American marathon record holder and 2004 Olympic bronze medalist Deena Kastor roared back into the news today. Not only has Deena joined the Twitter Nation
@DeenaKastor, but the St. Louis Sports Commission announced her participation in the USATF National Cross Country Championships on February 2nd – an event she has won eight times - and the Los Angeles Marathon has also announced that they’ve signed Deena for its March 17th marathon. It’s arguably the biggest “get” in L.A.’s 28-year history.
“Deena is the most accomplished female American distance runner in history,” said LA Marathon Race Director Nick Curl in announcing Kastor’s participation. “And to have her on the start line of the 2013 LA Marathon is tremendous. We believe that having an outstanding field of runners is part of creating a world-class race and delivering a top-tier experience for all participants.”
A number of factors worked in conjunction to lure Deena back to cross country and then to her first start at the marathon in LA. First, LA is her hometown race. She grew up in nearby Agoura Hills out along the Ventura Freeway. Secondly, Deena has at least rudimentary experience on the Stadium-to-the-Sea LA course, as she ran as a mid-pack field reporter for the KTLA-TV5 coverage of the marathon last year. Also, her husband Andrew is the head of the LA RoadRunner’s Training program. And finally, her shoe sponsor, Asics, is now the title sponsor of the Asics LA Marathon.
“With Andrew coaching the LA Marathon distance program, I got to know the whole team over the last year,” Deena told me from her home in Mammoth Lakes, California. “The event has changed so much in the last few years. When I was growing up in Southern California, I remember watching the LA Marathon on TV, and seeing what a big deal it was. Mercedes was a sponsor, and my dad said, ‘maybe you can win me a car one day.’ But that was even before I started running. So it will be fun to be able to run it now, though my mom and dad will be on a cruise that weekend, which is killing them now that they know I’ll be running.
“But last year I was involved with the TV coverage, and there was so much energy along the course, and I remember running down Hollywood Boulevard thinking, ‘I’d like to run this competitively sometime. The event really celebrates the city. And then Asics came in, too, and brought excitement and the level of involvement like in the New York City Marathon.”
But this won’t simply be a stroll down memory lane. Kastor is in it to win it. That’s where the national cross country championship comes into play.
“Andrew and I were looking back at previous years, and I always did best when I incorporated mid-winter cross country training into my program. So I decided if I was going to train cross country, why not race it? And if I make the world championships team, I want to go to Poland to compete in the World Championships.”
Deena holds two silver medals from World Cross Country competition, but this will be her first serious return to racing since she failed to earn a spot on last year’s Olympic Marathon team in Houston where she finished in sixth place.
“Getting prepared for the Olympic Track Trials last year (in Eugene, Oregon), I fell short of my goal (she did not start) and I hurt my back, but the experience also made me refreshed to race again,” Deena recalled. “So now training is going great. Incorporating cross country gives me strength I can’t get on the roads or track. But I haven’t raced cross country since Boulder 2007. So I’ll grind it out in St. Louis, then hopefully go for the win in LA.”
Kastor’s preparations for LA will also include a half marathon tune up at the Pasadena Rock `n` Roll Half Sunday February 17th, three days after her 40th birthday.
Kastor is an 18-time USA champion in track, road and cross country, and along with Joan Samuelson, whose win at the inaugural Women’s Olympic Marathon in Los Angeles 1984 inspired Deena to enter the sport, is considered one of the queens of American distance running. The University of Arkansas grad hopes to add the LA Marathon title to ones she won in Chicago 2005 and London 2006 where she set the still-standing American marathon record, 2:19:36.
“But we don’t want this to be a one-horse show,” acknowledged LA elite athlete coordinator Bill Orr. “Nick (Curl) assured me he wants a competitive field for both genders. And we still have The Challenge (which pits the top men against the top women in a time-based, staggered competition with the first runner across the finish line picking up a bonus prize of $100,000).
With Deena in the field, however, interest in L.A. should be higher than ever. The last American woman to win the LA Marathon was Olga Appell in 1994.