San Juan has come to be a pretty special place to me. The race held its inaugural event in 2011, and I was fortunate to take the win. I came back in 2012, knowing that it would be a new experience for me to be able to defend a title, with an even better field than the previous year. It was another great day, and it is hard to describe how good it felt to have crossed the line first by 4 minutes. So of course, I had to come back this season and aim for a three-peat. I was truly excited at the challenge, and glad to see an even deeper (and larger, more diverse) field that came assembled ready to tackle this awesome race. Pressure? Sure, but it also built a lot of excitement within me to try to step up to the challenge. Unfortunately, the best I had in me this year was good enough for 4th place, about 10 minutes behind the winner. It definitely leaves me with a mixed bag of emotions; I am not one to sugarcoat it and say “Ah well, I gave it my best, live to fight another day.” While I know this to be true, the result still stung a bit. That said, it leaves me hungry to tackle the work I know I need to do to get back to where I know I can be.
The day played out as follows. An early (4:20am) wake up call and Derick and I headed downstairs to transition to set up. One of the many awesome things about this race is if you stay at the Hilton Caribe, the transition and race start are both about a 5-10 min walk from the hotel, in opposite directions. Convenience at it’s finest! Something never taken for granted by triathletes who have enough bells and whistles to stress out about. I felt good; nervous, but excited. Truth be told, I really hate race morning. The jitters get to us all; a light jog and my music helps to simmer them a bit, but all I really want is that damn gun to go off so I can get to work! The nerves dissipate pretty quickly once we take off. The race was underway right on time (thanks to amazing race organization, BN Sports LLC) and I was off in my Zoot Speedsuit for the balmy, 1.2k swim. I felt like I had a good start, finding enough speed to latch into a lead group (minus the one who got away, eventual race winner). I was proud of myself for keeping in that group; a few times, the feet started to drift off and I mentally kicked my own ass and said “Get BACK on those feet Kelly! They’re faster!” I have a bad habit of sometimes enjoying solitary swims. I have to remind myself that this is racing, and yes, the bubbles are faster than no bubbles ahead of you. I stayed in a pack of 4 women, and we exited together. The long run to T1 and onto my QR Illicito (fully equipped with my ISM Breakaway saddle and Reynolds 46/92 RZR’s), tossed on the Giro Selector, Oakleys, stocked up with my 8 PowerBar gels and onto tackle the bike course; where I knew, for me, this was most likely make or break for my day.
I have come to realize that the difference for me between being top 5 and top 3 (or in other words, finishing well or contending for the win) over the years has been my bike. Sure, having a strong run has helped; but that gap off the bike usually needs to be within 5-6 minutes of the leader(s) for me to have an honest shot at a win. While I took to the bike course in 2nd or 3rd and exited it in about 7th, the gap was huge. I tried to push as hard as I could out there; and truth be told, nothing catastrophic happened on those 56 miles. I tried to bike strong, solid; take care of myself nutritionally, which I did. When I got passed, I tried my best to keep the women in my view as long as I could. I would glance down at my SRM occasionally, but for the most part, it was ‘stay on the gas, keep pushing’. My legs felt alright, but not great; it was as if I told them to kick it up a notch, but there was only so hard they could go. I tried to stay positive and realize that a lot could happen in 13 miles. So I came into T2, very happy to have that behind me, and keep my thoughts on what was ahead; a good, hot, challenging run course. I just had to hope that the gap was not too large to the leaders.
It was nice to exit and hear my husband Derick yell out ‘Great bike Kel!’ It is always so encouraging to see and hear him…while I have a laser focus when racing, I always watch out for Derick in the corner of my eye, and it gives me a small boost each time I see or hear him. Inside I smile, even when outwardly I may be shaking my head saying (without words, to him “Shit, I have my work cut out for me…”). I headed out and by mile 1, I had passed one girl; which I think moved me into 6th. The run legs felt alright, but still lacking that ‘spring’ that I had hoped would be there. I kept plugging along, hitting the steep hill near mile 2, at which point I saw the race ahead of me. Two women were heading back towards transition, with a HUGE gap on me. I heard Tom Ziebart yell out to me “About 10 minutes back, Kelly.” To be honest, my thoughts were something along the lines of, “Wow, that’s a serious bitch slap.” I knew at that point, barring a serious blow up ahead of me, today this was not my race to win; this was my race to fight like hell and get back into.
We have a choice to make right here. Everything hurt. I knew I was probably running well, but I didn’t feel like I was crushing it. I knew realistically, I may be 3rd at best; 2nd if those blow ups occurred. I never like to think like that; I don’t want to see my success in a race be due to someone else’s misfortune, but I am also a pretty intense competitor and I know that a lot of racing is about racing smart. In any case, I acknowledged to myself, “Kelly, screw it. You won this thing twice; if you don’t win today, then hold your head high and give if absolutely everything you have. You do not quit. That’s not an option. Let your ego go and realize that today you’re going to have to fight tooth and nail for this finish, whatever the place may be.” The options were a) to start to walk, blame this on cramping (which was more accurately ‘aching muscles’… fatigue! ..not a good enough excuse!) or b) suck it up and admit that today, my best was not good enough to win; but my best effort would make me a better athlete. Needless to say, I chose option B. I tried to pace the first lap and into the second lap, I really tried to push down the gas and give it all I had left. I managed to move into 4th place at about mile 10, and it was there that I would stay through the finish; even though I tried to check my mile splits the final 2-3 miles just to motivate myself more to give it absolutely everything I had in me, maintaining hoping that I may still reel in 3rd place.
As I approached the finish line, I thought to myself that I should smile and high five the spectators (as the announcer was nice enough to greet me as ‘2-time champion’) but as I said earlier, I am not one to sugar coat things; and I felt like this celebrating today was reserved for Helle (the new champion, who raced flawlessly). I finished as hard as I could, saw Arturo the Race Director (who has become a friend) and soon found Derick. As he always does, he told me he was proud of my fight; and while I’m a typical athlete, I beat myself up a bit; asked a few questions, but I realize that this is one race, and in the big picture, a hard fought 4th place is nothing to be disappointed about.
Patti Griffin sings, “…Everywhere the waters getting rough, your best intentions may not be enough… You’re out there walking on a highway, and all the signs got blown away. Sometimes you wonder if, you’re walking in the wrong direction…When it don’t come easy…” When I sat down to write, this song was the first thing that came to me. There are times in our lives when it seems it all comes to us; we have success, we see the result of hard work; it all feels so good, we feel strong; invincible; effortless; happy. There are other times that we just have to work our asses off and it may or may not end in the result we hope for. That is ok. I’ve said it numerous times, it is how we respond to successes or failures that make us who we are; and determine our trajectory going forward. Sure, it sucks to win twice and come up (very) short on the third attempt. But does one race result define me? Definitely not. I’m surrounded by great people; notably my husband who sees the success’ and failures and rides those emotions along with me; no doubt, I could not be on this journey without him. Amazing family and friends; your messages, and your thoughts, mean more than I can express. Incredible sponsors who allow me to do this pretty cool and amazingly rewarding job. And with regards to San Juan 70.3, a city, community, and a couple of race directors (Arturo and Alejandro) that have truly made me feel at home and welcome at this event. For all of that, I am extremely grateful.
Now, it’s time to rest up, re-focus, troubleshoot a bit, and get back to work. Looks like there are a few new kids in town who are changing the game a bit! But it’s all a good thing. Everyone is getting faster, and it’s now up to me to try to keep up with the times. Onward!