CAPE ELIZABETH — At 11 years old, like many young girls across America Deena Kastor was inspired by a whip of a runner from Maine who in 1984 appeared on her television screen entering the Los Angeles Coliseum, winner of the first women’s Olympic marathon.
Now, as the top American woman at that distance, Kastor will test her fitness Saturday in the TD Bank Beach to Beacon 10K, a race founded by Joan Benoit Samuelson, her long-ago hero.
Kastor, 38, gave birth to her first child, Piper, five months ago and will use this race as a lead-up to the Olympic marathon trials in January.
“I’ve looked up to Joan since I was 11 years old, really, and she’s continued to be a mentor and idol of mine,” said Kastor.
“Right now my fitness isn’t where I totally want it to be. So where my training is, it’s more conducive to (running a 10K). I haven’t put in the 120-mile weeks I’ve previously put in for marathon running. I’m really trying to climb back up the ladder and be ready for the trials.”
Kastor holds American records in the marathon, half-marathon and multiple road distances.
She has won at Chicago and London; she won a bronze medal in the 2004 Athens Olympics in the women’s marathon and is an eight-time national cross country champion.
She will be among the favorites in London next summer and her presence in Saturday’s race is a score for organizers, who have a strong women’s field.
“I’m very excited she’s coming. I’ve watched her career evolve,” said Samuelson. “The marathon is her distance but the 10K is indicative of one’s fitness.”
Kastor has considered entering twice previously, but an injury and then her pregnancy changed her plans.
Kastor was born in Waltham, Mass., but grew up in California and has been training in the high elevations of Mammoth, Calif., for some 11 years.
“This race has been on my short list and for some reason or another I’ve never been able to fulfill the obligation,” she said. “I’m really excited to finally be in Maine and take part in this race.
“As far as it’s reputation, elite athletes around the world love this race because of the great hospitality. It’s just an awesome field this year. I’m really excited.”
Samuelson said she long ago knew Kastor would be a force on the distance-running scene.
During a press conference in New York nearly a decade ago, she recalls being asked who may one day break her record.
“I remember turning and pointing at her, then saying, ‘You’re looking at her right over there.’” said Samuelson. “She’s really tenacious.
“She comes from a similar background, is an amazing cook and knows how to balance her life, and that’s a dying art.”
Kastor broke Samuelson’s 18-year-old American record in 2003, then lowered the mark to 2:19:36 in 2006.
Her odds of winning Saturday aren’t high because of the depth of the field, but she is likely to be among the elite pack and add depth.
“I would love to see her win this race, but other runners have more speed,” said Samuelson. “I think she can mix it up and become very competitive.”
“It’s such an extraordinary field, I just want to stick with the pack of women and see what I can do,” she said.
Kastor said she plans to run the Virginia Beach half-marathon later this fall and then begin serious preparations for the January marathon trial.
Staff Writer Jenn Menendez can be contacted at 791-6426 or at: