A Grand Summer of Running: Mammoth

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Life has been interesting of late. A dog named Charlie joined our family. We got married. My back healed quickly after surgery. And I was lucky enough to run in some superb places. This is a chronological series of impressions from the trails I explored in the summer of 2015. One installment every Friday, for a while.

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On the last day Deena Kastor spoke the words that, looking back, perfectly capture the spirit of her running camp, and of herself. “Catch me if you can”, she called out casually over her shoulder in that kind, singsongy voice. Then she took off, like a deer, running lightly — practically sprinting — up the mountain. Leaving us behind, gasping and battling our way up, looking a little bit less like light-footed deer.

It was a hazy Sunday morning. The group had started at the Mammoth Mountain Main Lodge, to run the Ezakimak course; that’s ‘kamikaze’ spelled backward. A quick 5K, yes, but also a brutally steep 2153-foot ascent to end at Mammoth peak: over 11,000 feet high.

IMG_0198Deena set the pace, of course, a skinny pink blur moving alongside us. Breathing hard in the thin air, finding any sort of rhythm was tough. Still, the group moved well. Then those words from the Olympic marathon medalist / American Masters record holder on many distances: “Catch me if you can!”

None of us could, naturally, but competition was not the point of Deena’s first Running Escape, held last September in this wild and lovely part of California. Instead, the goals as I saw them:

  • Focused training on a variety of surfaces and courses, under the kind direction of Deena and her husband and coach, Andrew Kastor.
  • Building confidence and a positive attitude toward self and running.
  • Making new friends.
  • Eating really well.
  • Laughing.
  • Enjoying time off the grid in the mountains I had ever visited before.

The quiet trails and the excellent oval track the Kastor’s helped build, provided the perfect terrain as my training for couple of fall ultras was just taking off. The hotel served tasty and wholesome food, and it opened the kitchen for Deena to teach a cooking class as well.

It makes you wonder why some people seem to have all the talent: speed, strength, confidence, health, joie de vivre, and cooking as well. The answer may be that it’s only partly talent. Being around Deena for a few joyful days made it clear that she works hard and happily at all she does as a champion runner, mother, wife, thinker, cook, coach, and Generally Good Person. Her success in running and life is a choice, it seems. That message came shining through during our group runs, Sound Mind workshops, dinners, bus rides, movie nights, chats, and walks.

I found it hard to believe this was her first running camp. Deena knows how to organize. With the help from Andrew and her sponsors, she created a perfect getaway for runners of all ages and backgrounds. I highly recommend it to anyone remotely interested in trail running. But you will not catch her.