Photo: Runner Deena Kastor road racing with the Boston skyline behind her.
Deena Kastor runs with the Boston skyline behind her.

Photograph by PCN Photography, Duomo/Corbis

By Kate Siber

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Mammoth, California-based Deena Kastor is the equivalent of running royalty. She set the American record for the half marathon—twice—won the 10,000-meter national championships four times, and snagged a bronze in the marathon at the 2004 Olympic Games, among a laundry list of other achievements.

1. SHAKE UP YOUR ROUTINE

Humans are creatures of habit, but when it comes to running, those habits can slow you down. “I think the most common mistake anybody makes, no matter what sport you’re into, is we get into a routine, whether it’s going to the same place or going the same pace,” says Kastor. “My advice to people when they’re feeling stale or unmotivated is to switch it up.” Hop in the car and drive someplace new, even if it’s simply another neighborhood, or pick a landmark a hundred yards away and sprint there before resuming a normal speed. Kastor says running the same ho-hum pace every day not only leads to burnout but can also contribute to overuse injuries, so be playful. “It’s all about keeping refreshed and keeping a healthy spirit, whether it’s a change of scenery or a change of pace,” says Kastor.

2. POUND CALORIES

When Deena Kastor finishes her twice-daily training runs, she has one thing on her mind: food. “It sounds gnarly, but when you’re working out, you’re actually breaking down tissue,” she says. “It’s really in the recovery phase that your body supercompensates and gets stronger.” Kastor always keeps a Marathon Bar (an energy bar for which she’s a spokeswoman), an apple, and nuts in her bag for a mix of protein and carbs. She eats something within 30 minutes of a run in order to stop the breakdown process. She’s also a gourmet post-workout and is currently working on a cookbook with healthy recipes like butternut squash soup and avocado enchiladas—perhaps motivation enough to sprint to the finish.

3. SPLURGE ON A COACH

Sometimes breaking out of a rut requires a second opinion, and Kastor says coaches aren’t just for the elites. “I really think a coach or a mentor is a huge asset for anybody,” says Kastor. “If you really do have fitness goals, you don’t necessarily need a team of people around you, but you need someone you can rely on to create a plan for you.” Nowadays, online coaches are relatively inexpensive and can design workout plans for specific races or goals. Often they’ll coach multiple people training for the same race to create a community. (Look to the Road Runners Clubs of America for coach listings.) “If an online running coach is coaching five to six people for a race, you can have people there to answer your questions, whether it’s your coach or a teammate,” says Kastor. “It’s nice to know that you’re not alone.”

4. FIND YOUR PERSONAL ROCKET BOOSTER

A large part of any sport is mental, and running is no exception. For Kastor, inspiration can be as simple as a lyric she picked up from a song—one of her favorites is U2’s “It’s a beautiful day, don’t let it get away”—but she also picks up lines from her coaches. One key phrase, in fact, informed a career-changing win—her first marathon gold in Chicago in 2005. “My coach is very inspiring and long-winded and philosophical, but on that morning he just simply said ‘go out there and define yourself,’” says Kastor. “Just those two words—define yourself—kept replaying through my mind that whole race.” Continually seek new inspiration in your own life, whether it’s a line from a book, a quip from a friend, or an electrifying song, advises Kastor.

5. DREAM BIG

Without dreaming, there’s no incentive to accomplish something special. “When you have that goal in your mind, you’re making positive choices to get there every day,” says Kastor. For some, it’s completing an Ironman or the New York City Marathon. For others, it’s a charity event, a great destination race, or even a running vacation in a far-flung locale. This year, for example, Row Adventures is debuting raft-supported wilderness running trips. Run some 55 miles over six days, camping each night on Idaho’s Middle Fork of the Salmon, or run 40 miles over three days, staying in remote lodges along Oregon’s Rogue River. “That’s on my list for 2012,” says Kastor. The value, however, doesn’t lie only in the goal but also the effort, she says. “Even if you’re not reaching those dreams, you’ve become so much better in pursuing them.”

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