Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Athlete Spotlight! Chrissy Esposito

It's been my goal for a while now to start featuring athletes here on this blog, about their personal athletic endeavors and how nutrition has played a key role in their success. Everyone's experience is unique and I feel there is SO much we can learn from others! I'm finally taking the plunge and featuring one of my favorite athletes and recent first-time ironman finisher, Chrissy Esposito.

I first met Chrissy through the Virginia Tech Triathlon Team. Though our time together only briefly overlapped, I've always been impressed by her enthusiasm, drive and how she is ALWAYS smiling! She's been a triathlete for 4+ years and a runner just about her entire life and her accolades include placing 3rd overall in her first iron-distance triathlon this past January and qualifying for the Boston Marathon. She recently made a big move from the East Coast to Colorado to chase her dreams and enjoy the beauty of the Rockies.

1. Tell us a little about yourself, what drives you athletically and as a person? 
My sport of choice is without a doubt running…I could run trails for hours everyday and be perfectly happy with life. I don’t know what fuels my desire to be active and take on triathlons, cycling, and running. My passion and love for these activities is completely unexplainable, or maybe I just haven’t discovered the right words to express how they make me feel. Either way, I do it because it makes my heart feel good!

2. What made you decide to tackle the ironman distance in January 2013?
I had wanted to complete an Ironman since I was little and saw the Kona Ironman on TV. Though I didn’t know much about triathlons at the time and had only been a runner growing up, I knew that an Ironman was a challenge that I wanted to take on. While watching the Summer Olympics in 2012, I had a burst of inspiration to make my attempt at the Iron-distanced event. I don’t think there is ever a perfect time to do an Ironman, but I saw a window of opportunity that late July night and signed up for the Bone Island Ironman which was to take place 5-1/2 months later.

3. Tell us about your race, the experience, how it went and your thoughts afterwards?
I tend to smile a lot when I'm in pain... for some reason it has always been my go-to when I'm hurting. Looking back on the Ironman I remember just constantly smiling, earning the nickname "Smiling Hokie" from the spectators and volunteers. Part of it was probably because I actually was in pain, but overall I just has a lingering feeling of pure happiness that stuck with me the entire race. It had been my childhood dream to cross the finish line of an ironman and I couldn't help but smile when thinking that I was on the verge of making that dream come true.

In my opinion, the Ironman is an extremely mental race, which is why in the months leading up to the race start, I prepared by constantly reminding myself that I was doing it to have fun and for the genuine enjoyment of the event. My mental toughness was certainly tested at mile 20 of the run... it was dark, I was exhausted and with most spectators at the finish line, I was pretty much alone to shuffle through the streets of Key West. Those last 6.2 miles were unforgiving, but giving up and walking were options I wouldn't give myself. I finally made it to the finish after 12 hours, 22 minutes and the satisfaction and joy I felt crossing that line is unexplainable!

4. Tell me a little about your training and how you specifically fueled for your longer workouts.
My Ironman training was simple: I did whatever felt right for my body, relied on my previous triathlon experience and also on the ample advice from my friends who had previous completed iron-distance events. Each week I had certain workouts that I wanted to accomplish but how and when I did them depended completed on how I was feeling, school, work and my race schedule. I not only wanted my race to be an enjoyable experience, but I wanted the months leading up to race day to be pleasant; something I wanted to do not something I "had to do." 

During the height of Ironman training I actually became vegetarian. I enjoyed the change, expansion of food options and it kept me on my toes in terms of getting in sufficient amounts of protein! During my training I made sure to experiment with eating all sorts of foods because I have been known to have stomach issues in longer races. I started eating right before and during workouts/long runs and pretty soon I was able to eat solid foods during training with little to no issues (improvement!)

5. Do you see another Ironman distance event in your future? What other athletic goals are currently on your radar? 
Of course! At some point I definitely want to take on another Ironman, but for right now I’m taking a break from the triathlon world and focusing on running, cycling and other new activities. My next planned event is the Boston Marathon in April 2014, but as of right now I’m just doing a lot of base training and laying low from the racing scene.

6. What’s the toughest obstacle you had to overcome in order to reach your goals?
I’m currently sidelined with an injury that has left me run-less for the past 2.5 months. Years of not stretching and my infamous inflexibility finally came back to bite me in the butt…literally. A case of some dead gluts and pissed off hamstrings has forced me to close the door on running for a while, which is tough because this is the longest I’ve gone without it since I was 7 years old. Instead of dwelling on what I cannot do, I’ve been focusing on what I can, and right now that is cycling. I’ve been exploring the wonderful world of cycling and Colorado is definitely a hot spot for the sport (I’ve met so many awesome cyclists out here!) I never thought I’d be biking 5-6 days a week and riding at 5 am before work but I guess adding some change and variety to life can be a good thing. I still have a few weeks before I “might” be able to run again, but until that time comes I’ll be rolling on the road each morning watching the sunrise reflect off the Rocky Mountains.

7. How do you fuel on a day-to-day basis to optimize your training? 
Since many of my days start at 4-5am I have started a new and wonderful addiction, COFFEE! Other than that I eat a pretty “economical savvy” diet… meaning I’m eating on a budget. Though I’m not a Veg (vegetarian) anymore I still have a pretty meatless diet and my daily fuel consists of: eggs, beans, lots and lots of fruit, sweet potatoes, and of course chocolate milk (for recovery and deliciousness purposes!)

8. How has living in Colorado, known as one of the active and healthiest states in the US, changed your perspective towards training, nutrition or health in general?
One great thing that I’d like to note about Colorado is that the drivers here are extremely patient and not aggressive towards cyclists. I've spent a lot of time on the roads with Mr. Fishy (my bike) and quickly noticed that cars actually/ willingly share the road with cyclists. Other than that, my big move out west has certainly encouraged my desire to try new things, mostly because there is such a plethora of people to do new activities with and because I just like adding variety to my active lifestyle.  Currently I’m looking into getting involved with cyclocross, ultra running, and maybe some cross-country skiing? I guess we’ll just wait and see!

9. Can you share a favorite recipe?
Chrissy shared with me this delicious looking Sweet Potato Quinoa... original recipe is courtesy of another amazing triathlete and soon-to-be dietitian Speedy Edie!!

10. Any other thoughts, tips or words of wisdom?

Thanks Chrissy for being my first interviewee and being an inspiration to so many! Keep smiling!

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