Today I am thrilled to introduce you to a very dear friend, Kristen Fagley. Kristen and I have known each other since 8th grade and went to school together till 12th grade. We stayed in touch and visited during college, she was in my wedding, and Brian and I have visited her in DC. She has always been a talented, disciplined swimmer and swam for George Washington University during her college career.
She has remained in DC, tearing up the event planning world and dabbling in endurance sports. I asked her to share some of her story with you, because I think it's encouraging. Her athletic journey has taken many twists and turns, dealing with schedule changes, injuries, and way-to-cold weather. She has some great advice for athletes at any level with all kinds of goals.
Kristen Fagley, Triathlete
Describe your journey to participating in endurance sports. What do you enjoy the most about these events?
I grew up as a competitive swimmer basically my entire life. After my swimming career ended in college, I needed a break from the sport so I decided to start running. Running more than 30 minutes when I first started seemed impossible and was just plain boring to me. But I stuck with it because I knew it was a good work out. I remember the first time I ran over an hour. I couldn’t believe I actually ran for that long! But by gradually adding 5 or 10 minutes to my runs each week, I was soon able to run for long distances and actually enjoy it.
The hard part was working out just for the sake of staying in shape. I had always trained towards a goal in my competitive days of swimming. So, I signed up for a half marathon as my first running race and set out to complete it. When I finished it, I figured I was already half way to a marathon so I might as well keep going and have that as my next goal. A couple years later I was asked to participate in a century bike ride to raise money for an organization I was volunteering with. So I bought my first road bike and started training for the 100 mile race. Soon after the century ride I decided to try triathlons and put the three sports together. And this past year, I competed in my first Half Ironman – 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run.
I enjoy challenging my mind and body during the longer distance races. I like pushing myself to do more than I thought possible. It keeps me motivated and it makes living a healthy lifestyle necessary. I think more about what I’m putting in my body when I’m training for a specific race and I’m more intentional about getting a good amount of sleep. Overall it forces me to make healthier decisions.
You've dealt with some injuries through the years. What have you learned about your body through these experiences/challenges?
I think it’s really important to listen to your body and be in tune with how it is responding to work outs and nutrition. Paying attention will help you to know the difference between normal muscle soreness/fatigue from hard work outs vs. pain from an injury that needs more attention than Advil.
I signed up to do my Half Ironman in October of 2011 and injured my lower back two weeks later. The race wasn’t until June 2012, but I was worried about losing my fitness base before my training plan began because I knew it would be intense. But, I also knew I had to listen to my body and rest up or pay later. I had to stop exercising completely and do physical therapy for 3 months. This was not easy for me, but with the proper rest and therapy, I was able to start working out again. Although I had to take it a little easy at first, I was able to catch up to the appropriate distances after the first initial weeks and did not experience the pain in my lower back when training really ramped up. If I hadn’t rested my back and taken the appropriate steps to get it healthy, I would have only lengthened the time to full recovery and potentially missed some critical training weeks. So listen to your body and, of course, professionals!
How has nutrition played a role in your training and completing your half ironman?
Nutrition is hugely important while training. Making sure my body had the proper fuel during and after work outs was intimidating at first. I’ve heard stories of people "bonking" in their races because they didn’t hydrate enough or give their body the right amount of calories and fuel to get them to the finish.
During the Half Ironman training I was burning thousands of calories and the timing of when to refuel was crucial to figure out. I didn’t realize how scientific it could all be. I went through a period of having GI issues after long 3 – 4 hour training sessions and with Jenna's help found out I wasn’t drinking enough fluids during and after work outs. By weighing myself before and after the work outs she was able to tell me how many ounces of fluid I needed to re-hydrate my body. When I started following the formula, my stomach problems went away.
Of course that was just one example of what I learned about nutrition. One general rule of thumb I’ve learned is to never introduce anything new nutritionally on race day! Always test new products out when training or you could be in for an unpleasant race day experience.
What are some of the things going through your mind (mantras) during long training or events? Or another way to ask it - what helps you stay focused?
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger...” I listen to that Kelly Clarkson song a lot during training sessions! Ha. Cheesy perhaps, but effective! And sometimes I just say the phrase to myself as positive reinforcement when my muscles are fatigued and I want to manipulate my bike route to cut off 10 miles or turn around on my run before I’m supposed to.
I’m not an Olympian or professional athlete or on the medal stand at amateur races. I know I’m not training for glory. But, pushing my mind and body to go further, go harder, and go faster results in an awesome feeling of accomplishment and gets me to my end goal. Sometimes I’ll visualize the race I’m training for and see myself crossing the finish line or see a new personal best time. Thinking about how good that will feel helps me say “no” to short cutting work outs. It also helps me say “no” to multiple happy hour invitations and sleeping in on the weekend when I’m tired of working out! Mental preparation and staying positive is so important. It’s amazing how much our bodies can do if we just tell them we can do it!
What is your encouragement/challenge for anyone just wanting to be fit or more active?
Set a specific goal and then map out a plan for achieving it. Whatever the goal is…running your first 5k, losing a certain body fat percentage, eating more fruits and vegetables or signing up for an Ironman…be specific with your goal and be intentional with a plan to achieve it.
If you want to eat more fruits and vegetables then you probably need to get rid of the junk food in your house and you may need to spend a little more time pre-planning meals for your week so you have the healthy food you want available to you. If you want to compete in your first triathlon then download one of the free training plans available online or join a local triathlon club and make time for the work outs necessary to prepare for the race. And I definitely think it is important to bring your family or friends into the experience with you when possible. They may not be willing to join you in a work out or healthy meal planning, but at the least you’ll get encouraging words and regular check-ins on your progress.
I also encourage adding some fun to the process! It can’t be all business all the time. If you aren’t enjoying some aspect of what you are doing or incorporating some fun it will be hard to stick with. I love swimming and running but I’m not a huge fan of cycling for miles upon miles. So I will always try to ride with a friend or group when possible, and sometimes we add a post ride happy hour or meal together for more incentive.
Whatever your fitness goal is remember “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger…” Good luck!
- Kristen Fagley