I’m often asked what my mantras are. What do you say to yourself when it gets really tough? How do you go to the dark place, when things get really painful? It seems my mantras are often changing. But lately, while not so much a ‘training’ mantra, I have found myself saying the same thing. It’s been this. ‘Kelly, you can’t be too afraid to get out there for fear of not being perfect; or not being where you want to be, right now. Once you go down that path, you’re done. You’re paralyzed by fear and you’re scared to fail. Go and toe the line, knowing you’ll do your best, and savor the chance to push hard and take risk. That is good enough.’
As many of you know, I finished 2013 with surgery (on September 26th). I took the requisite 6 weeks off; resting, walking, letting my body and mind heal. Truth be told, I think it was the best forced rest I’ve had in years. By mid-November, I was able to do all three sports; swim, bike and run; though it was a gradual process. I eased back, letting my body and intuition be my guide. At 10 weeks post surgery, ironically on my birthday, I ran a local 5k. Scary? Without a doubt. But, it felt so good to tackle my fear of ‘what if’ and get out to do what I love; run. All went well. Not a PR, far from it, but one step in the right direction. And as we all know from setbacks and forced rests, there was new appreciation to be able to go and run 3 miles hard; plain and simple. I didn’t do anything remotely close to ‘core work’ until well into December, for fear of straining something in my abdomen. I finally realized I had to start to act like ‘me’ again; and let myself train as I normally would. December progressed; I was allowed one run a week where I picked up the pace, usually just 2-3 miles within a run. We proceeded to take our usual 2 week, 3000 mile road trip to see our families over Christmas and New Years; I stayed on task but the priorities were visiting, not training. Again, something I firmly believe in; I’ll never sacrifice time with families and holidays (once a year) for training. The other 54 weeks of the year I dedicate to that; which is plenty.
Welcome January 5th; back in Austin, and ready to really hit it. Logically so. My coach and husband Derick is ever the wise ear, telling me that even if I did opt to race 3M Half, I could not force the running to get my fitness up quickly just for one race; there is a big picture here, and it is a long season. Early January, I got in two good weeks of consistent training; some intensity, but mostly just my routine again. Late December, he said that he thought it would be alright to do 3M if I really wanted to. Mind you, this is the race that in 2012, I busted out a 1:14.42; a 3 minute PR. It was, personally, one of my most proud accomplishments in sport. So while I could ‘just do it’, in the back of my mind, there was that question, “Can I run a 1:14 again?”
I decided to give it a go. The week of the race, I battled in my mind with not racing. ‘You don’t have to race, Kelly. If you’re not ready, it’s OK.’ I think as athletes, we are always trying to be tough; never back down, never say never. I tried to tell myself that it was alright if I felt I should bail on it. But then, I asked myself, “You love to race, especially running races. Why would you back out? You’re healthy, and you love running races. Why bail?” And then I acknowledged; I’d back out purely because I was scared of what I may not be able to do. And I countered that with telling myself, as an athlete, the minute you are too scared to try for fear of failing or not being perfect, you’re through; you are letting irrational fears take control; and mentally, you’re screwed. I didn’t like that fact; so, I raced.
I took the day prior to race day easy, just a swim; we both knew the main goal for this race was to get back out there, gain some fitness, and of course see what I could do. However, every time I toe a start line, I go into ‘race my best’ mode. I know that my expectations were probably greater than what Derick had in mind. I did the numbers; I knew what pace would land me a 1:14, 1:15, 1:16, etc… but bottom line is, my legs would go as fast as they could and my body would dictate. I tried to take it out smooth and controlled, and I rolled through 3 miles in about 17:10, which was good. Lucikly I had a small group of guys with me who seemed to be pacing together. We cruised through 6 miles in about 34:24, still; very good. I was a bit surprised this pace felt so smooth. Between miles 7 and 8 the guys started to pull ahead, or maybe I pulled back; all I know is I wasn’t certain of my ability to hold this pace for 13. By mile 9-10, it just got hard. The legs began to hurt, my breathing became a bit more labored, but I tried so hard to stay focused and keep the effort there. At mile 10, I did the math; a 20 min 5k would land me 1:17.43. An 18-19 min 5k (more realistic) would land me 1:15 to 1:16. Still doable! With 2 miles to go, everything hurt and it took all I had to just mentally keep on going. I realized by this point that the time was what it was; the more important thing was that I had tackled a bit of race fear and embraced it.
