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.
As some of you know, I’ve been doing this triathlon thing for quite some time now. I most recently raced two events back to back weekends, St. Anthony’s 5150 and then St. George 70.3 US Pro Champs. It was a 2 week trip from one to the next, with a stop post-races to get my bike fit and position dialed in. The trip was Austin/St. Petersburg/St. George/Scottsdale/Austin. Since getting home, I’ve not had a chance until now (1 week post) to sit down and write about the events. Timing is interesting; I received an email from my dad this afternoon, just as I was about to reflect.
It was titled “Sports Quiz: Kelly Handel Williamson – This Is Your Life.” My father retired about a year ago and while at first he was going stir crazy, he’s settled really nicely into retired life and keeps himself very busy. Sometimes he occupies his time with email forwards between he and his old man friends. It’s not uncommon for me to receive 6-8 at a time. I may read 2-3 (sorry dad). I told him that if this was some email about shit that took place in the 50s and 60s, he could skip me; I was not around and I don’t know what they are talking about. He assured me this was ‘relevant’.
So I get 5 different photos attached and his instructions are as follows. “Kelly, here is your test of recall. For each photo, give me the year, month, and if you’re REALLY good you’ll tell me how you fared at the event. And no cheating. Good Luck!”
He sent me five photos of me at races or events, all between 2002 and 2009. Upon looking at these, it just made me think; and smile. Each one brought back distinct memories; maybe a good or maybe a mediocre race, but moreso just how much I have been through. But what really struck me was, here I am sitting here trying to think up how to re-hash my past two races, neither of which I was completely thrilled with. But does that really matter? Without all of those ups and downs, without each and every time that I went out there and put myself in the arena, we’d not have any of these memories. It threw everything into perspective; and while I didn’t happen to knock it out of the park the past 2 weeks, I can be thankful and appreciative for so much more than the results I have accumulated over the past 10 years.
St. Anthony’s 5150 was something I was really looking forward to. I was 5th last year and hoped to improve on that. I love going short and I was feeling ready for it. I was prepared for a faster swim, a hard bike and a quick and speedy run. I actually look just as forward to this trip because it is a Mom-Daughter trip; each year my mom and I meet in Tampa and she and I hang for St A’s. In short, the swim was extremely wavy and choppy and I felt like a small jellyfish in a big ocean. I was actually laughing at myself about halfway through. I came out of the water 2-3 minutes down from the leaders. Oops, not the plan. Onto the bike: short, fast and hard. Unfortunately, the legs, yet again, were flat; completely and totally heavy and nonresponsive. Sucks when that happens. I carried on, anxious for a fast 10k whereby I would reel women in! Yes! Well when you get off and you see nobody ahead of you, and you’ve only got 6 miles to go, that’s not a good thing. I ran my ass off as if I was in contention for the win; as I would run if I was in 2nd or 20th (pretty sure I was in 20th, at least). I finished up in 14th place, with a great run time, but overall a very frustrating race.
I was fully convinced I was going to skip St George. I was so tired of feeling awful on the bike, with pain in my quads; I didn’t see the need to go to a huge event only to know my form was lacking; almost feeling certain I knew what the outcome would be. My mom of course supported my decision; she didn’t want to see her daughter beat herself up any more. J However upon a lot of self reflection and chatting with Derick, I realized that by skipping St. George, I was not accomplishing anything. Sure I would take myself out of the situation whereby I may not do well; I may spare myself that ‘bad’ feeling. I could assure that my confidence would not take another hit. At the same time, maybe I would have a good day. Maybe my bike legs would be there; and what would I do if I skipped it and never knew how well I could have done? I knew I would be angry at myself if I were watching it from Austin, not being there, wondering “what if”.
I have never been one to bail on anything for ‘fear of failure’. Admittedly, I had a bit of that going into St. George. And to me, that is total bullshit. I was healthy, not sick, not injured; and my fitness was good judging by my overall training and my running. So, it was all systems a go; onto St. George, and I had 5 days to get my head in the right place.
Thankfully, I completely managed to do just that. I moved on, put St. Anthony’s behind me, and focused on all of the positives. I felt great the week leading into it; had a strong 50 mile ride mid-week. Weather was beautiful, lake was picture perfect, and the hills were endless. I was excited to see how I fared amongst such a stellar group of women. To me, just getting to the start line with this mindset, I felt like I had already accomplished ‘something’.
The race panned out well. Swim was wetsuit legal (used the Zoot Z Force 4.0) and given that my last wetsuit swim was Galveston where I panicked, this was a huge success; I was relaxed and while I lost the top women at the start, I closed the gap and bridged up by the end; exiting within 10 seconds of the leaders. This emphasizes yet again that I swim great in calm conditions and like a scared kitten in waves. Always something to work on! Onto the bike and I was crushing it on the first climb; my legs felt strong, snappy, and like they were ‘there’! Bingo! Needless to say, I continued to feel good but I continued to get passed throughout the bike by a handful of women. Laura Bennett and I played cat and mouse which was awesome. She is someone I have utmost respect for and it was such good energy to be around her on the bike. I exited the bike knowing I had a lot of time to make up, not sure how much, but that if I wanted to be ‘in’ this race, the run was my chance to do it. I felt strong from the start, though the first 4 miles were by far the toughest. After that it seemed my legs came around; it was just a question of if the gap to the Top 3 was within my reach. I dug and dug and dug, and at the Mile 11 marker, I started to give it everything I had in me as it was mostly downhill from there on in. I closed to within about 10 yards of 4th place by the finish chute, but Annabel (Luxford) peeked back and had a kick in her; I on the other hand was fully kicked out. I crossed the line in 5th; not stoked, but thankful. (And even more excited to quickly learn that Meredith Kessler had been in 2nd halfway through the run, and ended up FIRST! I could not have been happier for this girl.)
And so, what did I walk away from St. George with?
1) I was proud that I faced my fear and apprehension, and raced; tossed aside the worry of not being able to defend the US Pro Champ title and attacked it with all I had. I was very happy to post a great run split, even if it didn’t get me to the podium; I left nothing in me.
2) My power on the bike was ‘better’. It has been very mediocre this season; St. George was the best power file I have seen. While I am not data obsessed, training with an SRM and using power is a marker; and I use those markers. It was encouraging to see that the power is moving in the right direction.
3) I could not possibly have done this without the support system; and for that, I am so grateful. My husband Derick who kindly nudged me to soldier onto St. George; yet again, he was right. My sponsors who are there for me win or lose; even if it’s not a win on the day, you are guaranteed I gave it all I had.
4) Kelly Handel Williamson: This Is Your Life. Win or lose, this is my life; in the words of my father. This Is It. And ‘it’ is made by doing; by figure out, by winning; losing; struggling; succeeding. Getting frustrated. Trying to see perspective. Asking questions; not knowing answers. Savoring the good, rolling with the bad. Being resilient. Cutting yourself some slack. Kicking yourself in the ass every so often. Appreciating those around you. Living in the moment. Living with integrity. More importantly, walking away knowing you stayed true to yourself and you simply did your best.
Thanks so much for reading…and of course, there’s gotta be another one around the corner, right?
See y’all at Rev 3 Quassy in June.