The Magic of Mammoth Part 1: Where Legends Run Free, by Cait Chock

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Deena Kastor, photo by PhotoRun.net

And thus, begins a series on Mammoth Track Club, written by Cait Chock. Watch for several pieces from Cait this week on the New York City Marathon! Now that yours truly is out of official jet lag! 

The Magic of Mammoth Part I: Where Legends Run Free

By: Cait Chock


Mammoth Lakes, CA, known by travelers and thrill-seekers as a stunning natural escape and adventurous mecca, known by runners of the world as home of Olympians. The magic that is Mammoth exceeds that of running acclaim, and yet, one can't ignore that the fleet of foot bring to the city a bit of their own magic. Here is a town, surrounded by mountains, animals amongst beings, runners pushing the bounds of abilities.


A forest knows no walls, a distance runner dreams without limits. The runners there today come from legacy, "The ASICS Mammoth Track Club is the third version of the club since its inception in 2001. I like to call it, 'Mammoth Track Club 3.0'," explains MTC Coach, Andrew Kastor. His wife, Deena, needs no introduction, she is part of that living legacy. "The club started with Meb and Deena along with several other US Olympians in 2001. There was mega stardom with 6 US Olympians [Deena, Meb, Jen Rhines, Amy Rudolph, Elva Dryer, Nick Rogers] to blaze the trail for us."


When Andrew and Deena officially took over the club in 2012 from Terrence Mahon, they had a clear vision for the future but also tremendous respect for the past. "We are a group trying to carry on a tradition that was handed off to us, BIG SHOES TO FILL," emphasizes Andrew. In taking the reins, the goal has remained the same but the approach has shifted. "The ASICS MTC is focused on developing marathoners at the highest level. Placing athletes on US Teams is our main focus...Deena and I both agreed that we knew the marathon very well and could pass along useful information and tips to young, aspiring marathon runners. We also felt comfortable with the training formula needed to develop such athletes, utilizing the varying elevations to our advantage."


And so the couple continued to collect their stable of runners and the results have followed. Today's MTC now includes: Deena Kastor, Bria Wetsch, Lauren Jimison, Lauren Kleppin, Gabe Proctor, Josphat Boit, Josh Cox, and Shadrack Biwott. It has produced 12 Olympians and 64 National Champions, breaking 24 American Records along the way.


Then there is Deena, the living, breathing legend of Mammoth running. Just weeks ago at the Rock 'n' Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon she once again captured our hearts, took the breath from our lungs, stole the words from our lips, in setting a remarkable four World Masters Records. Enroute to her new World Half Marathon Record of 1:09:36 she clocked the World Masters 15k, 10 mile, and 20k records. The picture of her finish: raw, poignant emotion, rivaling that of her 2004 Athens Olympic Bronze Medal finish. 


The magic the runners bring to this natural beauty is something the town fully recognizes and supports. "The community is a tremendous help with supporting its elite athletes, from snowboarders to distance runners, Mammoth welcomes all levels, all sports, and all abilities with open arms," shares Andrew. A support that was felt from the beginning; the Town of Mammoth has been providing free lodging for the elite runners and over time more and more local sponsors have teamed up: Mountain Ski Area, Mammoth Lakes Tourism, Snowcreek Athletic Club, and Mammoth Hospital. And certainly, "We could not exist if it wasn't for ASICS and the NYRR who also support our endeavors." 


The runners are more than aware just how much the Town is doing for them and that gratitude is shown far beyond just words of thanks. "ASICS Mammoth Track Club really loves to give back to the community," explains Lauren Jimison. "Whether it's hosting fun runs or races, cleaning up the town, or speaking to high school teams that come into town during summer, we enjoy giving back. The town and ASICS Mammoth Track Club are a team. We love that." 


That same respect is granted to the natural environment too, "As runners, we are very passionate about preserving the beauty, function, and upkeep of our trails, as well as the right to do so. With conscientiousness in mind, we have to remember to respect the beautiful places we get to run through whether that is through positive example of respect, or through active clean-up," shares Lauren Kleppin. "Living here in such a small community is a great way to understand and actually see the strength that one voice, one hand, one idea, one hour, or one day can actually offer to make a difference."


After all, that incredibly unique habitat has created idyllic training circumstances for endurance athletes. One in which the MTC has capitalized on and has played a major role in breeding all of its success. "One of the biggest reasons we have had such great results is that we are able to live high and train low 9 months of the year!" states Andrew. "We train at 9000', 8000', 7000' and 4500' throughout the year. The athletes are able to hit faster paces at the lower elevation and the workouts take less time to recover from." With no reason to leave home base for 10 months out of the year, "Making altitude training a lifestyle is a key factor to our success."


The support of a Town, the guidance of legends, a utopia for training; all this lays the groundwork for the spectacular moments witnessed at a finish line. But, just as there exists a world between start and finish line, it's what the Kastors and MTC are DOING to build atop that foundation. 


Continue reading my RunBlogRun exclusive series on the "Magic of Mammoth" as I'll be sharing more on their training, nutrition tips, confidence-boosting workouts, community of support, and features on the athletes themselves. Stay tuned!


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Caitlin Chock (caitchock.com) set the then National High School 5k Record (15:52.88) in 2004. A freelance writer, artist, and designer she writes about all things running and founded Ezzere, her own line of running shirts (www.ezzere.com). You can read more, see her running comics, and her shirts at her website.

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