I crossed the line in 1:16.34, about 15 seconds behind what I had done last year; but all in all, pleased and relieved. Sometimes, it is just about not being afraid to admit your fears; and tackle them. I feel like that was what this race was about. Additionally, I managed to defend a title that I have had the past 2 years; in the big picture, self-perfection aside, there was a lot to be proud of.
So 2014 has officially begun! Next up I’ll be focusing on Panama 70.3, February 16. I’ve done this race twice before so I know what to expect; while it is early, it’s a good opportunity to test out the fitness and, as with 3M, gain some more fitness from it. The time between now and then will be focused on recovery, a short training block, and a short rest. I have to say; it feels good to be back into the rhythm. I’m stoked for what this year has in store, and excited about the amazing sponsors that I’ve got on board. Thank you for following along and being part of my journey! I’ll try to make it exciting.
One of the unique things about competing (age and level of competitiveness regardless) is that it allows you to constantly be learning about yourself. There were two things I learned about myself from Rev 3 Williamsburg. 1: I absolutely love to be in a position when racing whereby I am forced to be the hunter. There is something about the thrill of being far behind knowing I will have to dig hard to have a chance to win, knowing that I may pull it off or I may completely blow up (or even suck trying) that really gets me motivated. The risk is big but the possible reward is bigger. 2: When in doubt, I draw inspiration from those around me.
I went into Williamsburg pretty relaxed. I have had some questions lately about my bike strength and found there could be ‘answers’ as to the recent struggles, so with my mind a little distracted, I knew the race could be up in the air. But I was healthy, rested and as ready as I could be; this is nothing major but enough to throw a small curve ball my way. We headed there on Friday, and I tried to put aside any of the ‘questions’ and doubts and simply put myself into race mode. I may not have been as nervous and eager and amped up for this one, but I have raced long enough to know how to simply put myself into the mindset of getting race ready, no matter the prep. I was also excited for a new event, a new place to explore, and a new race experience; with a lot of Derick’s family there to support, the race was able to double as a chance to connect with family which is always a bonus.
My plan going into this one was to swim hard and try to come out first or very close, bike rather controlled given the recent revelations (not so ideal given that hard efforts have still lost me time this season, but it was the plan and I would implement it) and do my usual on the run; just run my ass off and go for broke. When I was jogging before the start, I looked up at the sky and rain was opening up to some blue sky. I told myself: “Enjoy this one. Take it in, race within yourself, let the chips fall where they do. Appreciate the ability to go and push yourself. And despite whatever is going on coming into this, never count yourself out.” I just felt at ease, relaxed, and appreciative this morning.
The goal of first out of the swim did not happen. That went to a very strong Tenille, with Lauren quick on her heels; I had to settle for third, about 40-50 seconds back. This swim course was a bit challenging, as it threw some unexpected currents and waves at us, especially the second half. It felt like the final red turn buoy kept drifting further away from me! I just kept my head down and did what I could, enjoying the final 100 meters or so of dolphin diving. This was one of the longest ‘shallow water’ stretches I have ever seen. Dolphin diving is a workout in itself!
Next up was about a 1/4 mile run to T1 through a grassy field, and it was onto the 56 mile bike course. Just as planned, I took it out mellow. I actually looked at my SRM this time (as I usually cover it up) and tried to gauge my effort, keeping the power below whereby I had been feeling this bizarre quad pain all season at the start of my races. I have to say it was a little refreshing to not feel like I was scrambling right off the bat to crush the bike, as I always do (and always have done, barring Ironman races). I plugged along, enjoying the flattish to moderately rolling course; it was very pretty, constantly surrounded by green trees; until I came to T2 on the William & Mary campus, exiting the bike in 4th place, 9 minutes back from first (my usual lately).
I started the 13 mile tour around the campus, and quickly saw Charlie of Rev 3 about a mile in and asked him if they had a new baby yet. (His wife was due any day now!) A sign that I was still fairly relaxed, despite a big deficit! At this point, I was telling myself that I would give it all I had, and bottom line is I’d either claw my way back into the podium (and maybe to first if I was lucky) or I wouldn’t…I didn’t get too bothered by the big time gap. The first loop I realized this run had it’s challenges, namely that there were many turns but also some small yet deceivingly tough hills. I moved into 3rd at the 5 mile mark. Yahoo! But tried to just keep the pace steady. I was literally hearing “6 minutes back! 4 minutes back! 2:30 back!” as I plugged along. I passed 3rd place at about mile 8 but knew that Margie (Shapiro), a good friend of mine, was still far up ahead and was having stellar day. Truth be told, I was so stoked for her that I had figured I’d be content with 2nd today. I found myself yelling words of encouragement to those folks out there who looked to be overcoming far more obstacles than I, and even threw Margie a high five about 6 miles in. I was pushing hard, but I was also really enjoying myself and soaking in the atmosphere. I saw a ton of Team Red White & Blue members racing. I heard many people cheer for me, which is always so appreciated; even when I cannot acknowledge it. I just seemed more at ease than usual.
