Friday Focus: Abbey D'Agostino

In our weekly Q&A segment we asked Abbey D'Agostino a few questions about life on and off the track. We caught up with her after her first professional year.

Take us through your first season as a pro and the ups and downs that led to the World Championships.

The past season unfolded much differently than I expected. On the one hand, my training environment is a dream-come-true: continuing to work with my college coach, living close to my family, and being part of an unconditionally supportive brand and team. But on the other hand, I’ve been sidelined for more time in the past year than I was for my four years of college. I was out for a month with referred labral tear issues last November, for 8 weeks this winter with a sacral stress reaction (therefore, missing the US Cross Champs), and then was diagnosed with a femoral neck stress reaction upon returning home from China. But the experience of injury has this brutal-yet-beautiful way of stripping you down and revealing your truest motives. Without that process – as well as the wise, loving people in my life who challenged me during that time – there’s no way I could have returned to running with the grit and grace it takes to qualify for a World team. 

How has the pro transition been so far? 

As I mentioned before, being close to familiar people and places has significantly streamlined my transition. One of the trickiest parts of now being a professional, for me, is inserting mandatory rest within my day. In college, every day was structured and maximized to a T – and that fits my personality type. I’ve had to learn to embrace rest and see it as an integral way for my training to take effect. 

How was your first World Championships experience as a professional athlete? What were the major takeaways? 

World’s was the culmination of a summer packed with novel experiences. My track season had never before lasted through August (or even close), so I learned the importance of patient training in order to peak at the right time – it’s so easy to be overzealous early in the summer. Another important lesson was that at the international level, when you’re even slightly “off” or unprepared, it shows – everyone is so finely tuned that any “cracks” are exposed. I was extremely humbled by my race experience there, but thankful to now understand what it takes to perform at that level. Finally, international racing requires you to expect the unexpected and to thrive outside your comfort zone. In situations from travel to food to pre-race routine, those who are least fazed seem to have the most success. 

What are some things that helped get you past the low points of dealing with injuries?

Simple joys made a HUGE difference in my perspective of the situation. Whether that meant downloading just the right playlist, discovering that underwater ipods exist (BEST invention known to mankind… or, broken distance runners), or cheering on my teammates on their workout day, those small choices worked wonders. But undoubtedly, what redeemed me during the lowest points was remembering my unchanging purpose: I really believe running is a gift from God and a platform I’ve been given to reach others. Suffering is the most powerful thing that can reinforce the perspective, appreciation, and humility it takes to best GIVE with that gift.

Describe your fondest race memory. 

Man, how to choose just one! I’d say it was winning the team title at Heps (the Ivy League Champs) in cross my senior year. The previous year the top 7 had been injury-plagued and placed 7th (out of 8 teams), so it was immensely rewarding to return with a vengeance. Not to mention, the Dartmouth Women’s team hadn’t won since 1996. I love looking back at the photos from the finish line that day – such pure, tangible joy. 

What is your go-to tune up workout before a big race?

About 10 days before a big race, we’ll often do 3 x mile, with the first at 5k race pace and then progressively faster. It’s terrifyingly great.

Describe your pre-race ritual. 

I usually eat my pre-race meal and drink coffee 3 to 3.5 hours before the race, head over to the track 90 mins beforehand, listen to calming music, dynamic stretching then warm up 60 mins beforehand, drills, spikes, go time! Nothing special.  

What is your cross training regimen? 

I swam competitively from 2nd thru 8th grade, so I prefer lap swimming and generally get the most aerobic benefit from it. But, many thanks to my Team NB teammate, Natosha Rogers, this past winter I also learned to aqua-jog effectively. I use the bike and elliptical mainly when I needed a change in scenery from the pool. Now that I’ve had a few injuries this year, x-training will become a more regular component of my training regimen. 

Describe your favorite place to run or train.

Hands-down, Hanover, NH -- where I went to college. I could honestly “talk it up” forever -- there are more trails than you could imagine, it’s rugged, it’s hilly, and so purely “New England.” And it’s loaded with memories. I think I’m in love.

