THE BLOG
07/01/2015 10:25 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Olympic Medalist Deena Kastor Shares 10 Mindfulness Tips for World Record Success, Health and Happiness

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Olympic Medalist Deena Kastor After Setting Four World Records. Photo Credit PhotoRun.net/Competitor Group

At 5'4" and only 104 pounds, no one knew quite what to expect as 41-year-old Deena Kastor lined up for the 2014 Philadelphia Rock 'N' Roll Half-Marathon.

An Olympic bronze medalist and American record holder for the marathon, she'd recently set two American master's records on her way to victory at the Dallas Rock 'N' Roll Half Marathon.

For this race, her goal was even larger; she was eyeing a world-record. As she lined up, she had nervous butterflies, or what she calls "excitement," a feeling she describes as being completely prepared and ready to get to the task at hand.

Years earlier, feeling supremely prepared for the biggest race of her life, her body broke. Only three miles in at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, a stress fracture took her out of her race.

But that was then.

For most elite runners, 41 is well past retirement, particularly for a mother with a daughter who's now four. But Deena had had a string of successes in recent years and was showing no sign of slowing down.

The gun went off.

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Deena Kastor Leading a World Class Field in the 2014 Philadelphia Rock 'N' Roll Half-Marathon. Photo Credit PhotoRun.net/Competitor Group

Deena did her best to follow her game plan, yet only six miles in, struggled with painful side-stitches, which would return in the last few miles of the race. She says it was touch-and-go, that she thought about giving up, but dug deep and went for it.

It was a race for the record books and she did it! In just 13.1 miles, Deena Castor wiped out 4 world master's records, from the 5 km through the half marathon.

So how'd she do it, and what can we learn from her?

Deena has an amazing attitude, a positivity and sense of gratitude about her that spills over into everything she does. She attributes a large part of her success to her mindfulness, a practice she's used to cultivate her positive attitude and what she calls an "attitude of gratitude" over the years. She says it's not something she was born with but had to work at.

Recently I had the opportunity to sit down with Deena virtually and ask her about her practice. I wanted to understand how her lessons could benefit others. Her attitude was infectious; it was hard not to laugh and smile as she shared the ups and downs of her journey, and how she's stayed positive through it all.

Most importantly, she shared 10 key ways we can all use mindfulness to make our own lives better, whether in the big race, or the even bigger race of life.

  1. Live a Quality, Purposeful Life
  2. Deena: "Goals aren't just pursued in the moment, but in the choices we make throughout the day."

    To juggle the competing demands of being a public speaker, high-profile athlete and mother, Deena has to be incredibly mindful of how she chooses to spend her time. She works to "trim the fat" making sure there's nothing in her day that doesn't serve her. She wants her time to be filled with high quality activities, surrounded with the people she loves -- always on purpose.

  3. Live with an Attitude of Gratitude
  4. Deena: "I am grateful to live the life that I love, and love the life that I'm living."

    Deena says, "I like to immerse myself in the greatness of the opportunity" being incredibly grateful for everything she does and everywhere she goes. It's something she's cultivated over time, what she calls "being in the moment, and really enjoying the action of whatever I'm doing."

    2015-06-28-1435503837-7741251-DeenabytheShore.jpg Deena Kastor Enjoying the Moment. Photo Credit Asics America.

    Just after college she did a gratitude exercise with her coach's wife which changed her. She was asked to keep a gratitude list, to pick ten things each day to be grateful for, but she could never have duplicates. At first it was easy, but then she really had to start searching for things to put on the list that were different than before. She says searching for joy and gratitude helped her train her mind to ignore or push out the negative.

  5. Practice Positivity and Purposefulness
  6. Deena: "If it takes the same amount of energy to choose a positive route over a negative route, than why not chose the positive choice?"

    Deena says she wasn't born innately happy, but that "joy is a practice" and "our choices build up to be our habits." So she consciously chooses not to give negativity any energy. No matter the situation, even after she broke her foot only three miles into the Beijing Marathon, you won't find Deena complaining or berating herself. Instead she'll step back, analyze the situation, and see where she can improve.

    She's also very careful of her word choices in her head, and has worked hard to train her mind, looking for the opportunities in each moment -- even the darkest ones.

  7. See Challenges as Opportunities
  8. Deena: "Even in the moment of suffering and negativity, there's going to be a much stronger side of me."

    She says we should "honor the fact that there'll be challenges, hurdles or obstacles along the way," seeing the obstacles as motivation for change and improvement. And she says when the "poop hits the fan" we get our greatest growth and learning.

    In Beijing it was learning that there's a huge difference between being fit and being healthy.

    She used her break as an opportunity to make big life changes and dietary changes to ensure she was healthy with strong bones so it would never happen again.