Until about mile 11. At this point, I was told I was less than 2 minutes back. Damnit, doing the math… I may catch her at the line. Now I realized if I wanted to try to win this, I should focus and pick it up. I started to put on the tunnel vision, tuck the head down and began digging deeper. At mile 12, I ran through the crowd (and by the finish line) and I was told “49 seconds down Kelly!”. I thought to myself “Shit, I have to go HARDER?!” The body was definitely feeling it now. There was one final out and back, and I could start to see my carrot (Margie) but I knew it was a fine line; if I pushed too soon, I may blow. I kept on the pace. Final turn, and 1/2 mile to go. She looked to be maybe 20 yards ahead. I figured now I had to give it all I had. I picked it up to as much of a sprint as I could muster, and managed to move into the lead with maybe 1/4 mile to go; and even then, I kept sprinting, knowing it didn’t end until we hit the line.
When I finally did see the finish, it was just pure relief and joy that I had managed to pull that off! I was greeted to the usual excitement of Rev 3 finish lines; a hefty crowd, an absolutely ecstatic Sean English jumping up and down like a mad man, and thankfully huge grin on my face. It was such a nice feeling to have finally managed (although barely!) that highly sought after first “Win” of the season!
Truth be told, I was elated with this finish. I have tried hard lately to overcome self-doubt, stay positive and realize that this is all ‘part of the process’. I realized that any day we can get out and do this is a day to be grateful, but additionally any day I can come out with a win is a huge added bonus. I was also so pleased with myself that I kept my head in the game and remained positive even when I knew I was far behind. Margie deserves huge props for such a stellar performance, forcing us all to play chase all day long to her. It’s funny. While we can get frustrated with times in our life when we struggle, it makes the success’ we encounter so much more meaningful. Today was one of those days.
Thank you to the MANY who continue to support me, not only my incredible sponsors but my husband Derick and his guidance, my family (especially my mom and dad, I am fairly certain my mom gets more nervous for every race than I do) and my many friends; your notes and messages mean the world; I feel very blessed! Oh..and now to the best part about this entire trip…
We opted for a 1 week off mid-season break, which entailed 6 days in Southern Indiana at my parents cabin. I knew if I stayed in Austin I’d be inclined to just go to Masters swim…or just go ride easy… and I needed NONE of that. I slept in (until 11am one day), drank coffee, enjoyed good food, plentiful happy hours, and a lot of time in Lake Barbara (their man-made lake my father claims he named after my mom). My biggest workouts came in the form of rope swinging. And on that note, here’s to B-A-L-A-N-C-E!
Thanks for stopping by,
When people ask me what I do and I tell them I am professional triathlete, they often respond with a bit of awe, and then express how tough it must be given the physical demands, the day in/day out training, early mornings and tough competition. My response is often to smile, and tell them it’s not so bad. They way I see it, I would be doing much of this irregardless of if I were a ‘pro athlete’ or not. I’ve always been active and to me exercise and even competition is a way I keep healthy and happy; it is really just something that is ingrained in who I am. It makes me feel alive. That said, I am realizing that while the physical demands are high, it is so much more the mental and emotional toll that competing at a high level can have. In the big picture, keeping it all in perspective and striking the right balance of ‘easing up on oneself’ combined with staying focused and getting the job done can be a rather tough challenge, one I have found myself battling with a bit this season.
I am coming off of another week of back-to-back races, which started here in Austin. I decided to do Lifetime Fitness Cap Tex Triathlon as a rather last minute decision (1-2 weeks out). It is very tough to pass up a hometown race, much less one that pays out fairly well. I have also not raced in downtown Austin since 2010. I opted into this one but did not take quite the ‘full rest’ I do for my bigger races, knowing that Rev 3 Quassy was the following weekend. I was also anxious to try out my new bike fit (which I had done at the Faster wind tunnel in Scottsdale, Arizona after St. George). It had been feeling very good for a few weeks and I was excited to see if it would translate in a race, especially a shorter one (Olympic distance).
