13 Years After Marathon Debut in NYC, Kastor Aims High

Deena Kastor NYC Marathon

Just months after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the 2001 New York City Marathon helped bring the city back to life, giving New Yorkers a day of much-needed joy, and serving as a powerful symbol of hope and resiliency.

It also launched the marathon career of a 28-year-old track and field champion named Deena Drossin (now Kastor).

“I remember how patriotic it was; it seemed to have a deeper meaning that day,” she said in a telephone interview last week, recalling how she got a lump in her throat when a Kenyan athlete began singing the national anthem next to her on the start line. “I remember it being a calculated race. It felt very easy the first 15, 16, 17 miles, then all of a sudden it got hard. It was the race that really hooked me on the sport.”

When Drossin crossed the finish in 2:26:59, the race took on yet-another meaning—it was a turning point in U.S. distance running: At the time, her finish was the fastest ever by an American woman in the race, the fastest debut marathon by an American woman in history, and the best marathon time by an American woman in nine years.

At the TCS New York City Marathon on November 2, the 41-year-old Deena Kastor is aiming to run 2:25—faster than she ran in her debut 13 years ago. (You can find a list of all 2014 TCS New York City Marathon pro athlete entrants here.)

If she succeeds, she would shatter Colleen de Reuck’s U.S. master’s record of 2:28:40. She could even, on the right day, break the tape. When Kastor was reminded that the winning time of last year’s race was 2:25:07, she paused.

“Yeahhhh,” she replied, drawing out the word to its fullest extent. “I want to be able to race, but you never know what’s going to win it this year.”

Kastor marvels at the fact that she’s even having this conversation, because it wasn’t long ago that the 2004 Olympic bronze medalist, two-time IAAF World Cross Country Championships silver medalist, and U.S. record-holder in the marathon (2:19:36) was taking steps to wind up her brilliant racing career. In 2012, she and her husband and coach, Andrew, took over the Mammoth Track Club, with which she has trained for most of her career, and Kastor had her eye on the 2013 IAAF World Championships as her last competitive marathon before making the transition to mentoring the next generation.

Instead, Kastor will set out across the five boroughs, running faster than she has in years. Last April, she set an American master’s record of 1:11:38 in winning the More Magazine/Fitness Magazine Women’s Half- Marathon in Central Park. In September she broke the world master’s record at the same distance, running 1:09:36 at the Rock ’n’ Roll Philadelphia Half-Marathon—her fastest race at the distance since 2006. Had she not gotten carried away jousting with her competitors and running 5:05 and 5:06 miles in the early going instead of the planned 5:15s, she said, she might have run 1:08. Nonetheless, in addition to breaking the half-marathon mark, she also set en route world masters records for 15K, 10 miles, and 20K.

Kastor reflected on the rejuvenation. “I think the thought of retiring had me slowing down a little to see what would be the next chapter of my life,” she said. As she cut back her mileage and began to focus more her life off the roads, which includes a 3-year-old daughter, Piper, “I saw how rewarding that could be. Not having that pressure to improve time-wise, but having the pressure to see how I could enjoy this as a person has led to a great process. I’ve had more joy and pleasure the past year in my running than ever before. That true happiness seemed to unlock a whole new energy source for me.”

In an October feature story on his wife, Andrew Kastor told Runner’s World: “I am way more surprised with her performances over the last 18 months than when she was training full-time. We really didn't think Deena would be this fast at 40.”

The night before every marathon, Kastor sits down and looks through her training log, reminding herself of the hard work she has put in. When she opens the log on November 1, she will see that she broke 5 minutes during a mile-repeat session one Tuesday morning and think “Wow, I haven’t done this since 2004!” She will see a string of 10-mile tempo runs at faster than race pace. She will see that she ran under 6-minute pace on long runs.

She will see that she is ready to do something special.

When asked what would constitute a perfect race on November 2, Kastor replied, “That’s a great question. I guess my goal is for top five. I would be ecstatic with a podium finish there. But if I ran 2:25 and was 15th, I would be proud of that because it’s where my fitness really lies right now.”