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.
After many years of doing this and countless times of flying with my bike (in box) in tow, it’s a small pleasure to get to hop in the car and drive to a race. Both Texas 70.3 and Buffalo Springs 70.3 are two that allow me to do this. I had originally planned to do California 70.3, but a few weeks back knowing all the travel I had already done this early, I figured to stay close to home and head back down to Galveston instead. It was an added bonus that the title sponsor is Memorial Hermann hospital, as they are also my title sponsor. As a second bonus, racing in Texas is just FUN. It reminds me how much I have grown to really love living here and also how many people I have gotten to know! The support at Galveston is just amazing; so many friends there.
Derick and I headed down on Friday and that evening, I attended a Tri Night with a local shop, Fit Tri Run, there in downtown Galveston. Kim and Steve started the shop in 2009, and they happen to be a large retailer for Zoot as well. I was there from about 6-8pm, and after mingling with people, I told them about my ‘story’, how I got involved in the sport and then answered any questions they had; any and all. It was a great turnout, and it is so much fun to get to interact with fellow triathletes; many beginners, but of course some fairly experienced. It makes me realize how much I have LEARNED over the years and how much I can really ‘give back’ to the sport via these laid back, interactive chat sessions. I had the chance to finally meet one of my athletes as well, Jim Casey (pictured below) who threw down a 30 minute PR on Sundays race! A big thank you to Zoot and Fit Tri Run for hosting this, and to all who took the time to come out.
After the chat session, we hit up dinner at Luigi’s with a good friend. Best Italian food in all of Galveston hands down! Derick was fiddling with his new camera and came up with this artsy photo of me, bread, and wine.
Onto the race! Saturday I slept in, pedaled for about 40 minutes, and then spent an hour with Memorial Hermann at their booth at the Expo. Again a nice chance to talk to the experts there (Anthony Falsone, ‘the man’ for strength and conditioning, and Penny Wilson, nutrition guru), as well as meet many athletes racing on Sunday. Pablo Gomez came by, who lives in Austin, works at Jack & Adams and is a little badass! He went 4:25 to take 3rd in the Mens 18-24 division. Big future for him!
Race day came, bright and early, 4am wake up call as usual (7am start). I was feeling fairly relaxed. I would say less nervous than San Juan, but with the same focus and ambition; that I would really love to be able to defend my title. That said, I had done a bit of thinking since the last race and I realized that this time, my focus would be solely my race…good swim, good bike, good run…let the chips fall where they do. I had put a bit too much pressure on myself for San Juan and I did not want to do that this time around. I know myself well, and I know I operate well under being relaxed and excited to just go and enjoy racing. I tried to find this ‘Happy Kelly Space’ going into Texas 70.3.
It was a wetsuit swim, and I wore my Zoot Z-Force 4.0 suit (long sleeved). We took off right at 7:03(ish), 3 minutes behind the pro men. I tried to take out the first ‘stretch’ very fast. I knew that Haley Chura was in the mix because my friend Billy has been bragging about her for about a year now. 🙂 Haley just turned pro and she happened to beat all of us pro ladies in Kona out of the water (as an age grouper, fastest female swim overall!) last fall. I took note. I tried to really push that first few hundred meters, and it caught up to me. I didn’t want to mention this in my race report but Derick told me I should…he’s probably right. I actually stopped three separate times within the first 300 meters, as I felt like I could not catch my breath. To be blunt, it scared the shit out of me. I stopped once, treaded, tried to relax, then went. Swim swim swim… about 2 minutes later, it happened again. Same thing. Talk about a mental challenge! I told myself “Kelly, you’re fine. Relax. Breathe. Relax. Chill out. You’re fine.” (repeat, repeat, repeat). It was not until we made the first turn around the buoy that I finally began to settle in. Not fun. So there you go, it happens to ALL OF US. Once I calmed the hell down, I realized “Damn, I am getting hot!” The water was about 64F, and I tend to get warm pretty quickly in a wetsuit. Note taken, anything over low 60’s and I need to go sleeveless! Needless to say, the swim continued and I exited in about 3rd, only a minute behind super swimmer Haley! Not so bad.
Onto the bike, my approach was go like hell. I have been pretty frustrated with my cycling legs as of late, and I was really excited to get out there and give it all I had; try to put myself back into last years mindset, when I managed to hold the lead through the first 28 miles. Well damn.. no matter how much you may try to replicate your perfect day, it just doesn’t always go that way!! Such is life. I had a couple of women ahead of me from the start, and unfortunately, I had a few more pass me throughout the ride. I felt decent on my QR Illicito with my Reynolds RZR 46/92 combo, but not stellar. I did not have the ‘aching quads’ that I had experienced in my first two races quite so bad, but I knew I was not having the day I would prefer out there on the bike. To be honest, I had thoughts of stopping. I know that is terrible, right? But I acknowledged that I was feeling sorry for myself. My body was healthy, strong, and there was nothing wrong…I just didn’t like the position I was in as the bike progressed. I told myself, “Suck it up, that’s no reason to quit. Keep on it.” And that I did. As I finally cruised back into Moody Gardens (the final 2 miles or so), I stood up and tried to shake out the legs a bit. I knew I would have serious work cut out for me on the run.
