My initial aim was to introduce this in the same theme as other Regular People features, however it seems apparent that the days of calling Kelly Fillnow "regular" are long gone.
Kelly Fillnow is a fellow Davidson alum with a very interesting path that brought her to present day. There are quite a few recent pieces both print and online (all very well-written) that outline her unique road from college tennis star to cross-country team walk-on to Ironman triathlete, so I won't attempt to re-tell her story once again.
Anyone who competes at the level Kelly does cannot be called "regular" anymore, however as you will see, Kelly is still a normal person whose drive and dedication made such great achievements possible.
Fresh off of competing in her first Ford Ironman World Championship triathlon in Kona, Hawaii, Kelly was gracious enough to make time for an interview with me.
1. First of all, how was your experience in Kona?
No words can truly capture the experience of competing against the world's best endurance athletes. It was an experience that I will remember for the rest of
my life. I had such a surplus of emotions circulating in my brain
moments before the cannon went off, as I had no idea how the rest of
the day might unfold. But I kept telling myself that the work was
done, and my journey was almost complete. All I needed to do was just
enjoy the day and the results would take care of themselves!
2. As a dual-sport athlete in college, was there ever a point where
you could feel your emotions shifting from Tennis towards Cross
Country, or was it always an equal balance?
Tennis was always my first love, but there was something that intrigued me about running
when the sport came so naturally to me. I had no background in
running (besides running as a punishment in basketball, soccer,
softball, and tennis growing up.) I had quick success in cross
country, while daily balancing three hours of tennis practice with my
run training. My Davidson cross country coach inspired me to try and
get a scholarship to compete post-Davidson. She encouraged me to see
where I could take the sport, without having to balance two sports
With her encouragement, I competed for Duke during my
5th year of NCAA eligibility. It was a dream come true, practicing
with some of the best runners in the United States. I have the same
struggle now, as I am attempting to balance both running and
triathlon. But to truly be the best you can be, a decision has to be
made and a sport has to be chosen to pursue. Excellence is hard to
reach while juggling multiple sports demanding such specific & diverse
3. As another former dual-sport Davidson College athlete, my
“nutrition” was 99% junk food. Did you have a more disciplined
approach to your nutrition back in college or did better eating habits
develop during the latter years?
During my high school years, my mom
took care of providing the most wholesome, delicious meals for my twin
sister, brother, and me.
*(editor's note: Kelly has a twin sister Meghan who was also a college tennis star at Davidson and is still an amazing athlete as well. More on her to come from Kelly below.)
We typically trained about 3-4 hours of tennis a
day, so our bodies needed proper fuel. She would make well balanced
meals consisting of protein, vegetables, a starch, and then a loaf of
bread per person because we would always fight over the bread!! When
I went to college, I had to make the decision myself to eat healthy.
I made wise decisions at the dining hall where I ate all my meals, and
began to get interested in nutrition in order to properly fuel my body
for optimal performance. I wanted to be the best that I could be, and
in order to do that, I needed to be as metabolically healthy as
possible, and nutrition plays a huge part in that state.
4. What does a typical training day look like for you, including
meals, workout, post-workout nutrition, etc?
There really is no such thing as a typical training day, except for Mondays and Fridays when I
swim for an hour and do light lifting/core. The rest of the week is
very diverse. Some days I will have an intense 90 minute computrainer
ride and an additional 60 minute swim. A weekend day might be a 4
hour bike ride and a 30 minute run with intervals at race pace. But
the training load changes throughout the year depending on if it is
triathlon season, and I have to be on my bike, or if it is winter
season and I am focused on just running and swimming.
Normally I eat about 6 times a day, at the very minimum every three hours. I need
the constant fuel because of my rigourous training schedule. Quality,
quantity, and timing of nutrients is very key to recover properly
between my workouts, as some days I will be having multiple workouts.
I like to eat about 20 minutes after I finish my workout to optimally
refuel my depleted glycogen stores so I can be ready for the next day
or the next workout. I try to eliminate processed foods, and focus on
whole grains, lots of vegetables, fruit, and lean protein.
5. For early morning workouts are you a fan of breakfast
pre-run/workout or just coffee/empty stomach?
I actually don't drink coffee! When I do a light morning workout, I do not have to eat
anything, but if it is anything over an hour, I definitely eat
breakfast pre-workout. I have an iron stomach, so I can literally eat
and run out the door. I do not recommend that to most people though!!
6. What’s your eating approach (ex: carb load, etc) in the final 24-48
hours before a big competition or race? What about in the hours
My eating approach is to eliminate fiber the last 48 hours before a big race. Two days before the race I focus on lots of carbohydrates, lean protein, and lowering my fat intake. I always have a few tablespoons of honey at breakfast 48 hours prior to the big day.
The day prior to the race, I have a big breakfast, an energy bar like a Clif bar for a snack, then a big, carbohydrate friendly lunch. I eat dinner between 530-6 and prefer to have a sweet potato, grilled chicken, a low fiber vegetable, and bread.
My favorite post-race splurge is a calzone from Mellow Mushroom and a large oreo cookie blizzard from Dairy Queen.
7. What’s the one food/desert that you still can’t give up, no matter
I love my ice cream, low fat of course :).
8. What’s your advice for someone who might be thinking of attempting
a new challenge like a half-marathon or sprint triathlon (or even a
simple fitness class) but hasn’t found the courage yet?
I truly believe that you can accomplish anything you set your mind to
accomplishing. I have witnessed countless clients who have not even
been able to run two minutes, compete half marathons!
This past weekend, I was truly inspired by my twin sister, who had a goal to PR
in her marathon (3:04). She ended up getting sick to her stomach and
started vomiting at mile 19, ten times before she finished the race.
She had a goal, however, and her mind overcame her body's inability to
function properly, and she hit a new PR of (3:03), solely because of
her belief and desire to achieve her goal. You will be surprised what
your body can achieve when you stay positive with yourself and stay
patient in the process of development.
I think it is very important to set goals for yourself, and write them down. Then, tell a friend or your husband or a coach so that they can help keep you accountable along the way. The hardest part is taking that first step. But once you take that first step, there is no limit to what you can
accomplish. The most important thing is to enjoy the journey along