Sunday, January 22, 2012


Written by Madeline Bost
Originally Published by the DAILY RECORD of Morris County, New Jersey
On Sunday, January 22, 2012
Copyright, Madeline Bost, 2012

It was cold last Saturday in Houston. The athletes waiting in the holding pen for the US Olympic Trials marathon were told it was 42 degrees. It felt more like 32, and indeed they learned later, it was 32 at the start. Adding to the cold was the wind. There wasn’t supposed to be any wind, but the city streets created a wind tunnel affect. One thing they found to be true – the course, three loops plus a 2.5 mile beginning loop was not really in good shape. In fact it was in really bad shape.

When the women runners started, Kathleen Castles, 40, of New Providence felt the cold and the wind. By mile two, both hamstrings were locking up. Castles was thinking that she would never be able to run another 24 miles with her hamstrings in such a state. Castles had worked hard to get to the starting line and she wasn’t about to give up after two miles.

“Listen Kath, you’re in shape to break 2:40 right now,” she said to herself. “Do you want to do this again or do it right now?”

It was only her fourth marathon. She had run the 2008 trials after qualifying in her first marathon, and in February 2011 she won outright the BI-LO Myrtle Beach Marathon in 2:40:10. She made national news with that win, and now she was in the 2012 Olympic Trials marathon.

No, she wasn’t going to let tight hamstrings stop her. But the course could have. At the technical meeting the night before the runners were warned about the course. In addition to uneven pavement, including a section that was ribbed for a repaving job, sections were riddled with potholes.

When a fellow runner stepped into a hole and fell she sent Castles into another hole. That mishap left her with an injured calf in addition to the cramping hamstrings.

The hamstrings never did loosen up. Stopping to stretch them was out of the question. When she crossed the finish line in 2:39:19 in 38th place out of 152 finishers, she pumped her fists in joy.

But the moment Castles stopped her legs locked up. She was wheeled off to medical in a wheelchair to be rehydrated.

Because she has not mastered the art of drinking on the run, Castles doesn’t take in fluids. She fears a bad reaction will ruin her run.

Once she felt better Castles chatted with the Hanson- Books Distance Project team coaches. Desiree Davila, the woman who came in second in Houston and also in Boston last April, is a Hanson runner. Davila had the same problem the coaches told Castles, and after training to drink while racing she improved.

“They told me I should really work on that,” said Castles.

As they learned more about Castles they offered more advice. Castles does much of her training on a treadmill and when she does run outdoors she is usually alone. She runs at six minute pace for most of her training runs. She is self coached, almost unheard of at the level she is running.

“There are so many things you can do to improve your time,” said one. “A minute for the treadmill, a minute you don’t train with anyone, a minute for no coach, a minute for no fluids. That gives you four minutes.”

He went on the tell Castles he could guarantee that he could lower her times by five minutes, if she were coached. They suggested that she should turn pro and run the masters circuit.

Castles had a full blown case of pre-race jitters in Houston. In the holding pen, filled with runners and coaches, with Meb Keflezighi on her left and Deena Kastor on her right, Castles was ready to head back to the hotel, sure she was in over her head.

“I don’t belong here,” she said to her daughter Stephanie Castles-Fonseca, who had signed in as her coach.

“Mom, if you don’t belong here than 150 of these girls don’t belong here, because you were seeded forty ninth,” her daughter said.

“No, it was a fluke. I just got here on a fluke,” Castle responded.

Her daughter retorted, “Mom, you can run a fluke half mile - you can have fresh legs and run a fast [mile] pace, but you can’t run a 2:40 fluke marathon.”

Castles credits Stephanie with calming her nerves. “Mom I am going to hold your hand and we’re going to go out there and I’m going to stay with you until they tell me to leave you.”

Stephanie and her mother became a side story to the marathon. Not many Olympic trials marathoners have a twenty-one year old daughter. A Newspaper reporter asked Stephanie to write about how she felt. She responded with this tribute to her mother.

“There are no words to describe what my mom accomplished in the Olympic trials this past weekend, or in her life for that matter. Everything she has done has made that weekend even more inspiring. The fact that she had me when she was only 18 years old and continued on with her education, reaching the pinnacle degree in her field and becoming a doctor. The fact the she never gave up on her dreams and trained so incredibly hard for the trials while balancing a life as a doctor, a high school track coach, a coach for the VA running team (which she created), and a college professor. When I saw her cross that finish line in the exact time she wanted so badly I couldn’t stop crying because I knew how much it meant to her and I knew how much she put into it physically and emotionally. I could not have been more proud to be the first one there waiting for her at the finish line.”


One final note: At the USATF New Jersey Awards Banquet on Saturday January 21, Castles was the recipient of the George Sheehan Award for outstanding achievement in national or international competition.

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