A Thousand Times Yes Again: An Interview with Abigael Whitaker (’10)

The remarks below are an extension of the article “A Slow Fall into the Finish Line” published in the WCDS Magazine 2016-17.

Congratulations, Abby!  What moment led you to want to be where you are now, an Ironman triathlete?

I love pushing the limits, and I love being active. So, when I combine those two things, I end up in the realm of endurance sports. I began slowly by running several marathons in college, but I never really felt like they were a challenge. When I moved to Seattle, I found triathlons. I am an abysmal swimmer; I hardly float in water. I’m also an average biker, so when I competed in my first triathlon, it hurt. I remember running across the finish line and thinking, Wow, I’m bad at this. Naturally, that spiraled into a journey to get better. Suddenly, I was meeting people who had competed in these races called Ironmans, so I started reading, and once I knew that there was such a thing as a 140.6-mile race, I was committed to doing it.


How did you train for this, physically and emotionally?

Google is a dangerous tool. I found training plans online, crafted one that fit my schedule, and then set to work. For the past year, I’ve eaten like a 6’6” man.  While most people come home after work to relax and watch Netflix, I come home and watch YouTube videos about Ironman races, tearing up over the stories of others. I will confess it has been a very trying year; one of the greatest battles is not letting the race become who you are. I set mental rules not allowing myself to even say the word Ironman just to help strike some balance in my life. Luckily, I have some amazing friends and family who were of great support throughout the entire process.


You’re known to be a bit of a perfectionist.  Did that help or hinder your journey?

Fortunately, triathlons are an area where I must bury my type-A personality. A key to the sport seems to be adaptability, and I’ve had to focus more on what’s happening in the moment versus trying to plan every next step.


Regardless of dedication and discipline, every athlete faces setbacks.  What were your obstacles and what did you learn from them?

I’ve had so many setbacks – pulled muscles, plateaus in training, and feelings of doubt seeping in throughout my preparation. Thankfully, my parents have been a great support throughout it all, driving countless hours and miles to support me in races and training. My entire family has also been wonderful, constantly checking on me and sending care packages. My friends, too, have been amazing; they’ve fed me, driven me home, worked out with me, and cheered me on when I would lose momentum in my efforts. I couldn’t have gotten through it without everyone’s support.  All in all, I’ve learned the value of perseverance, the power of humility, and the necessity for courage in the face of adversity.


Do you want to continue these demanding competitions?  If so, how do you balance it all?

Yes, yes, and a thousand times yes again. I’m addicted now to the sport — to the feelings I have when I’m training and racing and to the love I have for the people who do this. As far as balance goes, I just wake up early, around 4 a.m., and get the day started with a workout.  Then if there’s a lull or it’s been a long day, I’ll go work out again. I think a big part of finding balance comes from finding my own definition of relaxation. For most people, decompressing comes from enjoying a TV show or socializing with friends.  I’ve taught myself that rest comes from calming my mind and stretching it out on a swim or run.


What advice do have for someone who is thinking about competing in triathlons?

My greatest advice would be to get out there and try it. It’s just fun and invigorating to put yourself to the task of doing something that you never thought you would or could do. Right before going up to Lake Placid to practice the biking and swimming this summer, a friend told me about the movie of the Lake Placid monster, which is some big, man-eating alligator. Everyone knows I think open water is relatively terrifying. So, when I jumped in the water, each little piece of seaweed or debris that touched me in that lake sent chills down my spine. Oddly, it was one of my fastest training swims! Then, on race day, a lady was talking to me before we entered the water and said, “Just remember, there are divers in the lake watching us swim for safety, so if you see something moving, don’t freak out.” Little did she know, she saved me. At about 1.6 miles, I saw something swimming around me and panicked before I realized that thankfully, it was just a diver and not the Lake Placid monster. Irrational fears were conquered that day as well.