If you had a day off from your everyday responsibilities, how you would spend it?

Hmmm, my favorite out-of-season activity is definitely hiking. I’d hike Mt. Moosilauke with my college teammates, followed by a grand dinner at the Lodj (spelling intentional), a gigantic cabin Dartmouth owns near the peak of that mountain. Then later we’d go find a dance party.

If you could give one piece of advice to any runner, what would it be and why? 

Be certain about your motivation, and be sure your voice and actions align with it. I find it so easy in such a performance-oriented sport (and culture) to start doing things from a place of fear or to fulfill expectations, and that can rob the sport of its joy. I’ve experienced my most challenging moments within this sport when, in retrospect, I was pursuing a goal, or team, or time for the wrong reasons and it paralyzed me. What’s helped is remembering my “bottom line” – why I run – and being sure that shines thru in all I say and do.

Elaborate on being the most decorated Ivy League college athlete. 

It’s an honor – being a DI athlete at a school without athletic scholarships was a unique experience for a number of reasons, the strongest one, perhaps, being that there’s absolutely nothing keeping a person on the team aside from their own volition. And given the academic environment and other competing interests, pursuing athletics wasn’t always the obvious choice. It’s an honor to be recognized among a legacy of people who have made that choice and committed to it whole-heartedly. 

Describe how you balanced both school and athletics. 

I actually found that athletics enhanced my academic performance, because it forced me to manage my time and live sustainably. I don’t honestly feel like I ever struck the perfect balance, but I did learn the importance of not being afraid to ask for help. Both school and running were more manageable and enjoyable when I found the courage to reach out to peers or professors when it inevitably got hard.

Dinner with three (living or dead) who and why?

1. C.S. Lewis – because he was one of the most brilliant Christian apologists/academics/thinkers ever… and I’d just love to ask him questions.

2. Don Miller (the author of my favorite book, Blue Like Jazz) – because his story touched the core of me during a challenging time in my life. It’s raw, honest, and incredibly profound and I think it’d be so cool to talk to him about life

3. My best friend Ari, because she’d love this just as much.

Describe your childhood dream. 

I had a dear mentor in college tell me that when you’re about 11 years old, you’re your truest self. I still have old journals from when I was that age with all these lists… of potential baby names, favorite movies, Christmas presents, and jobs. My “Job List” includes: Olympic swimmer (ironically), photographer, journalist, poet – an athlete and humanities enthusiast at the core! Apparently I outgrew my earlier dream of becoming a cashier or “cash regifer girl”… 

Describe your guilty pleasure. 

I never grew up watching much TV, but there was one summer in high school where I was ADDICTED to The Hills. If it were on TV tomorrow, I’d definitely be a goner. 

Tell us about your favorite memory with one of your current or past training partners.

I’ve been fortunate to have had MANY an unforgettable training partner to stretch me in both running and life. One memory I really cherish traces back to my sophomore year in college, at Outdoor Heps. The meet was close, and the open 3k was one the last event before the relays. Mark had Alexi Pappas and I run it together, after both of us had run other events – needless to say, we were tired. We ran on each other’s shoulders the whole time and as we made the turn on the bell lap, I vividly remember her breathing, “c’mon!” in my ear. We had a secret in that moment – that no one else could beat the bond we shared as teammates and soul sisters. Lexi taught me how important it is to SHARE the sport with each other and to be fueled by teammate-ship. I still have this priceless picture of us on the podium after that race, holding hands with frizzy hair and toothy grins. 

What does racing and training look like for you in the next six months? 

The remainder of 2015 will be devoted to full recovery from my injury and developing a strength base. I will definitely do a few indoor races, but after that my schedule is TBD, with July 1, of course, being the focus of every decision. 

What is your main goal for the rest of the 2015 year moving into 2016? 

The main goal is to confidently EMBRACE the tweaks in my training regimen that will keep me healthy. We all know the secret to success is consistent training, so my coach and I are open-minded and ready to explore the small but impactful ways I can keep my body strong and resilient. 

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