The fact that I had serious work cut out for me (I had no idea how much work) was verified when I ran out of T2 and the announcer said “And there goes Kelly Williamson, she has got some work to do.” Awesome! Thank you for verifying. 🙂 I soon found out that I had 8 minutes to make up on 1st. I put my head down and took off. I was stoked to quickly notice that my ‘run legs’ felt like they had finally decided to return! I didn’t feel the usual snap in Panama or San Juan, so that was encouraging. I think I started the run in 7th or 8th place, and by about mile 4 or 5, I had managed to move into 2nd. I felt very strong, but hearing all of the cheers only made it all the easier to dig that much deeper. So many friends out there! I didn’t want to disappoint!
I kept my head down and kept digging until the very end, and I closed the 8 min deficit to 2 minutes (and 2nd place); I was very pleased with the end result. I had almost pulled out in the swim early on due to panic; but I was able to talk myself back into control. I was feeling very sorry for myself on the bike; but managed to acknowledge this and keep my attitude positive. But one underlying motivator with me all day long was Pete Zucker. Pete was the best friend of my manager, Chris McCrary. He passed away of ALS only two weeks before this race. While I never met Pete, I have followed his journey the past few years, and I have seen the hard work that Chris has done with some amazing fundraising efforts. Lou Gehrig’s is an ugly disease, there are no two ways about it. I only felt it appropriate that at the end of my race, I honor Pete by doing the Blazeman Roll. If you are not familiar with this, please take the 5 minutes to watch the video. It will change your life. I battled with the decision to “roll”. I did not want to do this because I did not want to draw attention to myself; on the other hand, I wanted to do it to honor Pete; and if it made one single person ask what I did that for and realize it was for ALS, and realize Jon Blais’ story, then it was worth it. After I got back up, I found Derick, and got surprisingly emotional.
It is an interesting dynamic how when we push our bodies to their limits, we find various things to motivate us. I am often asked “What do you tell yourself when it gets tough?” But ya know, it varies; race to race, day to day. I went into Texas 70.3 simply wanting to do a good race for me, push myself and not worry about where I ended up; but know that I had left it all out there. In retrospect, I achieved this; but I also thought about Pete throughout the 4+ hour journey many times, and it felt like I drew strength by realizing that no matter how hard it got, it was nothing that I couldn’t push through. When my attitude got negative (it happens to all of us, at some point), I turned it around quick. Life is precious. We are blessed. The ability to go out and compete as we do is an absolute privilege that I’ll never take for granted. As Jon so wisely said:
“Live, more than your neighbors. Unleash yourself upon the world and go places.
Go now. Giggle, Know, Laugh. And bark at the moon like the wild dog that you are.
Understand that this is not a dress rehearsal; this is it. Your Life.
Face your fears and live your dreams. Yes, every chance you get.”
Thank you for reading, and for supporting me. My message with this race? Find what motivates you. Take hold of your life and go after your dreams; go after something. You know what scares me? Failing. But I figure I can’t succeed if I don’t risk failing. And I’m only human. Therefore, I try to embrace it; when I see that a failure is on the horizon, I try to realize that it will make me stronger in the long run. Life is a journey; make it happen, but most of all, enjoy the process and don’t take yourself too seriously.
Thank you to my sponsors for allowing me to do this amazing journey: Memorial Hermann, Zoot, Quintana Roo, PowerBar, Reynolds, The Westin Lake Las Vegas, Recovery Pump, ISM, Jack & Adams, Road ID, Giro, Nulo, Durata Training, Katalyst Multisport, SRM, Atomic High Performance, Oakley, Profile Design and Campagnolo.
Another Kona has come and gone, and it’s hard to believe that I have now done this race three times (2010, 2011 and 2012). I guess that come 2013, if I return, I can no longer call myself a ‘newbie’ to Ironman Hawaii can I? Damn, there goes one excuse! It’s an interesting dynamic that even if this is not your one and only ‘big’ race of the season, it seems that everything essentially revolves around it. It’s the marker for most things. I have frequently found myself saying ‘before Kona’ or ‘after Kona’ throughout the season. After two weeks of much reflection and digestion of how the day unfolded, I figured I would take a slightly different approach to my race report on this one. I was out riding today in Austin and I tried to think of three words that can describe my rather long day out there getting pounded to a pulp by Madame Pele. Here is what I’ve come up with.