The 1500-meter swim was in Town Lake, non-wetsuit, and I opted for a one-piece Zoot race suit so that it would negate my taking the time to remove a speedsuit. This suit is extremely comfortable to both swim and bike/run in and gets tons of compliments! The pink on black looks awesome and it is just a nice, simple alternative for a non-wetsuit race. The swim was decent (in a small field of about 10 women) and I exited in the group trailing Sara McClarty by about 1.5 minutes. With all due respect, Sara does an excellent job of making even good swimmers look like idiots. 🙂 Onto the 4-loop and fairly hilly bike around downtown Austin, I was so excited crank out a hard effort on the short 25-mile course. My setup was my QR Illicito, Reynolds RZR 92 combo, ISM Breakaway saddle, Giro Selector with the eye shield, and Atomic chain and chain rings. Little did I know the crosswinds in downtown were pretty fierce and I got blown a bit coming down Congress Avenue each time! I felt strong for about 20 minutes, then it felt like the quads started to ache and it got tough pretty quick; much the same of what I have felt multiple times this season, as I struggled to stay on the gas. I did my best and came off the bike with about 5 minutes down to Alicia Kaye and in 5th place. I tossed on my Zoot Ultra Race’s, Oakley Radarlock’s and took off for the 10k run. The legs didn’t feel great, but I tried to push the effort with all I had knowing it was only 6 miles. I managed to move into 2nd by about mile 4, at which point I told myself to dial it back a notch knowing I had another race in 6 days. I was happy to maintain that spot and take 2nd here, about 2.5 minutes behind Alicia, who is in incredible form right now. Always a privilege to be able to race with a hometown crowd and have a solid finish! It was a fun race and a great job by Life Time Fitness Tri as well as Jack & Adams who helped with race organization. Many thanks to the Austin’ites who cheered out there! This felt to me a successful little ‘tune up’ race for Rev 3 Quassy.
The week following, I spent quality time recovering with massage, bonding with my Recovery Pump boots, and doing some easy days of workouts followed by a few days of sharpening up. We headed out to Middlebury, CT on Friday morning for Rev 3 Quassy.
I’ve done this event twice. In 2010, I was 2nd and in 2012, I was 6th. It is a tough, honest, hilly, challenging course and it draws out extremely competitive fields every year. Call me crazy but even when I feel like my form has been a little ‘off’, I still seek out these races. I love to know how I stack up against the best. If something is lacking, I want to know that. I guess you could say I don’t like to hide. Well needless to say, I got what I was looking for here.
I felt good on Saturday before the race; fairly relaxed, the body felt good, rested, and excited to get out there and see what I could do. It looked to be hot and humid, which I love. Race morning came and it was a non-wetsuit swim. We kicked off 2 minutes after the men and as we ran in from the beach, one of my goggles filled up with water and I could feel my contact in my eye. Shit. Whether it was smart or not, I stopped briefly to clear my goggle which was probably not in hindsight the smartest move. We took off and while I tried to keep pace with the top few women, I had lost them. Suck. I found a rhythm and after we made the first turn around the buoys it was as if the sun was blasting into our eyes; definitely tough to see. The women had spread out quite a bit and I tried to see the yellow buoys but all I could see was SUN. One woman started drifting to the right but that buoy was red, which was a turn buoy… I knew we had to pass 3 yellow ones first. Decision time; it is essential for the success of your own race to stay on course. I stayed left towards the yellow ones knowing that many people were confused out here, but I had to stick to the course and I knew that was on the yellow buoy line. After the final turn towards home, it got a bit easier to spot the path and by this point I just wanted to be out of the water, knowing I had likely lost some time already.
Onto the bike and I was anxious to attack it with all I had. I took it out strong but was left in the wake of a few women who were near me at the start. I tried to stay positive and stay on the gas, and about 20 miles in, I took a left turn and hit a bumpy patch. I looked down and my aero bars had slipped significantly, pointing downwards. Shit. I tried to pull them back up to no avail. I knew I couldn’t ride the entire race like this. I stopped, and tried to yank them up. Nothing moved. I got back on and continued riding, when I saw the neutral mechanical bus drive by and waved him down. We stopped and had to remove my new Profile Aero HC bottle to access the bolts, by which point I left the aero bottle with the mechanic as I didn’t want to take the time to put it back on. Off I went, maybe 2 minutes later. Annoying but it happens and I have had very few mechanicals to deal with, so I can’t complain. I got back on and continued to give it all I had but just never, ever really felt strong on the bike. It was tough as I battled in my own head. “What the HELL? This AGAIN?” I debated pulling out as I as so frustrated to yet again feel weak and useless on the bike. I finally decided, as I always do, to just GET THROUGH THIS and onto the run. For some reason, this is an ongoing battle this year and it is something that we need to continue to try to get to the bottom of. I just cannot stand the idea of quitting. I feel like if I do it once, it’ll be far too easy to take that option again. Not quitting in this situation makes me vulnerable, it exposes me. It says “this is all I’ve got, for better or for worse; no excuses, no viable explanation; and it sucks but it’s a fact”. It doesn’t let me hide from a poor result. And that is the way I like it. I gritted my teeth and pushed as hard as I could until finally I came to the end of the 56 miles.
