May 30, 2007

Kastor Goil

Deena Kastor is a f***ing fast runner.

Her 5k PR is 14:54. That means she was moving along at a 4:48 per mile pace, which just so happens to be the 5k world record for women. Deena's best marathon time is a blazing 2:19, which, if you grapple with your abacus for a bit, you'll realize calculates to a 5:19 pace, good enough for an American record. As I said, she's fast.

Deena won the bronze medal in the women's marathon at the 2004 Olympic games and, what with her eight American records and one world record, is a favorite at the 2008 Beijing Games marathon.

I bring this up because Deena Kastor lives in Mammoth Lakes, California. Catherine and I just spent a wonderful long weekend in Mammoth with our two friends, Chris and Wendy. That's pretty much my relationship to Deena Kastor - I spent the weekend in her hometown. I wouldn't exactly say we're bosom buddies.

Mammoth is a gorgeous part of the country and arguably one of the best ski mountains in the United States. I've been to Mammoth many times during many winters and have had the pleasure of freezing my petuties off in many a lift line and bonking my head on the hard snow on many a ski run. This, however, was the first time I've been to Mammoth when it wasn't covered in white. Not surprisingly, I didn't fall down and hurt myself as much as I seem to do during the winter.

Perhaps partially due to the lack of falling on my face, I found Mammoth to be even more pretty on a cool spring day than it is in the cold winter. When you dig beyond the 8 foot snow drifts and icy roads, what remains is a lush, green paradise with cascading waterfalls, endless pine forests and calm, reflective lakes. You half expect Bambi and Thumper to whistle sweet nothings at you from the side of the road.

I suppose if I were to die and go to heaven, one corner of it may look a bit like Mammoth in the spring (including the two Starbuck locations in a town that is less than a mile long. I assume they have Starbucks in heaven, don't they? I mean, they're everywhere else, why not heaven? hmmm.... I wonder if you need to pay for wi-fi access in heaven....)

With a beautiful three day weekend ahead of us, Catherine, Chris and I all brought our bikes up to Mammoth, eager to sneak in a couple of high-altitude rides and runs. Catherine did a bit of research on running locations and somehow came up with a few of Deena Kastor's favorite routes. I'm not quite sure how she did that, but somewhere on this great World Wide Web thingy, she found a site that listed her runs. She's good like that. Meanwhile, Chris assembled a beautiful 56 mile route for us to cycle on Saturday morn.

We all got in late Friday night and immediately hit the hay, which, in this case, is another way to say "tossed and turned on the really bouncy beds." We awoke on Saturday morning a wee bit worn for wear, but eager to get on our bikes. After some aimless piddling around, Catherine, Chris and I hopped over our respective top tubes, eased our respective tushies onto our respective saddles, and rolled off into the great green expanse.

The first thirty minutes of the ride was a non-stop downhill that I suppose doubled as our warm-up. Being the first day of high-altitude exercise, even downhill riding raised our heart rates a bit higher than expected. But, hell, we were on vacation so our heart rate monitors must adhere to vacation exercise rules in which heart rate zones are more of a suggestion than a rule.

After some high heart rate coasting, we turned left onto a long straight road and began the effort-filled part of our ride, as we calmly pedaled towards the mountains that were beckoning us from the distance with a come-hither stare.

I love mountains. There is something about them that is so awe inspiring to me. I suppose that it's the sense of history in each crag and cranny. To me, mountains reflect the power and fortitude of our planet. I can stare at them for hours on end, exploring with my eyes each millennium of the earth's movement and dreaming of the commanding seismic occurrences that carved these monsters. When I see a mountain, I want to climb it and stand on top to understand what it's like to be so all-powerful.

These are the types of things that ran through my mind as we began to bike down the road.

This is the road Deena Kastor trains on! Catherine exclaimed, ripping me from my own private mountain dreams.

Ummmm....Who's Deena Kastor? I responded after I stumbled back to my earthly senses.

After a bit of education on her Olympic history and supreme fast-ness, I nodded, not really knowing what more to say. Ah yes, that Deena Kastor, I probably mumbled.

We continued our ride and I went back into my mind and the calming monotony of a peaceful pedal.

Riding down this road on the outskirts of Mammoth was just about everything you'd expect in a perfect ride. Gorgeous scenery at every turn, very few cars and very few people. The road itself was void of any rocks, glass, gravel or debris. There were no potholes and no sudden cracks that appear out of the void to crunch on your tires. It was as smooth as a newborn's tush.

We passed over the creek, passed the lake, through the forest and up the hill to the summit that was somewhere in the range of 8500 feet above sea level. We took a short little pee break, breathed in the fresh air, then turned around and rolled back down the hill, through the forest, passed the lake and over the creek.

