I’ve come to the realization that when they handed out the talent gene for riding a bike, I was distracted; my head buried in a swimming pool, staring at a black line. The good thing is when they handed out the hard work gene, I was first in line; eager and waiting.
The season kicked off with Panama 70.3, the Latin American Championships, which would be my second time doing this event (and its second year running). It had been 4 months since my last triathlon, which was Hawaii back in October. Sure, it was the ‘off-season’, but for me, that is an eternity to not race! I felt I had prepared as best as I could in the recent 4 weeks, as I took a pretty extended time off the regular training structure over the holidays. I was a bit nervous and unsure as to how good of a result I had in me, but I like to take the chance to race (especially ‘big’ events), and I figure this early on, it is good to get out there, throw your hat in the ring, and see where the chips fall. It is always a little scary to toe the line; but I don’t train to train, I train to compete.
Since I do these race stories often, I thought I’d take a slightly different spin on this one and base it around all of the inner thoughts that I had throughout the race. Self-talk is not only a useful tool but an essential one; the mind is very powerful. So here is what went on in my head throughout the event to propel me to a third place finish. (I apologize in advance for the profanities; this is just what went on between my ears; I view it as self-expression!)
Swim start was delayed about an hour due to the lack of punctuality by the Panamanian police. In the big scheme of it all, it is very impressive they entirely close off 56 miles of road for the race course in this country at all; so the delay didn’t throw me off too much, as I know it can happen. We all warmed up then proceeded to sit on the dock for about 45 minutes. When I thought “I am freezing cold sitting here, my body is getting tight; I am hungry and thirsty…” I countered it with “Everyone is dealing with it Kelly, suck it up. All the hotter it will be for the run.”
Swim: I jumped into the water about 2 minutes before the start and swam over to the start line. “Damn it is cold!” “Unbelievable how small this field is. This will be a fun cruise to the swim finish. I just wanna go, cold…cold…cold.” (Water was probably in the low 70s, with a strong current, in the Panama Canal). The gun sounds, and we start swimming. Immediately 2-3 women jut off far left towards the shoreline. Buoy line was fairly far to the right. We could basically stay anywhere in that vicinity with the buoys to your right. “What the f*ck are they doing?! Wait that’s Jodie Swallow, uber swimmer. You should follow her. She probably knows what she’s doing. But sometimes the top swimmers take the wrong lines too. Current is near the buoy line. Shit shit shit.” Needless to say, she and a couple others took off far left, the buoys were far right, and I was somewhere in the middle; alone. It was tough to see the swim finish because of the sun. “Damn my hands are freezing! Why are my hands cold and not my feet? Weird.” “You are such a dumbass for swimming by yourself in no man’s land. You are not on feet, or in the current. Nice work.” Finally I saw the stairs to exit and was glad that was behind me!
Bike: I came into T1 and heard that I was 90 seconds down. That sucks, especially in a 20+ minute swim. Not much to do about it now. I got on the bike and took off down the path and meandered out to the Bridge of the Americas (which was a solid climb) that then took us out towards the Pan American Highway. This is a beautiful and challenging section, as we ride a very hilly and tree covered 5-10 miles towards Veracruz before it opens up to wide, rolling highway roads. Early on, it hurt. My legs were screaming at me but I tried to shut them up. My left quad felt tight and as though it could cramp, but I hoped it was just that shock of initial intensity. Just a few things that crossed my mind in this very long 2 hrs and 43 minutes included the following. “My leg really hurts, I don’t know if I can sustain this. OK use your right leg more, Kelly. Ease off with the left leg.” (as Heather passed me) “Damn, she is moving. That’s ok, head down, keep her in sight. Sh*t that didn’t last long.” Soon after Margaret Shapiro passed me. “Ah that sucks…ok, keep her in sight.” That lasted a little while but at one point I thought it was her up ahead, when I realized it was just a random guy out riding, at which point, I acknowledged that she too had dropped my ass. “Head down Kelly, keep on pushing. Check your power. Eh; don’t look at your power, it sucks. Just keep pushing.” “WHY DO I SUCK SO BAD?! THIS IS GETTING OLD…I should just quit…” This went on for the rest of the ride, and I tried to gauge how much time I had lost to first place by the end; I was pretty accurate as I had estimated 12 minutes. Painful! But no getting around it, I had a lot of work to do the final 13 miles.