I heard someone yell “16 minutes down!” and I honestly wanted to go and hide under a tree. I knew it would be bad, but wow, that was pretty bad. Derick told me “You got some work to do Kel” to which I thought “I love you and all but, NO SHIT HONEY!” I knew starting the run that a 16 minute deficit was fairly insurmountable for a win, likely tough to pull off a Top 3 (I was also told 11th place at that time) but maybe if I ran well I could muster a respectable Top 5 finish. At this point as an athlete you have to do your best to focus on what is happening IN THE MOMENT. Each mile one at a time, not thinking ahead; not letting yourself think about how disappointing this race may be; at how embarrassed you are at what has already happened (yes, there is a part of me that thinks ‘Kelly why are you riding like a dumbass? Can’t you just ride faster?!’). You have to shut out all of the external things and literally just tell yourself ‘Give this all you’ve got and make the most of this opportunity, right here, right now. Anything can happen and it’s not over until it’s over.’ You can either stay positive or go negative, and the second option never helps anything. I have gotten fairly good at this (from experience; not by choice). I sometimes joke that slow bike splits is all part of my master plan; I just aim to make the races exciting. 🙂
I ended up feeling fairly strong on the run, and kept my nose to the grindstone; moving up within the first few miles to put me into 6th place, where I would ultimately finish.
I’m not going to sugarcoat it and I’ll try to spare you any whining here, but to be completely honest, I was not pleased with 6th place. I was proud of the fact that I didn’t give up on myself and I never counted myself out of it. I was proud of the fact that knowing I was likely only running for a Top 5 at best, I ran like hell as if I was going for a win. That can be tough to do. I just find myself frustrated at this recurring bike struggle with every race. That said, I am so very happy for Heather Wurtele as she came back from 2nd here in 2012 to take a huge win; major props to her, she deserves it and she is having a stellar year.
A few days post race, I am left with a simple realization: At times this can be a hard and frustrating sport; yet it can also give back to you things that are immeasurable. It’s frustrating when you put the work in, you see progress, and you truly believe that progress will be reflected in your race; yet it’s not. I know that in the big picture I have an immense amount to be thankful for…I never forget this perspective. But, it’s in my nature to want to win; to be up there in the thick of it, putting it all on the line, contending to cross the line first. I believe that I was able to finally start winning races only when I truly believed I COULD; and that took many years. And of course if I don’t win, but I give it all I’ve got and I know my body was able to leave it all out there, I can walk away satisfied knowing this. But for whatever reason, that is just not happening right now; it feels like something is holding me back. I realize you cannot expect to win a race when you give up 10+ minutes on the bike. These are the facts, and in life you have to deal with the facts. This is forcing us to look critically at things, and hopefully we’ll come out of it on the other side and I’ll be a better athlete for it. Struggles like this allow you to never take anything for granted. I’ll admit, early last season I felt a bit unbeatable. My confidence was high and it almost felt ‘easy’. Right now, I’d give anything for that feeling again. But I’m fighting like hell to find it and I have no doubt that when I do find that form, that state of ‘flow’ whereby I feel truly like ‘me’ again, then it’ll mean the world and I’ll savor that feeling. Sometimes we may not ask for it, but we’re given life’s lessons whether we want them or not.
I think this is my lesson in patience.
And troubleshooting. That’s an important life skill, isn’t it?
As always a huge thank you to my incredible sponsors: Memorial Hermann, Zoot, PowerBar, Reynolds, Quintana Roo, The Westin Lake Las Vegas, Recovery Pump, ISM, Road ID, Giro, Jack & Adams, Nulo, Katalyst Multisport, SRM, Profile Design, Campagnolo, Oakley, Endurance Shield, and Atomic. I couldn’t do any of this without my husband Derick and Durata Training for his support and guidance; he sees the highest of the highs and of course the lowest of the lows! Onward and upward.