#ThisisActive Q&A with Ragen Chastain-- Trainer, Author, Activist & World Record Marathoner

Our #ThisIsActive Q+As are part of an ongoing series to show how plus size women live their active lives. Share your active life with us on social media by using #ThisIsActive on Instagram or send your story to social @ junoactive.com for a chance to be featured.

About Ragen in her own words: 

Ragen Chastain is a speaker, writer, Certified Health Coach, Functional Fitness Trainer, and thought leader in the fields of Body Image, Health at Every Size, Athletes at Every Size, and Corporate Wellness. Ragen is a sought-after speaker on the corporate, conference, and college circuits where she has brought her captivating and motivating mix of humor and hard facts to stages including Google, CalTech, and IvyQ.

Author of the popular blog danceswithfat, the book Fat: The Owner's Manual, and editor of the anthology The Politics of Size, Ragen is frequently featured as an expert in print, radio, television, and documentary film. Ragen is a three-time National dance champion, and two-time marathoner who holds the Guinness World Record for Heaviest Person to Complete a Marathon (Female,) and co-founded the Fit Fatties Forum and Fat Activism Conference.

Ragen lives in LA, and is currently training for an IRONMAN Triathlon. You can find out more at http://www.sizedforsuccess.com

Q. What was it like winning the Guinness World record for heaviest woman to complete a marathon?

A. It was a rough day – I was expecting it to be 60 degrees and shady on a flat course. Instead it was 40 degrees with 20 mph winds, it rained all day, and there were 4,000 feet of climb. I started to feel a pain in the front of my ankle around half way through. I would learn after the race that it was a ligament tear. Luckily for me I was so freezing cold that I only felt a little bit of discomfort during the race. (The next morning, however, I got out of bed and fell flat on my butt!)

It was a long, cold, painful day but my support team was amazing! It included my partner Julianne who manned the Mothership and took care of battery charging and changes so that we could get the whole thing on camera for Guinness! It also included personal trainer and Theresa and Registered Nurse Elizabeth who made up my official weigh-in team, (Guinness required that we use healthcare professionals, and weigh in using a scale that weights not just in pounds and kilograms, but also grams! Thanks to all of their help, as well as the race officials and volunteers, and other runners who were all incredibly friendly and supportive, I got to cross the finish line totally exhausted, and with a combination of elation and relief at having finished.

I chose not to pay an examiner from Guinness to come to the event, so it would still be a couple of months until I knew for sure that I had achieved the record, but at least I knew that had completed the marathon and put myself in the position to get the record!

Plus size woman walking along trail in a wooded park setting with pond. She is wearing JunoActive plus size activewear.


Photo credit Lindley Ashline  

Q. You're training for an IRONMAN Triathlon right now. What kind of training are you doing to get ready for it?

A. Training for an IRONMAN is brutal. There’s swimming, biking, and running workouts. Sometimes you do “bricks” which are bikes followed by the run (to get used to getting off your bike and taking off running) and sometimes you do a swim followed immediately by a bike. Some workouts are shorter and work on speed and/or form, while others are really long.

More than once I’ve been on a run and realized that I could have watched two of the Lord of the Rings movies and I still had more running to do! Then there are strength workouts, pilates for core strength, and stretching after each workout. The training is a serious time commitment – 10 hours a week of workouts at the beginning that eventually climbs to 20 hours. Working out 6 days a week with 2-3 workouts on most days, or one very long workout. Plus you have to practice your “transitions,” (which means changing clothes between the swim and the bike, and between the bike and the run.) This means you spend a lot of time in your bedroom literally changing clothes for practice!

Q. When did you start your journey as a serious athlete?

A. I’ve been an athlete since I was a kid, I played multiple sports in school, and continued to play in an adult volleyball league though college and for years after. Then I got started in competitive ballroom dancing, where I won three national championships.

When a freak neck injury left me temporarily unable to do the kind of workouts that I like to do (fast twitch workouts, dancing etc.) I decided to push outside of my comfort zone and participate in some sports that I wasn’t good at and didn’t particularly like. That led to me completing my first marathon, I learned after that marathon that I could have set the Guinness World Record, hence doing another marathon!

This IRONMAN is the final part of that journey outside of my comfort zone, but I haven’t decided what I’m going to do next, and the IM organization has been unbelievably supportive of me and my dream!

Q. What's one myth you'd like to see busted about plus-size women?

A. That the only way to improve as an athlete is to lose weight.

I got my first fitness certification in the mid-nineties, and I’m currently an ACE Certified Health Coach and Functional Fitness Training and even though the evidence is clear, I noticed that often even trainers and coaches fall prey to this myth.

The truth is that fitness is built on four pillars – strength, stamina, flexibility, and technique. This is really important since most attempts to lose weight end in weight regain, but most attempts at improving strength, stamina, flexibility, and technique result in improved strength, stamina, flexibility, and technique.

Q. What's your advice for people in the plus-size community who want to start training?

A. I think that the key is look at everything as an experiment. All bodies have abilities and all bodies have limitations and you won’t know until you try something.

So get the gear you need to start training at your sport safely, and then start slowly (it’s no good being the most enthusiastic budding athlete in traction!) If you aren’t sure what you want to do, try a bunch of different stuff and don’t be afraid to quit – workouts on YouTube, Groupons, and free sessions at local studios can be a really good way to test things out.

If you decide to get a coach or trainer don’t be afraid to shop around and insist on someone how will train you from a body positive, Health at Every Size perspective! Their job is to train you based on YOUR goals, not impose their philosophies on you. I would also recommend joining Fit Fatties, we are a Facebook with over 5,000 members of all sizes who want to talk about fitness from a weight-neutral perspective. We have people who are working on doing laps around their house to people who are running ultramarathons and climbing mountains so it’s a fun place for inspiration and information (want to know what to do about that under-bra chaffing or that rash? We’ve got you covered, no judgment! https://www.facebook.com/groups/fitfatties/

Q. What does having access to the right clothing for your competitions and training mean to you? 

A. This is so crucial, and so tough! It’s one of the reasons that I’m grateful that JunoActive exists! If I want to go run a 5k, or go for a fun swim or short bike ride, I could wear some sweats or cotton clothes, but it feels so much better to be wearing performance gear.

And when it’s time to swim a couple miles, bike 100 miles, or run 26.2 miles (or to do that all in a row!) what I’m wearing becomes absolutely critical to my ability to succeed. If I throw a regular t-shirt and shorts and go for a 15 or 20 mile run, I’m headed to chafe-town, population me!

The proper clothes can be the difference between finishing a workout and reaching my goals, or having to go home early.

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