  9. Focus on Your Passion
  10. Deena: "My passion is for life, and I chose running to express that!"

    Deena believes it's her passion that's fueled her success and can fuel ours. "I realized that I was a passionate person taking my passion out on running but I could put that passion into just about anything I chose to do."

    2015-06-28-1435504130-2892615-DeenaMountain.jpg Deena Kastor Running for the Pure Joy of It. Photo Credit Asics America.

    This realization for her was an ah-ha moment and incredibly liberating. Realizing it's passion that fueled her, took off the pressure and allowed her to run almost better than ever before, because she was no longer attached to it. She could simply run for the pure joy of it, and the record-breaking was simply a result of it!

  11. Live with Continuous Improvement
  12. Deena: "I don't need to be faster tomorrow than I was today, but I need to be better than I was today."

    In each day and each moment, she's looking to improve herself. She says we're all capable of making changes in attitude and life through the choices we make on a daily basis. To Deena, running's allowed her to chase a better side in herself, asking, "How can I be a better mom today, a better wife, a better contributor to my community?

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    Deena Kastor Running with her Daughter Piper in the Carlsbad 5000. Photo Courtesy Deena Kastor.

    Her mantra used to be "define myself." She'd ask, "how do I wish to define myself in this moment or how do I want to react to this situation, instead of involuntarily throwing myself into it?" She means we are constantly facing choices. Do this, don't do that? Go here, or don't go there? Train hard, or take off the day? Whatever the question is, no matter large or small, she believes it makes us who we are.

  13. Be Excited about Life
  14. Deena: "Celebrate the moment, every moment!

    Deena recommends immersing yourself in the moment, truly celebrating it and finding the pure joy in it. She likes to start sentences with a "sense of thrill or vibrancy" and to throw her hands up in the air in celebration. She says "it may seem silly, but hormones are released." "Now I find myself throwing my hands up going I love this. I love living here. I love my family!"

    2015-06-30-1435671754-2223394-DeenaFamily.jpg Deena Kastor Taking Time with her Family. Photo Credit Holly Andres www.hollyandres.com.

  15. Get Enough Rest
  16. To get the most quality out of her days, she wants the most quality out of her sleep. She balances her hard work with what she calls "hard core rest." This is a secret of the pro's, if you want to work hard, you need to rest hard. Deena gets 10 hours of sleep each night, so she can "attack the day again."

  17. Turn Nervousness into Excitement
  18. Deena: "Naming and titling something differently makes an enormous shift in how you take on that task."

    Deena gets as nervous before the big race as any of us. But she's reframed it in her mind. So she views nervousness as a sign of her preparation, that's she's done the homework and is raring to go. "I'm so invested and so prepared, interested and excited to get on that line and show what I've been working for. Saying 'excitement' has more empowerment and control. It makes you feel like you're invested and ready."

    Before each race she writes down three reasons she should succeed at her goal, then commits them to memory. Then when the going gets tough she can recall why she should succeed in that moment. First she did this with races, now with other life events such as giving a large motivational speech.

  19. Take Things One Step at a Time
  20. Deena: "Running has taught me it takes one step at a time to become a better runner, and a better person in life."

    Deena works to be present in each moment, and take her goals, large or small, one step at a time. Doing so gives her greater joy and appreciation for each moment of the journey.

    She doesn't dwell on the end goal, but on the positive emotions she gains from the experience. She doesn't say winning the race is the reward for hard training but that "it's all a reward!" This releases her to immerse herself in the present moment, whether that's out on a trail watching an eagle soar above, or time spent with training partners on long runs where they get deep and personal. And of course, time with her family. For Deena, "there's nothing better than walks with my family."

By focusing on the present, Deena's life is rich, passionate, and full of joy. And she believes yours can be too!

Deena's mindfulness helps her to stay present and achieve amazing things. But that's almost beside the point. It means she's joyful, at peace, and living her greatest life.

Deena: "I truly believe my fastest days are behind me and my best days are ahead!"

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Deena Kastor Celebrating the Moment in Philly. Photo Credit PhotoRun.net/Competitor Group

Best-selling author Michael Sandler, co-founder of the Inspire Nation Show, has been spearheading mindfulness through MindfulRunning.org and RunBare.com. Michael has been a professional athlete and coach for nearly 25 years, and after two near-death accidents now runs with twin titanium femurs and hips. Together with his wife Jessica Lee, they've started an inspiring new podcast designed to help people overcome their own hurdles and to shine bright. It's Inspire Nation!!! with Michael Sandler and Jessica Lee | Inspirational Stories, Quotes and Mindful Advice from Heroes, Health Experts, and Peaceful Warriors.

Together with his wife Jessica Lee, they travel the world speaking, coaching, and cultivating mindfulness. On many weekends they can be found volunteering, and teaching Mindful Running and Mindful Walking in NYC's Central Park. Follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus.