Runner’s World ran a short interview a few years ago with Deena Kastor, one of the world’s best marathon runners, and the American record holder in both the marathon and the half-marathon.
The interview covers her return to running, turning 40 and other topics.
She is asked to recount lessons from her running career:
A few things stand out including her gratitude to her coaches for their contribution to her remarkable career. Coaches matter. What a coach says and how she says it will be remembered. When asked about the lessons she’s learned over the years she cited a coach in both examples.
Clearly both coaches have had very positive long-lasting effects on her.
Benchmark against the best
Deena Kastor also reminds me of one of the keys to coaching elite performers. Elite performers in many fields, not just sports, typically compare themselves to the best in their field.
They aspire to be the highest level and therefore want to benchmark their efforts against the standard set by the best.
Here’s the quote:
What are some of the lessons you’ve learned over the years that you’ll take into 2013?
DK: Words of advice that both of my coaches have given me. Joe Vigil, after I won my first major championship, cross country nationals in Portland, Oregon. I defeated Lynn Jennings, who was a nine-time champion, and he said, “I’m not going to give you a pat on the back until you can run with the best in the world.” That taught me that he was proud of that moment, but that there’s always more to accomplish. To me, it’s been fun to accomplish something, then reset my goals to see how good I can be.
It is apparent that she trusted her coach enough to hear his words positively and find the implicit praise. But more importantly, she relished the challenge of being compared to the best in the world.
At the same time she establishes that a runner should remain true to herself, focus on her own plan, style and strengths:
Coach [Terrence] Mahon, before the Chicago marathon in 2005—he’s usually very eloquent and philosophical on the way to the start—that day he told me to define myself. I reflected on that awhile and during the 26.2 miles and realized there were so many moments in the race when I made a decision. You don’t realize how many thousands of choices that get made during a race, to give up or give in, follow the race plan or throw it out the window. If you can always make the positive choice, you’ll get closer to your goals. In pursing that, you are defining your character.
I feel that way when I’m racing, and in life now. When we make choices, we choose how we want to define ourselves to ourselves, our families, to the other people who are helping us reach our goals. I feel so fortunate to have had such great coaches who have given me life philosophies I can carry into the future.
Clearly, her coach’s philosophical approach fit Kastor’s style as a runner and person. She reminds us in this response that the choice to follow your own path, whether in a race or a career, does not happen just once, but must be reconsidered and re-established over and over again.
The entire interview is worth a read. You can find it here.