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Kelly Handel Williamson: This Is Your Life

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’.

Redman 2007

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!”

Ski Trip 2002

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.

Memphis in May 2005

 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’.

Pro Panel K & M

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.)

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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.

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3 replies on “Kelly Handel Williamson: This Is Your Life”

Kelly, I really appreciate your candor.. always have. Even though I don’t work with Derick any longer, I am still finding your posts to be incredibly helpful. I checked out your blog this morning because you always seem to write what I need to read. Your struggle with the bike remind me of my struggle with the run and you so often offer an excellent perspective. I had a particularly bad day yesterday and found this post right on schedule. I would be so helpful if other world-class athletes were as honest as you. The rest of us need to hear it. We need to know we are not the only ones slogging through the tough times. But then, that is why this is the only pro blog I regularly seek out. Thanks -L

Love your write-up. Your fortitude is worth emulating. Great race at St. George (even though you passed Sarah on the run; if and when she manages to finish AHEAD of you, we know you will make her EARN IT….as it should be). One thing I love about triathlon is how many great women are out there giving it their all. Inspiring!

Love your posts Kelly, and love your attitude! The only true failure is taking yourself out of the game. Keep up the fight b/c I’m sticking by my Kona prediction.

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