Joy Nagal will tell you she’s a late bloomer when it comes to running. But boy did she blossom. Fresh off an international Half-Ironman – that’s a 70.3-mile distance triathlon comprised of a 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile bike ride, and a 13.1-mile run (half marathon) - the legal secretary with County Counsel has added the huge accomplishment to her long list of brutal and intense races.
“Believe it or not, I wasn’t always a runner!” Nagal said. “Nine years ago, I was approaching 40 when I started running.”
And running. And running. And running.
The Philippine-born racer got the itch after her friends invited her to the Silver Strand Half Marathon in Coronado back in 2009. She only did the 5K, but those three miles are all it took to get her hooked. She graduated to a 10K the next year and a couple weeks after that she braved the Carlsbad Half Marathon.
“It was painful, yet it was the most exhilarating feeling. Of course, with very little training and not much running experience, I was slow, and it took me nearly three hours to finish,” she said. “I remember I had a hard time walking for almost a week, and I couldn’t go up and down the stairs! Despite that, I knew I wanted to do it again.”
So she did. She signed up for four more marathons that year and even became a member of a national running club in which she had to complete three half marathons in 90 days to qualify for membership. And finally, in 2010, she found a local running group in her community to be a part of.
“They were serious runners, they were fast, and they didn’t just run to ‘finish,’ rather, they ran competitively,” said Nagal. “They were ‘out for blood’ to place or podium in their respective age group division. That’s probably when I started taking running more seriously.”
The local group had structured and regular trainings, which helped Nagal become a better runner. Her times started improving, and the group provided inspiration and motivation to place in races. She says the improvement didn’t happen overnight – in fact, it took years for her to shave significant time off her races. But it’s those small goals that keep Nagal going.
“I loved that feeling of accomplishment each time I attained my goal,” she said. “Although I was getting older, I was getting better and recovering faster as well; not to mention I was more energized, and also feel great about myself. “
Perhaps one of Nagal’s biggest running influences is her husband, Josef, whom she met in 2011 at the Carlsbad Marathon and was also part of the national running club Nagal joined. Sef, as Nagal affectionately refers to him, is the reason behind her audacious Ironman goals. He’d been training for his first full Ironman when they met in 2011 and Nagal had been intrigued in doing a duathon, which excludes a swimming portion.
“He knew I had the desire, so he introduced me to the Triathlon Club of San Diego and took me to their beginner open water swims in Bonita Cove. I couldn’t swim from buoy to buoy; I would panic and hyperventilate,” she said.
But Nagal got stronger in the water and has since completed an Ironman and a few half-Ironmans, including one in the Philippines this August – a trip she referred to as a “racecation” because she and her husband both flew out to their home country to compete in the grueling competition and then enjoy some time alone on a belated honeymoon.
“Cebu was by far my best race experience. Filipinos really know how to put on a show, the hospitality is amazing, and the amount of support is just incredible, unlike any other races I’ve done,” she said. “ You literally get treated like a rockstar!”
Nagal and Sef enjoyed sightseeing after their big race.
“We went snorkeling in the beautiful beaches of Coron/Palawan; canyoneering at Kawasan Falls; swimming with whale sharks in Oslob; and Chocolate Hills Adventure Park in Bohol,” Nagal said. “It was amazing!”
The now-veteran racer and her husband were instrumental in establishing a local chapter of the Fil-Am Tri Club, San Diego region in 2012 (Filipino-American Triathlon Club), which originated in New Jersey. They’re still active and involved in the group and hope to run many more races together in the years to come, including more in their home country.
“Perhaps we will have another reason to visit the Philippines again, and do the other races in either Davao or Subic,” said Nagal. “We also have on our bucket list Challenge Roth triathlon in Germany.”
For now, Nagal’s short-term goal is to re-qualify for the Boston Marathon (yup, she ran that already in 2016) or to qualify for the Chicago Marathon. She will be participating in the NYC Marathon in November.
The runner also said that she hopes her story of finding her extracurricular passion late in life might inspire other employees out there, noting that the County of San Diego is constantly promoting wellness.
“You’re never too old to set a new fitness goal. I was never athletic, and I never thought I would be labeled as such, let alone become a triathlete. It wasn’t until I was forty when the athlete in me was born. Now I’m approaching my 50th birthday in March 2020, and I have more goals to achieve, and dreams to fulfill,” Nagal said. “If you have the drive, the determination and motivation to put in the hard work, you can achieve those goals, but you have to make the decision to start and believe in yourself. “