “Runner Reads: “Let Your Mind Run” by Deena Kastor and Michelle Hamilton

  1. What you said about not letting your expectations limit your performance reminds of something in the doco “The Barkley Marathons” (on Netflix). No-one expected to complete the race and no-one did complete it. Until a guy from England turned up one year and no-one had told him of that expectation. He finished the race!

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