Fueling Her Passion… One Race at a Time

By Kelly Wagner

In 1998 she ran her first triathlon. She completed fi ve more that year. Then she stopped…until 2013, when a friend knocked on her door and invited her back. She graciously accepted, and hasn’t looked back. Kelly Wagner is a wife, mother and neighbor. She bikes…a bit. She runs…a bit. She swims…a bit. OK, whom are we kidding? A LOT. She is an IRONMAN. We caught up with Kelly a few days before she began training for her next triathlon, the IRONMAN 70.3 Miami (half ironman) and asked her to share with us how she lives a 360Life.

How do you live a 360life?

To me a 360Life means making time for God, family, work, play and your passion. Phil and I try to teach our kids about living a balanced life. Work hard, pray often, love your family and find your passion. I love to volunteer at church and school, keep the kids active in extracurricular activities and sports, have date nights with my husband and train hard for overall fitness and health but mostly for my passion — triathlons!

What is your wellness mantra?

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily ties us up. And run with endurance the race God has set before us,” (Hebrews 12:1).

How long have you been running?

I started running in college back in the ’90s to get into shape after the “freshman 15.” In Toledo, Ohio there are beautiful Metroparks with running trails. I remember running with my Walkman (Barenaked Ladies and Foo Fighters on tape) and loving the peaceful feeling.

Tell us how you started in Triathlons?

When I was little I remember watching Wide World of Sports on TV and seeing highlights from the IRONMAN. I watched Julie Moss stumble and crawl across the finish line, and I remember thinking how amazing it was for her to even finish the race. I wanted to do an IRONMAN one day!

In 1998 I did my first triathlon in St. Petersburg, Florida and several more that summer. Because of my job, life and having babies, I hung up competing until one day in 2013. A friend sent an email asking if anyone was interested in competing in the Danskin Iron Girl Sprint Triathlon. I immediately said yes, and I’ve been racing since.

What are you training for right now?

I am training for a few sprint triathlons and IRONMAN 70.3 Miami.

What keeps you motivated ?

My family keeps me motivated. I want my kids to see me being active. I want to show them you can accomplish your dreams if you work hard and that you can stay active throughout your life.

Do you have races that you would like to complete on your bucket list?

I would love to compete in the IRONMAN World Championships one day. I want to qualify, so I’ll probably have to jump up a few more age groups. I’m racing in a pretty competitive age group right now, and these women are unbelievable.

What is your go-to diet?

We try to follow a healthy eating routine. Good quality protein, healthy fats, veggies and fruits. Right now we are following the Whole30 plan to find out if our bodies are sensitive to any one food and which foods make us feel good or bad. It can be challenging with kids and time consuming in the kitchen, but I’m finding that with a little planning I can make very healthy meals that my kids will eat!

How would you encourage others to start living a 360life?

I would encourage anyone to get passionate about something. If you are passionate about it, you will make it work. Keep trying to strive for balance in your life, and take a few minutes each day to take some deep breaths, pray and be thankful for something. My deep breaths usually happen in the car on the way to pick up the kids.

What is the most important lesson running and competing has taught you?

Competition has taught me I am tougher than I thought, I can push myself harder than I thought and I can fail but still find the positive in the situation.

What is one thing you wouldn’t run without?

I don’t run without my morning cup of coffee!

Anything else you would like to share?

We watched the IRONMAN World Championships on TV in October 2014 and I said to my son Reid, “This is the distance I’m going to race in May at IRONMAN Texas.” After the program was over, Reid said to me “Mom, I don’t think you can do that. It’s too long.” I assured him that I could and that if you set your mind to do something, you can achieve it. After IRONMAN Texas, he wore my medal for a day!

How amazing was the Ironman Texas?

Ironman Texas was a dream fulfilled! I was so excited when I signed up, and that excitement never ended throughout my training. I learned so much about my determination and myself. I learned I could be alone for hours and be OK. I learned I could fit a ton of things into one day. And, I learned that talking to yourself is OK — just don’t answer (although I did plenty of answering)! During my training I swam 230,005 yards, biked 2,497 miles and ran 515 miles. I was ready for race day!

Phil and I arrived to a VERY hot Texas summer. Luckily, I live in Florida and had some hot training days. Ironman races are very well run and everyone is so happy. I met so many friendly racers and lots of first timers. Surprisingly, I wasn’t too nervous on race day. Phil can attest to my chattiness when I’m nervous about a race, but I was pretty calm for this one. Phil, my friend Kristen and I walked to the race start after I completed my bike check and gear drop in the morning. I hit the porta-potty, gave kisses and walked to my swim position. After a quick prayer and a deep breath, the gun went off. I was walking down to the water next to a first timer and we jumped into the water together. It was race time! The swim was great. I looked at my watch once to see my pace and thought “I’m doing great, just keep going.” I hit the steps to exit the water and who do I see getting out with me? The same person I started with.

After the transition I ran out to my bike and couldn’t find it in the sea of bikes. Lucky for me my awesome husband was yelling “It’s right there” and pointing to my bike for me. Off I went and he went back to the hotel room for a five-hour nap. The bike route was great. Flats, hills, a beautiful park and then wind at mile 50. No matter what, you couldn’t wipe the smile off my face — I was racing an Ironman. A racer passed me at one point and said “My, you are quite smiley,” to which I replied “Of course, we get to race an Ironman, how cool is that?” Around mile 90 I looked at my time and was in awe. I did a quick calculation in my head and said (really I said this out loud to myself ) “Oh my gosh, I rock. I have 12 miles to go and I’m going to come in under six hours. Woohoo, I’m amazing.” Then, at mile 100, it hit me and, out loud again, I said “Oh no, I’m not as amazing as I thought.” I quickly shook it off and then repeated, “That’s OK brain, that’s OK, don’t get discouraged, you are still going to come in just over six hours. You still rock!”

With the biking done, it was time to start the marathon. My legs were shaky, my calves were cramping and I felt the heat right away. But I was still smiling! The first loop of the run was hard. At mile six I stopped at a medical tent and a couple of massage therapists rubbed out the cramps in my calves for about six minutes. I think I wanted to give them each a million dollars when they were finished, but instead they had to settle with a huge thank you. Miles seven and eight were hard. It was the part of the loop with the most spectators as it was right by the race finish. Everyone was cheering the racers, eating food, lying in the grass and watching. I could have just laid right on the lawn next to some spectators for a nap myself. I soon realized I needed to eat something and that pepped me up for lap two — along with seeing Phil and Kristen. At the beginning of the third lap I met a fellow racer. I really hadn’t talked or made friends with anyone until that point. He was struggling and saw I was struggling, so he asked if I wanted to run together for a while. That person (and his name escapes me) became my very best friend for the next eight miles. We talked, kept each other motivated, picked spots to run to before walking and laughed a ton. At mile 25 it hit me, I was going to be an Ironman! I crossed the finish line to Mike Riley saying “Kelly, You Are an Ironman.” I was greeted by my awesome hubby with a hug and some nice whispers in my ear. I DID IT! My coach, Karyn, later posted that the song being played was the disco song “Bad Girl.” It couldn’t have worked out better! I love racing!