Two runners labor across a grassy field, one after the other. Both lean into a hill and a headwind and both are battling the fatigue of the end of a race.

The first runner bobs her head with every other step. She’s grimacing. Her limbs seem to flail, but she grinds on. The second runner flows smoothly, a calm look of determination on her face. Step for step, it seems the second runner will fly past the first at any moment. But for the last five minutes, she runs beautifully, behind.

The runner in front, Brit Paula Radcliffe, won that race, the 2002 World Cross Country championship in Dublin. American Deena (Drossin) Kastor placed second—and was “elated,” as she writes in her memoir, “Let Your Mind Run.”

Meditating on her silver medal finish at the 2002 WXC, Kastor wondered why she’d stayed with Radcliffe so long, feeling great, but failed to pass her.

“I had gone to the starting line knowing I could run with the best in the world but not believing I could beat them. I had limited myself by setting a goal based on my competitors.”

In “Let Your Mind Run,” Kastor counts the mind as an essential part of a runner. Using her own story, she considers the power of the mind to motivate the body. It’s not a pop-psychology cliché but rather a deep discipline, “a long-cultivated habit,” she writes, “of building and sustaining a positive mind capable of turning every experience into fuel.”

Kastor’s rigorous approach to training the mind along with the body appeals to me. I’ve found this principle helpful in my running this year, in which I made solid gains, and in my writing practice—also positive.

“I wanted to be an athlete,” Kastor writes about the beginnings of her running career. “I wanted to become the strongest and fastest version of myself possible. I was creating that runner every time I arrived at a tough spot in a workout and used my thoughts and perspective to power through it.”

I find myself echoing her: “I want to be a writer. I want to become the most insightful, articulate and daring version of my creative self possible.”

And Deena Kastor reminds me that I am creating that writer every morning when I sit at my desk at dawn; every time I stick with a difficult passage without popping up for a snack or to check Twitter; every time I send out a story. (Of course, I think of this while I’m running, too!)

For this reason and the steady application throughout the book of disciplined thinking to action, I preferred “Let Your Mind Run” to Radcliffe’s “Paula: My Story So Far.” Radcliffe’s story of win-injury-recovery-win was a fun chiropractor waiting room read, but Kastor’s book has substance.

Of course, Kastor also has some exciting running stories to tell.

Kastor came from behind to win the bronze medal in the 2004 Olympic marathon in Athens. Matching her written recollection of this feat (in 90+ degree heat) with the video brings tears to my eyes. (Radcliffe dropped out of this race.)

Four years later, her fortunes were reversed when she broke her foot—yes, snapped a bone—during the early miles of the Beijing Olympic marathon. In the medical van, her foot the size of a football, Kastor used her deep habit of positive thinking to fully realize the disappointment but still stay away from defeat. “After a crushing blow, the consistent practice allowed me to arrive at a place of acceptance and relative peace in record time,” she writes.

I enjoyed Kastor’s passages about training as much as her descriptions of big races. A runner trains thousands of quiet miles for months, after all, before a single race. Kastor’s account of the run-up to Athens, which included long runs in Mammoth Lakes, CA that followed the topography of Athens, particularly made me want to start doing 100-mile weeks.

While I find almost any book about running enjoyable, “Let Your Mind Run” engaged me on a higher plain, with principles of thinking that can apply to any area of life.

Photo by Ambibro, Creative Commons license 2.5

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