Even if you’ve never had the urge to lace up a pair of running shoes, you can’t help but feel inspired by 42-year-old Deena Kastor. This fall, she’ll return to the Bank of America Chicago Marathon—a race she won a decade ago—aiming to run 26.2 miles faster than any American woman age 40 or older ever has.
For more than 20 years of logging miles and winning races, Kastor has absorbed a lesson or two about running. And now that she’s a wife, mother, and businesswoman, too, she increasingly recognizes how much her running career has taught her about success in all areas of life. Here, she lets slip a few of her hard-earned bits of wisdom that’ll inspire you to accomplish any worthwhile endeavor—and maybe, just maybe, slip on those sneaks and hit the road.
1. You might encounter haters—but you’ll also find a huge community to support you.
Kastor says she’s always faced those who questioned her decision to run. Her grandmother, for one, spoke up every time she saw her: “‘Enough is enough already! Put on some weight, save your knees!’ she’d say,” Kastor remembers with a laugh.
Combine these types of messages with the all-too-typical self-doubt women feel in the gym or on the path, and you can see why so many quit running or feel too intimidated to start.
A sure antidote? Join a running group, where you’ll find like-minded (and potentially lifelong) friends to guide your training and cheer you on. Or, go spectate at a marathon or another large road race.
“As people see that unfolding, they realize how many different abilities, bodies, and types of people are out there representing the sport so beautifully, in so many different ways,” Kastor says.
“If you can put one foot in front of another, you can certainly accomplish this.” (Oh, and about those knees—studies show runners are actually less, not more, likely to develop arthritis as they get older.
Kastor’s not-so-creaky joints helped her break the world masters half-marathon record last fall, clocking a 1:09:21. That’s 13.1 miles at 5 minutes, 19 seconds each.)
2. Rest is just as important as hard work.
Throughout her running career, Kastor has placed a high priority on recovery. Back when running was her full-time job and she logged 140-mile training weeks, she’d take four-hour naps in the afternoon—then hit the sack for another 10 hours of sleep each night.
Now she runs less, in part because—like so many other female runners or walkers—she has to balance her running with family and work. So she focuses on making her downtime truly relaxing and restorative, a message she thinks could benefit any ambitious woman.”
My leisure time with my family is very leisure. It’s lying on the floor and pretending we’re animals instead of running around and doing a million things. I try not to overstress my daughter or my husband and me with too many activities,” she says.
“It’s hard when you feel that you lose traction if you slow down, like you’re not grinding all the time. But it’s really important to have mental and physical rest.”
3. You (still) don’t have to deprive yourself to eat healthfully.
Good nutrition has stood as an essential component of Kastor’s training through the years. To her, eating well doesn’t mean banning treats from her diet—after all, she’s a famously terrific baker and foodie.
Instead, she supports her running and maintains a slim frame by eating fresh, whole foods and allows herself occasional special indulgences. “If I want a piece of chocolate cake, it’s going to be something that I made or something from a high-end bakery—it’s not going to be from a box,” she says. “I never binge because I have that fix, but I always emphasize quality.”
She also adjusts her intake to match her mileage. “When I’m not training for a marathon, I’m not as hungry, so I’m eating lighter food,” she says. “When I’m in heavy training, I’m eating more heftily.”
With this strategy, she ensures she has enough energy to power through her workouts, but avoids gaining extra weight that could slow her down.
To fuel your own fitness habit, consider how long and intense of a workout you’re doing, and also what type—your ideal presweat meal differs depending on if you’re a walker, runner, or barre fanatic.
4. Food isn’t the only source of fuel.
Kastor also draws energy from positivity, and says finding joy in her running plays a huge role in her fast times. “Science now shows the physiological effects that positivity and negativity have on your body, and the results are extraordinary,” she says.
You can reap the rewards on a small scale during a tough spot in a race: “The simple act of putting a smile on your face or getting outside your head and looking around at the signs that people are holding, and getting a chuckle from them, releases good endorphins to help with your performance,” she says.
On a higher level, surround yourself with people and activities that make you happy, and you’ll dramatically increase your odds of crossing any finish line.
“Instead of success making you happy, I think the opposite is true—if you’re enjoying your life, and enjoying the pursuits you’re chasing, that makes you successful,” she says.
5. You might slow down—but you can still have big goals.
Sure, the time she hopes to beat this fall—2:28:40—is a few minutes slower than her fastest-ever time of 2:19:36. However, Kastor says she hasn’t lost the competitive drive she felt earlier in her career.
“It’s ambitious to chase records and the fact that I still have the desire to is exciting to me,” she says. “Because it’s out of reach, it makes me really hunker down and focus on the small details to make it happen.”
That constant striving helps her perform better in her other roles, including as a parent to 4-year-old daughter Piper and president of a running group called the Mammoth Track Club. “I believe running teaches me to be a better person,” she says, and she firmly believes it can do the same for you.
When you have a day that you don’t feel like running or working out but you do it anyway, remember how you powered through; the more you practice digging down deep, the easier it is to call on that strength when you face a traffic jam, a fight with your family, or a crisis at work.
“In life when you’re having a rough day, to stay mentally committed and get through that and still be a good mom and a good wife and a good ambassador to your community is really gratifying,” she says. “I wouldn’t have that if it weren’t for this sport.”
This article was originally published on Prevention.com