1) Disappointment. Yep, I am going to be honest here and not sugar coat anything. I don’t intend to sound negative, just honest and pragmatic about the situation. I think it’s safe to say that going into Kona, I had put together the best season of my 11 years as a professional. While I had many other important races, the majority of my training was designed to be successful in Kona. I felt prepared. I had a big goal, but I believed it to be a realistic one. I felt like I’d left no stone unturned. Race morning and even race week, I found myself more relaxed (which is almost always a good sign for me) and genuinely excited than I had ever been before an Ironman. I was bursting at the seams. It had been almost a full year since my last Ironman, and I knew my fitness was better than a year ago. I figured the potential was huge! Sure I knew it’d be a tough day, but I like tough; it becomes mental then, and I love the mental battle. One of my favorite phrases is a ‘good swift kick in the ass’ and that is precisely what I got out there. Why? I don’t know. What went wrong? We’re not entirely sure. The problem was solely the bike, which tends to be a nasty little bugger of a challenge that I cannot seem to shake. I know I’ve had more good than bad bike legs this year, however, Kona unfortunately was a season lowlight on the bike. This all goes to show us what we know; no matter how well prepared you feel, how relaxed you are, how many ‘good signs’ you seem to have… on race day, it doesn’t matter. What matters is putting it together, and some days, it just doesn’t come together; no matter how badly we want it to. I knew as I hit the final 30 miles that it would be bad. I didn’t cry, though I wanted to. I was angry with myself, but I tried not to be. Those final 30 miles, I am fairly sure I was ahead of no more than a handful of pro women. It hurt; it hurt my ego, and it didn’t seem fair. But one thing I told myself was “Swallow your damn pride Kelly and keep pedaling. Some days just suck; get over it.” Once I finally limped my feeble self into town, the next self talk was “Run a sub-3 hr marathon and make something good of this!”
The positive? Out of disappointment, we become stronger; we learn more about ourselves. We learn how deeply we can dig when all is stacked against us. We ask the hard questions about what went wrong; we reflect on what we can do better. I’ve learned far, far more from the disappointing races than I ever have the good ones. Without disappointment, we have no opportunity for growth.
2) Gratitude. Numerous times out there, I thought of all I had to be thankful for. 9 hrs and 45 minutes is a lot of time to think. I thought of the many notes and emails I had received from friends and family (and friends I don’t know) wishing me good luck and telling me that they were already proud of me. I thought of all those generous people who had donated to my Can Do MS fund; we raised over $11,000; my performance today would not change that fact; already, much good had been done. I thought of my Aunt Sandy, who has MS, and tells me that she is that little angel on my shoulder when things get tough. I thought of the numerous great races I had had this season. I thought of my parents who came out to support, as they have every year in Hawaii (and most races!)… and how awesome of a chance it is to spend a week with them in Hawaii. I thought of my husband who has been on this journey with me every step of the way; without Derick, I’d not have the privilege of even being here. I thought of how fortunate I am to even be ABLE to do this great sport. Perspective, even in the heat of battle, is a good thing. Even when emotions run high and that dreaded feeling of ‘failing’ is on the horizon, I always try to gain some realistic perspective on the situation. Much to be thankful for.
3) Resilience. And here is the big one. This came to me within hours upon finishing. Thanks to good old Merriam-Webster, resilience = the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation, caused especially by compressive stress. My interpretation of this is the ability to bounce back from failure; the ability to not be defined by a beat down; the ability to lift your chin up just a bit and say, ‘not today…you may try to break me, but try as you may, I’m not breaking.’ This concept was what got me through the day. I came into this expecting to do well; planning to do well, prepared to do well. Coming off the bike after 5 hrs and 40 minutes, it was embarrassing. I know everyone had bad days, but I have been working to prove to myself that I AM a good cyclist; that I CAN bike well for 112 miles. And here I was, slapped in the face with precisely what has sat uneasy with me for two years now (ever since my first time in Kona)…another bad bike split. And as much as I wanted to curl up in a corner and feel sorry for myself as I dismounted into T2, I said to myself “Come on Kelly. It’s done, move on. Run a sub-3 hr marathon and make something good out of this day. It’s not over. You do NOT quit just because it’s not going great.” I could not bear the thought of quitting out of embarrassment or the ‘fear’ of a bad result. So off I went. I shot out of there like a bat out of hell and ran for broke. I gave the run all I had in me right from the start; I didn’t even try to pace myself; I didn’t have the time to do so. And, I clawed my way back into the Top 15. Not the Top 5, like I had envisioned; not even the Top 10, which I imagined would be an “ok” day. But the one thing I’ve learned as an athlete is we give it what we’ve got, at the moment, on the day; and that, I had done.
Where a race like this gets really difficult is those few days afterwards. Within 24 hours, you’re so tired and glad that it is over, you don’t really feel much emotion; eh, bad race, so it goes. I always find however that it’s the next 1-2 weeks when the emotional roller coaster begins. You beat yourself up over it, you ask what went wrong; you ask how could that have happened when you worked so hard. You feel angry one minute, yet indifferent the next. This is when the resilience becomes important. I realized that I’ve had a great (and long) season… a 1:14 half marathon back in January, three 70.3 wins, two 70.3 seconds including the World Championships; and some great success at the Olympic distances as well. I feel as if it would be very selfish of me to walk away from the season disappointed, having had so many successful races; you cannot let one race define you, be it good or bad. I’ll digest it and learn from it. I’ll take some much needed down time, rest, re-focus and look forward. I will be resilient.