Abbey D’Agostino is most notably the most decorated Ivy League athletes in Track and Field. She competed in the 2012 Olympic Trials 5k while she was still a sophomore at Dartmouth and placed 5th. She went on to sign with New Balance after college determined to pursue her passion full throttle. She represented Team USA in the 2015 World Championship 5k and was runner up in the 3k at the 2016 USA Indoor Track and Field Championships this March. Her career is already shining with award, and still brimming with potential.
But beyond the numbers we all know, at just 24 years old Abbey has experienced enormous highs in the sport and overcome lows in mirror magnitude. Her perspective on the sport and her own career feels hard earned and years above her. I was honored to get on the phone with Abbey for this interview, just one week before she leaves Boston to fly to Eugene to chase down her Olympic dream.
Last Olympic Trials in 2012, you were still a sophomore in college. What did that experience in 2012 mean to you?
I always smile thinking back to it because that was such a different phase of life. I was still in college and I was transitioning to this recognition that there was a lot more potential that was untapped. I was really dipping my toes into the higher caliber competitions.
It was a pleasant a surprise to have qualified for the Trials. My coach and I talked about how it was really just icing on the cake. After a great season and a win at NCAAs that spring in the 5k. It was just a huge opportunity. I was very much open minded about the experience, so to qualify for the final was a joy. To have placed 5th was a complete shock.
I’m really thankful, because it opened my eyes to the fact that I really did belong among that competition. It raised my level of expectation of what I was capable of running. And to be there without the pressure that the professionals at that time had faced, that was an ideal experience at the Trials.
Looking back on that experience is their any advice you’d give yourself? Anything you’d change?
I do honestly I look back at the experience tenderly. I don’t think I would have changed anything despite being so close. I think that was the best performance I could have produced physically, emotionally, spiritually at the time. And I learned a lot through the type of finish it was. I had a lot of races in the future finish that close and I was able to channel the lessons I learned to those experiences.
I think one thing that was I was actually told by many people before competing at the Trials was to really intentionally appreciate the experience. Because there are so many variables over four years that are outside your control. There is absolutely no guarantee that you’ll be back there, healthy again four years from now.
Four years later, I’m a different person. I very much feel like a different person than I was in 2012. I’ve learned it’s important to have that perspective of gratitude.
You graduated Dartmouth in 2014 as the most decorated Ivy League athlete in Track and Field, a lot of 24 year olds are pretty fuzzy on the future, was your path clear as you stood there so clear?
There was a time I considered applying for a master’s program in Psychology as well as running. But as graduation came closer and I really started thinking more realistically about what my lifestyle could look like and how to maximize this opportunity with running it became clear that would have been too much.
A lot has changed in four years! What’s been most challenging about the transition to professional running?
That’s something I’ve thought about a lot. There are several things, but many of them can be encompassed under the idea of really taking ownership over the aspects of the job that separate it from the average 20-something job.
So my lifestyle is very different. I’m in bed by 9:30pm, I take naps everyday. It’s so different from University where the schedule was so packed, and I barely ever had time for a nap. So for the scope of my day to change and for the schedule to change so drastically to be so running focused was a huge blessing but at the same time I’m very type A and love to balance a lot of things and taking so much intentional rest was hard. It was hard to accept that my lifestyle was normal.
I have a very dear mentor who phrased it that way, you’re not average but you’re still normal. And that was psychologically important for me to acknowledge. I’m learning to accept that. It’s hard to learn how to live that out.
So how does living that out look? How do you feed those other sides of yourself?
It’s really great to be in a city for that reason. Because we are just little ants in comparison to all the incredible things going on. I’ve gotten involved in a church here, which is awesome and another strong foundation in my life full of amazing people and community. And last spring I took a literature class. I love finding things like that to find balance – to stay engaged. I find that separating myself from the sport is important for me.
What do you miss most about collegiate competition?
It’s hard to replicate the level of camaraderie there was. There was so much energy. Like relays … those were my cherished memories in college. Or even bus rides. I think one piece of it, that we all loved the sport deeply but we also had big goals outside of it. I think that really enhanced our performance. We were really able to compartmentalize. When we were at practice we were present at practice because it was such respite from academics. And we learned to transition quickly. Between academics and competitions it was so crazy, but we were all in it together. Working together and celebrating together.
Have you found a way to fill that teammate void in your professional career?
That was one of the most important elements I was looking for when I did transition two years ago. I did love that team and I really think I’ll always have the spirit of my teammates in my heart. They are my closest friends and some still live in Boston. It’s great to have them here. It’s important to have friends that understand the niche I’m in. It’s huge.
Also my New Balance teammates are gift. There’s a great dynamic between us. And I actually live with two of them. And indirectly I think we practice teammateship every day. Whether it’s going to bed at a reasonable hour, or really holding each other accountable for our recovery or nutrition. Those details that could be easy to lose sight of.
Then of course, in practice everyday we’re working together. We each specialize in different events so we can play off eachother’s strengths, which is really important. I’m very thankful for that.
Who are the teammates you live and train with?
I live with Liz Costello, who’s a 10k runner. And my other roommate is a Dartmouth teammate, who graduated my same year and her name is Megan Krumpoch. She specializes in the 800m.
