Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Magnificent Kelly Williamson

Kelly Williamson has been a professional triathlete since 2002, competing in draft-legal, ITU races before shifting to long course in 2006. The move turned out to be a good one, as she’s been among the best in the business for the past few years. Last year Kelly was the US champion for the 70.3 distance and placed 2nd at the 70.3 World Championships in Vegas. She’s followed that up with several podium finishes already this year, including an epic, come from behind victory this past weekend at the inaugural Rev3 Williamsburg Half in Virginia.

Kelly is an Indiana native (she grew up an hour from my hometown) and swam collegiately for the University of Illinois. She now calls Austin, TX home, where she lives with her husband, Derick, dog Amico, and obese cat Corgi.

Do you feel that a swimming background vs. run or bike provides advantages? Additionally, many swimmers struggle on dry land but you’ve become one of the most feared runners in the sport. What’s your secret?

I think that growing up a swimmer, you learn a lot of discipline and you also gain a ton of basic physical endurance and strength. Not to say cycling and running don’t teach these things, but swimming is a pretty individual sport growing up and requires long and somewhat repetitive hours staring at a black line; if you don’t enjoy it, you’ll likely quit; and I did it from age 5-22. Swimming taught me the basic values of dedication, hard work and realizing the importance of doing something because you love it, not for the glory. And you are right; swimmers usually despise running! But I have always loved to run. I played soccer when I was young as well; I couldn’t stand to be in or near the goal because I’d get bored! I can’t say I have any real ‘secrets’ with running, just that when I took it up in high school (track, I actually ran the 400) it seemed to be something that I picked up readily and once I finished collegiate swimming, it was something I enjoyed and seemed to come fairly naturally to me. So the run has just gotten progressively a little faster over time, since picking up triathlon (as a pro) in 2002. Of course having a husband (and coach) who was a very good collegiate runner himself likely hasn’t hurt either.

What was the turning point for you, when you felt you had ‘arrived’ and could compete with anyone, and to what do you attribute your breakthrough the past few years?

I feel like 2010 was a big year for me, getting 2nd at Rev 3 Quassy and then following it up with my first Ironman (Coeur d’Alene) placing 3rd in a 9:39. I don’t know if I felt I had ‘arrived’ at that point, but it showed me that after 8 years of doing this sport, I was finally becoming a real contender at the longer distances; something I really wanted to do. I dabbled with ITU in the beginning but was never crazy about it; growing up as a kid I always said “I’ll do it myself”… ITU didn’t feel like a solo effort. I wanted to know from start to finish, it was my swim/bike/run that produced the result, not a product of drafting etc (though I admit ITU is an amazing and very respectful form of racing in its own right; just wasn’t my thing). After racing Kona in 2010 and gaining my first few 70.3 wins, I think it set me up with confidence going into 2011 and things just rolled along well from there into 2012. As for a breakthrough, I feel that stepping up to the longer distances (and the training it required) made me much stronger all-around, but really I feel like my progress was so stair-step each year that the breakthrough would happen eventually if I just kept chipping away. I also have to say the environment in Austin (we moved there in 2006) is incredible to be successful; great support from folks at Jack & Adams, ongoing support from my husband Derick, and awesome training grounds. Sure it’s hot but I think that has made me much stronger and tougher in these conditions. I feel like sometimes you have to just keep your nose to the grindstone, not look for any shortcuts, and keep things simple and progressive; and if you’re meant to be successful, you will; it just may take awhile; and patience is key in this process.

Did your 2012 success give you a boost of confidence for 2013 or has it raised expectations in a stressful way?

2012 was definitely a year that was very good to me; and I have so much to be thankful for. And of course when you win consistently and start to perform to what you feel you’ve always been capable of, it is going to raise the bar for yourself; you want to keep doing that, all the time! But that’s not realistic and it’s not life and I know that. It definitely gave me confidence in that it made me realize this is what I was meant to be doing…that finally, after so many years, I was able to truly make a career as a professional athlete. Success breeds confidence. But the real test comes when you stumble a bit and have to get back up. I feel like I have had a bit of that this season. Nothing catastrophic by any sense, just haven’t found that flow that I seemed to have in 2012. I think when this happens it makes you truly dig deep and find out how badly you want it, and in the big picture it makes you a stronger athlete all around. Nobody can be on top all the time, and if/when I do feel pressure to perform (or win) I remind myself that I know I’ll go out there and do my absolute best; and that’s all I can do. It helps me ease up on myself and just go race.

For the first year in a while, in 2013 you don’t have any full Ironmans on your schedule. What led to this shift and what are your “A” races for this year?

Yeah after Kona in 2012, I just felt a little demoralized…I had put together my best season to date yet got it handed to me in Kona. In hindsight I may have been a bit tired, but I stepped back and realized that I felt I needed a break from it and I also needed to have more confidence in my cycling to go there and truly feel I could be a factor. I didn’t want to keep going back to Kona to get 15th place; but go there when I believed I was capable of being within the Top 5. I also love going fast and I know that I won’t have that speed forever. So I stepped back and decided to focus on 70.3’s, HyVee and some Rev 3 events. There are so many series to choose from now that as a professional, trying to make a living, there is some strategy involved with planning a race schedule. That said I may do a late season Ironman (or early 2014 IM) if I decide to pursue Kona next year.

Can you summarize Rev 3 Quassy? What makes Rev 3 unique and how does it compare to Ironman races?