The mountains were behind us now, we were riding away, nearing our climb back to home base. About three miles to go before the end of the straight-away, we rode by a couple of water bottles that were partially buried on the side of the road. Clearly somebody had put them there.

Oh look, Catherine said jokingly, it's Deena Kastor's bottles.

We chuckled to ourselves. Deena Kastor was our running joke throughout the ride. (Didja get the pun in that one, Smartypants?) We passed the water bottles with a smile and continued on with our previously scheduled conversations. Chris and Catherine were in front chatting it up about something or other, I was taking up the rear having a fine how-do-you-do with the Committee in my mind about subjects I can barely remember.

The day had woken and what was a deserted road when we rolled out, had picked up with traffic as we headed back. All the early morning fisherman apparently decided it was time to go home and play with the kids.

Car back! I yelled to Chris and Catherine as a pick-up truck zoomed passed us.
Car back! I repeated seeing a Jeep quickly approach.
Another car! I screamed as I saw a line of roof racks beyond the Jeep.
Car back! I yelled again.
Deena up! I screamed jokingly as I saw two runners approaching us from about a half mile ahead.
Car back! I reverted to my safety-induced monotony.

All the while we stared at the runners ahead. As we neared closer, I realized they were moving at a pretty fair clip. Holy shit, I said, they're hauling ass.

Within seconds they were nearing on us, like bullet train on a crash course. They were flying. And in the blink of an eye they blistered past us. Whoooosh!!!! It had to be somewhere around a 5 minute per mile pace that they were holding. Whooosh!!! I'm not sure if I actually felt the wind of them passing, or was just in awe of their speed.

The man was in front leading the way. As he passed within inches of me, I saw the look of intense pain on his face. It was the look you have right before everything goes to hell. I've felt that look before - I know what it means. Right behind him, with an expression of ferocious, eye-of-the-tiger-like concentration, was a woman. A really f***ing fast woman.

Whoooosh! they slipped by us within mere inches of our bikes. The Road Runner cartoon comes to mind. Whooosh! Beep Beep!

Deena Kastor! Catherine yelled within seconds after they passed. That was Deena Kastor!!

They must've been her water bottles. She must be doing three mile repeats. Holy shit she's fast. That was Deena Kastor! DEE-NA KAS-TOR!!

Wow. An Olympian just came rushing by us. Our hope and pride in 2008, an arm's length away from me. I just saw history, or at the very least, the person who has already written it and is destined to write some more.

As we approached the end of the straight-away we saw the Subaru parked on the side of the road. You know the Subaru, it's the one with the Olympic rings painted on the side, the one that says "Official Car of the Olympic Games." It's the Subaru that Deena Kastor gets for being so f***ing fast.

I don't have a Subaru and I don't have the Olympic rings on anything but a t-shirt I bought at a gift shoppe. I don't own any bronze medals, nor any silver or gold ones for that matter. I don't hold any American records and, Lord knows, am never going to be close to any world records. I can't run a 4:48 mile, I never will.

I don't know Deena Kastor, I never met her. I did, however, spend three wonderful days in her hometown. And though I'm fairly sure none of her fast running genes rubbed off on me as she whooshed on by, I do know that a wee bit of that Olympic spirit in her ferocious focus left an indelible mark on my psyche.

Olympians like Deena are like mountains to me. Packed into her seemingly fragile frame is an awe inspiring fortitude that will long outlive the limited confines of history. And I can only hope to continue pushing my body and mind in my constant quest to climb the mountain and somehow understand what it's like to be so all-powerful in a human type of way.


Chris said...

You forgot nearly peeing on her foot :)

j. said...

um....uh..... i thought we promised not to tell anybody about that.

pb said...

Another great post, J! It got my mind back on track after struggling a bit with motivation. Cheers!

Andra Sue said...

Now THAT is a cool celebrity sighting. :-)

No Wetsuit Girl... overseas! said...

Wait, I have a question. Did she pass you going in the SAME direction or going in the OTHER direction?

If it was the SAME direction and you guys were on bikes, that makes me want to hang up my running shoes right now.

Robin said...

Awesome post, I loved hearing about the mountains, and of course Deena Kastor!

I live in Tracktown USA, so fast runners like Marla Runyan and Mary Decker Slaney are always blistering past on the running trails around here. You're right, it's very inspiring to see the epitome of speed in a human body. Now I will have to look for Deena Kastor when she comes to the Olympic trials here!

j. said...

fortunately, Deena was running in the opposite direction that we were biking. not that she wouldn't have passed us if we were going the same way... but at least we saved face on this one.