Then we train with two other teammates, Cory McGee who runs the 1500m and our most recent addition is Kemoy Campbell a 3k runner from Jamaica who graduated from Arkansas in 2015.
It looks like you’ve kept a lot of the core solid. You work with your college coach, Mark Coogan, and live and train in Boston. Has that thread of consistency helped your transition?
Absolutely. It was foundation. As soon as I found that living in Boston was an option it was almost too good to be true. I think changing coaches is, anecdotally, one of the hardest parts of transition. Because that relationship is built on a lot of trust and shared experiences. Now Mark and I have been working together for 6 years. It’s been cool to see that relationship change and adapt.
Being close to family was hugely important to me. And to partner with New Balance and to be in the city where they’re located. I have the opportunity to peer into their side of things, and to be involved. It’s important to be to have tangible connection to who I run for. To be involved in things like design. And New Balance is very intentional in including us as athletes in that feedback loop.
What does that look like? Working with New Balance?
It’s amazing, there really are no limitations on visiting the HQ. When they have design meeting or need to collect data we’re looped in. Like last spring they were collecting data on spikes, they came to our workout and weren’t invasive at all but had us in the spikes and collected the input and data needed.
You’ve accomplished major goals you set in 2012, like making a World’s Team. But also dealt with setbacks. How have the highs and lows shaped your philosophy or outlook on your sport and career?
Lots of highs and lows. My main takeaway from that is a need for stability and identity outside of running. It can be amazingly rewarding but can also be amazingly discouraging when you are facing injury or even just a dry season when you’re just not PRing.
In a lifestyle of a professional, running is our first priority. We really don’t have that fall back. Honestly in college it was easy to find rationale as to why you weren’t performing well, but those don’t exist now.
There needs to be purpose outside of running. Simply put, running is something that we do, but it not who we are. And of course that purpose is different for each individual, and it’s a journey to find what that purpose is. I think it takes the experience of suffering to revel that. To reveal what motivates your heart.
Then when you do experience those highs and lows you aren’t broken or inflated by them. It’s more sustainable.
The Olympic Trials in Eugene is certainly a run community reunion! Aside from your own, what race are you looking forward to?
I hope that I can over to the track, especially if it’s not boiling hot. I’m so sad I’m missing the 10k. I won’t be out there yet. Would love to see the last rounds of the 800. The 1500 is another one I’m looking forward to, that will be very interesting. I think that’s one of the hardest races, I can’t imagine running it three times. So I applaud those women. It will all be really exciting.
As far as your race, do you have any weird pre-race rituals you’re willing to share?
I used to be a bit more superstitious in college. Especially around pre-race meals, which I still think is important not to have anything drastically different than what you’re used to. But I’ve also learned it more important to be flexible. Because there are times where you cannot control those things.
I do like to listen to relaxing music before races. I used to listen to pump up music before races, but I’ve learned the environment creates enough adrenaline so I don’t need more of it.
Other than that, I do a bit of journaling in the morning. But that’s a daily ritual.
What kind of relaxing music? Whale songs?
No, no. I like to listen to Head and the Heart, Mumford and Sons or even worship music.
You graduated with a Psychology degree. Anything you’ve learned in the field that you’ve translated to your racing career?
Definitely. The importance of visualization. That’s something that I’ve started practicing intentionally and unintentionally before racing. Your brain does wire and make those connections to your benefit when you imagine the ideal result of a race.
As well as reflection and mindfulness. I don’t have a strict routine, I’m not like a huge yogi or anything like that. But in college I definitely experienced that lack of reflection and what that build up created. We were constantly having to switch between academic world and running world without a lot of processing of the emotions of those experiences. Now that reflection is part of the daily ritual.
How do you reflect? As a spiritual person, does that reflection manifest in prayer?
Absolutely, prayer and journaling have help me reflect. That’s been foundational and has allowed me to daily separate from the sport. I constantly have to shape my perspective so that my relationship with running is healthy.
You’ve mentioned that separation between self and sport a few times, has that perspective strengthened your running?
Yes. It’s liberating. When I’m out there I have an opportunity and responsibility to utilize the gift I’ve been given and my ability to train it. But at the same time the result is already very much determined, and life goes on. Even if it’s not my ideal result.
It’s been a process of constantly learning whether I really believe that. I think injury has especially revealed my relationship to running and given me this desire to let go of trying to control the result all the time. Let go of the fear of failure. It’s really easy to be motivated by fear and not love. I strive for love.
Obviously the next big goal to knock off is making an Olympic Team. But aside from top three in the 5k this July, what does success look like to you?
It’s an opportunity to live out what I just talked about – to be okay with the result either way.
My hope and prayer is to enter the race at peace with the journey that I’ve been given. This past spring has been an unconventional season of training because of injury. But I’m now healthy and where I need to be right now and I’m very thankful for that. The biggest thing is to remember is to feel grateful for my journey, to not compare myself to my competitors. To be at peace and thankful. If I’m in that mindset when I approach the starting line I have full confidence that I will have the tools to pour my heart out there through my performance with gratitude and love. That is success. Whatever that looks like will be a success.
Interview conducted and written by Sarah Robinson.
All race images by Sean Dulany.
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