Quassy has developed a reputation as an extremely tough course with a great payout for pros, which always draws a very competitive field. It’s located in green, hilly, quaint Connecticut and the course doesn’t change much each year (if at all)…so it is a nice race to go back repeatedly and see how you measure up each season. You are hard pressed to find any half ironmans that pay as deep as this one does. Rev 3 vs. Ironman…I personally love them both for different reasons. You get a bit more of a laid back feel with Rev 3, but they still draw competitive fields and pay great so as a pro it is a win-win situation; a change of ‘feel’ but with the same level of professionalism. Ironman races are a bit more consistent across the board, and in general draw some more attention on the big scale, which I love as well; a bit more ‘tension’ sometimes on the start line…again both have positives…but I do love the laid back, grassroots vibe that Rev 3 provides.

If you could only choose one, would you say your improvements on the bike have come from long/volume rides or short intensity work?

That’s a trick question :) I think the cycling finally started to come around in 2010 when I was ‘forced’ to spend over 4 hours on a bike training for Ironman (because who in their right mind would do so if they didn’t have to?!). I’d not say ‘volume’ so much but simply those rides of 90-110 miles were a huge new stimulus to me and I think they made me stronger. That said, I train religiously with an SRM power meter and I’ve been known to do 3-4 hour trainer rides with 1.5-3 hours of interval work in there…so while that is not high intensity, it is focused sustained efforts and we (my husband/coach Derick and I) both see a lot of value in intervals on the bike mixed with long endurance rides. Little of both.

From your blog I read you were frustrated with your result at St. Anthony’s and were fully convinced you would skip St. George. To quote “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 caliber event feeling my form was lacking almost as if I knew what the outcome would be.” To what do you attribute bouncing back so well, & how do you compare St. George to Vegas?
Thank you for doing your homework! You’re correct, I wanted to pull out to spare myself a bit. I talked with my husband and he helped me realize I was not injured, nor sick…healthy as could be…just frustrated…so what good would come of ‘not racing’? And he was totally right. I did make a slight bike position change in raising up my saddle, so that may have helped a bit; but more so I did a huge ‘pull yourself up by the bootstraps’, stop feeling sorry for yourself and go do what you love with all you’ve got. I had trained in St. George and I was so excited for the course. It was one of those challenges you have when you have to put the past behind you and focus on the positives. I was proud of how I came back and while 5th at US Champs was not a win this year, to me it was a great race. As for how it compares to Vegas, well in some ways…swims are both in pretty flat water (though St. George can be choppy) but you’ll likely be non-wetsuit in Vegas and wetsuit swim in St. George. The bike is definitely fairly similar with some fast flats but also big challenging climbs. As for the run, I don’t think you could find two courses more similar; both of them contain long ups and long downs, both of which can really destroy your legs and make for an extremely tough (and potentially hot) run course.

Speaking of Vegas, what are your thoughts on the recent announcement that 70.3 Worlds will rotate internationally?

As much as I love the Vegas setup for my strengths, I do think it is good to see a World Championship course rotate venues. It only makes sense as it allows for a truly fair playing field, especially when it maintains the basics of being challenging and a hilly bike course to ensure that the packs get broken up a bit. So of course I’d love to see it stay in Vegas for years to come but in the big picture, I think it is best for the sport that is changes venues every few years.
From the pros I met at St. George, including yourself, I was blown away at how nice and down to earth you all were. On that note, it seems to me from afar that most of the pros are very friendly with one another. Is this true or is the competition/rivalries among the female pros much more fierce below the surface?

Well thank you for the nice words. I love to interact with age groupers (Q&A’s etc) and to me that is the most simple and ‘real’ way to give back to the sport as we have all been at that point prior to where we are now. None of us (well most of us) did not get to where we are overnight. As for rivalries etc., I know that I have a lot of respect for the fellow pro women that I toe the line with. Many of them I know, some better than others; but bottom line is that we are all out there to do our best and each and every one of us wants to win. I guess I see it like this. Before and after the race, I like to chat with the women, interact, get to know them, try to maintain a laid back vibe, etc…but I think most all of us have a pretty intense game face (I know I do!) yet that is just how we do our job. I would never want to win at the expense of seeing someone else falter; rather we all get out there and give it everything we’ve got. I think seeing that we all have ups and downs makes us all that much more human; and to be honest, we can all relate to those ups and downs; and it makes it easy to truly be happy for these fellow pro ladies when they do well. We are all fierce competitors, but I’d like to think that at the end of the day we can all shake one another’s hands and be happy for the others.

Among these options, how would you divvy up credit (100%) for a race gone extremely well? For these purposes let’s qualify that as being on the podium.
Coaching: 12%

Natural Ability: 8%

Equipment: 5%

Luck/Feeling Great on the Day: 10%

Mental Toughness: 30%

Race Strategies/Tactics: 15%

Training: 20%

Who’s the better athlete, Amico or Corgi? (fyi I’m told Corgi weighs 25 lbs/11kg)

Ha! Oh well they are both quite athletic you know. I like to tell people Corgi isn’t fat, he’s ‘strong’ :) We are convinced Amico is part Dingo and part Heeler; so he never runs out of energy, but he likes the colder weather; he can go forever; he just needs his chuckit and a river to play in. He loves when we head to Salida, CO in the summer. If Corgi were a football player, he’d be a linebacker. If he were another animal, he’d be a raccoon. In reality, Corgi is just a big loveable snuggly fatass of a cat.

Follow Kelly via Twitter handle @khwilliamson and check out her site!

Kelly is one popular girl!  Supporting in her success are the following sponsors:
Go With The Flo     
The Westin Las Vegas

who you callin' fat??

1 comment:

  1. Nice interview! Kelly is a great athlete and all-around great person! We are proud to have her as part of the Profile Design team this year. Go Kelly!