Run: I dismounted the bike, took it into T2 and threw on my Zoot TT’s, visor, grabbed my PowerGel flask and was out of there. “Legs feel like lead. Not too surprising since they felt like lead the entire past 3 hrs. Maybe they’ll come around. Settle in.” Tim the Swim Guy (aka Tim Johnson) told me soon out that I had about 10-12 minutes to first place. I responded with a bit of a (sarcastic, pissed off) laugh and “Yep, just like last year!” But I just put my head down and tried to run my race. I immediately knew that this amazing 1:16 I ran last year was probably not happening…in my mind I thought a 1:20 would be solid given how I was feeling. I managed to move from 6th to 5th soon and there I sat for about the next 6 or 7 miles. My quads still hurt, but they felt better than early in the bike. My stride felt a bit forced. I tried to ‘look’ like I felt good, even when I felt like crap. “My legs feel awful. Come on Kelly, suck it up. This is not supposed to be easy. Why do the bottoms of my feet hurt?! That’s a new one.” I ran by a huge crowd of locals who were cheering so loudly for me at one point! It was so awesome. I said to myself, “Come ON Kelly you can’t let them down! They know who you are! Get your ass into podium position would you?!” But the women I was seeing ahead were so few and far between. By the time I went out on the second (and final) run loop, I was in 4th place but 3rd was still very far up. I contemplated stopping, unsure if I could maintain this pace; I mean if I quit, then I’d have an excuse as to why I didn’t do as well as I had hoped right? It wasn’t ME, I was UNABLE to finish. “That’s bullshit Kelly, this is what you’ve got in you, today, now. You play the hand you’re dealt. I told myself “Control to the end of this stretch, then give if all you’ve got the final 3 miles; that is when everyone will be hurting.” I managed to do this, and needless to say with about 2 miles to go, I realized “Dang is that Margie up there? I think she’s third. Pick it up would you?!” And then I had to dig even deeper with the self-talk. “Come on, gritty, gritty. You’re gritty. You’re scrappy. You’ll dig and dig and claw your way to the top if you have to. Gritty! Scrappy! Go!” Yes, a bit humorous, but you do what works; and that was enough to get me to look inside myself and leave every last bit of my energy out there on the course. I made the pass with about 1 mile to go and from there on, I tried to ramp it up to as much of a sprint as I could. When I finally crossed, I was DONE. It was a hard day out there, but I was so glad that I had fought to the end and managed to claw my way into the Top 3.
When I saw Derick, I gave him a hug and I am pretty sure the first words out of my mouth were “That was so hard.” Such a cliché right? No shit, it should be hard. Of course it’s hard. But I come back to telling myself “You play the hand you’re dealt, for better or for worse.” Some days you feel great; it is hard, but only because you are pushing the envelope the whole time. These days are golden; we as athletes live for these days. You want the pain, because you know success is at the end; it’s a good day; the kind of pain we revel in. Other days, it’s hard, because it takes every ounce of physical effort and mental focus and determination to NOT QUIT. That is how today felt. I realized that on a day I felt I was struggling, 3rd place is pretty damn good. When I had a chance to see my bike power file, I got a bit more down on myself…I tried to figure it out, ask questions, troubleshoot. I was told by 2 people that I needed to get over it, move on, and chalk it up to blowing out the pipes as a tough season opener. I needed to hear this. My loving husband told me “Kelly it is hard, and every win you ever get, you are going to have to work your ASS off for…period.” Correct. Those qualities that make us great (conscientious, intense, focused, hard on ourselves) can also tear us apart if we are not careful.
So in sum, it was an awesome weekend, and I am extremely glad I went out there and threw down what I had in me; and grateful that it was a solid result. It tells me where I am, and it clarifies where I want to go. I have to thank my amazing support team for 2013, all of whom I am proud to represent and honored to work with: Memorial Hermann, Zoot, PowerBar, Quintana Roo, The Westin Lake Las Vegas, ISM, Reynolds, Recovery Pump, Jack & Adams, Durata Training, Giro, Road ID, Nulo, Katalyst Multisport, SRM, Oakley, Go with the Flo, & Hill Country Running. Good things to come, via gritty and scrappy determination! Thanks for reading…