Triathlon, Cycling, Running, and Casual Apparel

Talks with T: A Chat with Team SFQ'er Kristen Chang

 

Kristen is a long-time member of TeamSFQ residing in Blacksburg, VA, with her husband and young son. She is passionate about nutrition, triathlon, gardening, Virginia Tech, and DIY aquatic projects. I have yet to meet Kristen in person, but I have been inspired by her for years, and look forward to one day, (hopefully soon), when we can toe the line at the same race, or visit the opposite coast to train together. I admire Kristen's determination and resilience, and am proud to be her teammate.  

 

What first drew you to become a triathlete?


In high school, I worked with a physical therapist who was an exceptional triathlete, which definitely planted the seed. Going into college at Virginia Tech, I was majorly burned out on running. I needed a change, and the triathlon club seemed like a fun mix of something new and something familiar. This is also where I met my now husband! I have some very fond memories of our early days learning how to swim together and other swim-bike-run adventures. I am so thankful for my time on this team! 

I was amazed by your impressive creative skills constructing a swimming system in a portable pool during the COVID-19 quarantine, so is swimming your favorite discipline within triathlon? And what is the story behind that pool?  

 Ha! I actually did not enjoy swimming very much until the past few years. That being said, I was just starting to get my swim groove back post-partum when the quarantine hit. I very much have a “make it happen” type personality so the wheels in my mind began to quickly generate ideas on how to get back to swimming ASAP. The idea actually stemmed from an Instagram post by Daniela Ryf. I searched online for a similar pool and started making plans. It is a small pool (10ft x6ft x30in) and has required a lot of fine tuning to make it effective. Adding a snorkel was clutch! Even though pools are starting to open up again, I plan to continue using it. With an infant it’s much harder to get away for workouts. The mini pool may have its limitations, but it does allow for greater flexibility and convenience. I can now swim in my backyard during nap time which to me is pretty darn cool!


Given that you are a phenomenal cook, athlete, and Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics working at Virginia Tech, what made you make the decision to pursue a career connecting food and athletics? 

I developed an appreciation for performance nutrition as a high school runner, yet when I arrived at Virginia Tech I had been struggling immensely with an eating disorder which eventually required me to seek inpatient treatment. During that time of struggle is when I decided to switch from majoring in engineering to nutrition. I don’t talk about my eating disorder much nowadays, but it very much shapes the person and athlete I am today and especially my mindset towards fueling my body. As a dietitian, I am very passionate about promoting a healthy relationship with food which I believe is critical to ensuring athletes adequately fuel their bodies for the demands of the sport. I also have to mention that I am a huge nerd when it comes to the physiological aspects of endurance fueling. It fascinates me!

In 2018 you underwent two surgeries to correct external iliac artery endofibrosis (EIAE) in your right and left legs, how did the experience of trouble-shooting your condition, (the surgeries themselves, and recovery) affect your point of view of being an endurance athlete? 

 

Working through that experience has left me with an overwhelming sense of gratitude for my ability to remain engaged in the sport, but also a strong sense of resiliency. The process of identifying the issue was arduous, frustrating and stressful. I was beating my head against a wall not understanding why my right leg wasn’t working properly, doing tons of physical therapy with no results and wondering if the issue was all in my head. Thanks to the help of two wonderful surgeons, I have made a full recovery and can bike and run uninhibited! My mindset towards training has shifted dramatically. I put much less pressure on myself and train mostly on feel these days. My focus has been on enjoying the process and trusting that the fitness will come with time and consistency. It’s been liberating.

 

Do you believe you are more in tune with your fitness and overall health after that ordeal?


Yes and yes, but not just from the EIAE. In the spring of 2017, I had been training towards Chattanooga 140.6 with hopes of qualifying for Kona. Except something was very off: my fitness was great, but my health was degrading. I was struggling with adult-onset asthma, significant fatigue, depression, debilitating anxiety and having panic attacks during workouts. My gut was a mess. I made the very tough decision to pull the plug on Chatty, which still pains me to this day because I remember the hurt that came with that decision. My doctors chalked it up to “overtraining” and I really had to advocate for my health. A few months later I was diagnosed with mold illness. I share this because it was a huge lesson in listening to my gut instinct and tuning into what my body is trying to tell me. I relied on that same intuition when pressing for answers prior to my diagnosis with EIAE and in training through pregnancy. These circumstances have taught me that a strong foundation of health is absolutely vital as an endurance athlete. To this day I prioritize my health above all things.


How did it feel toeing the line last May, (2019), at Chattanooga, 70.3 knowing you were back in full health to race?


Chattanooga 2019 was such a victorious day for me! It was the celebration of a 2-year hiatus from racing. I approached that race with an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the sport and an appreciation for the obstacles that I had to overcome to get there. It was a celebration of the fact that my body and mind are resilient. My priorities for this race were to arrive the starting line feeling healthy and fit and to have FUN. That being said, it was also a bit nerve wracking as I found out 2 weeks prior that I was pregnant. That wasn’t exactly part of the plan.:)


Speaking of monumental racing, you clocked an impressive 1:58 racing with your dad at the Hokie Half Marathon last fall, a few months before giving birth to your son, what was it like racing, (and running swiftly), while pregnant?


Training and racing through pregnancy was such a roller coaster. Some days I would feel great, and others I would have overwhelming fatigue. I had a low appetite throughout most of the pregnancy (especially first trimester) so I had to work hard to eat enough to support my training AND the growth of our baby boy! For the Hokie Half, I distinctly remember sitting in the car prior to the race not sure on how I was going to run 13 miles! That said, I had convinced my dad (70 years young!) to run with me so I didn’t want to ditch him. I laugh because he was feeling good that day and seemingly had no problem leaving his pregnant daughter in the dust about 3 miles into the race. I spent the next 6 miles trying to chase his quick butt down!


How does it feel to be a new mom?


Being a new mom is such a joy! And I’m still just in awe that my body was able to grow this amazing little human! Our little dude is 5 months old and it’s been really fun watching his personality develop. He is chill and full of smiles just like his mama.:) My new favorite activity is post-workout snuggles. Let’s be real – there are many days when life is chaotic and exhausting and wow, he can really eat, poop and pee A LOT, but I am truly enjoying myself.


Since your husband is an accomplished ultra-runner, and your dad is an avid runner, too, do you have any endurance themed family adventures lined up in 2020, or beyond?


I have to give a shout out to my husband for his major support and encouragement as I strive to rebuild fitness post-partum and get back after it. I have my eyes set on Ironman Coeur d'Alene for June 2021 and we plan to follow this up with quality family adventure time in Glacier National Park and maybe even Banff. A bucket list item is for us to do a bike tour across Italy. One other family goal that we haven’t quite checked off yet: the Boston Marathon. I’ve had 2 near misses at the event and still dream of running it with my dad and husband. I guess that means I need to sign up for another marathon!

We look forward to cheering on Kristen's pursuit at Ironman Coeur d'Alene next June, a marathon or two, as well as many future family explorations all over the world.





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