Kelly Williamson Victorious at San Juan 70.3
I have never been comfortable with getting too much attention. Our wedding was one test for me. Granted it was an incredibly laid back affair, but before I was to 'walk down the aisle' or rather the grassy path between the chairs leading up to the back of an old barn (barefoot), I began to get a bit nervous given that almost 100 sets of eyes would all be on me. Nothing that a glass or so of white wine couldn't fix!
The weekend in San Juan was a bit of a whirlwind for me. I went into the event ready to 'officially' kick off the 2011 racing season, anxious for some stiff competition, but also a bit uneasy. I was fortunate to have won quite a few recent triathlons, but I tried not to think about the 'streak' I had going. I know no matter what the event, who is there, where it is, it is anyone's game, period. Previous performances mean very little when we all toe the line; there is a difference in being confident and over-confident. The latter can start to create pressure, and I know I perform best when I try to keep the pressure down and the focus on the here and now; getting out there and executing a strong swim, bike, and run combo; and ultimately doing what I love, plain and simple.
We arrived 3 days early, settled into the Hilton Caribe (the host hotel) and I felt quite at ease. I had put in a pretty large training weekend prior given that I had a good 3-4 weeks of racing to ensue (race/recover/repeat) so once we arrived on Wednesday, I pretty much shut it down into Saturday. My total time 'exercising' in those 3 days was probably little over 1.5 hrs. I felt confident in the training I had done, yet once race morning rolled around, I found myself begin to get more nervous than expected. So much so that a few minutes before the women lined up to walk down to the water, I almost lost it with Derick; I felt a bit of a panic attack coming on. I quickly pulled myself out if it, realizing that this was just another race, and knowing those moments before we start are the toughest; once the gun goes off, it's simple, we just do what we all do best and have done so many times before. Luckily I dodged a bullet there and was able to compose myself rather quickly.
The swim kicked off right on time, just before 7 AM, and us 20 or so ladies were off. It was an out and back well marked swim course and I tried to stay to the outside to avoid fighting, though I was a bit too cautious and missed the small front pack. It is a very bad habit I have, but I love to swim in clear water all my myself! They had gapped me by 10-15 seconds about halfway into the swim at which point we turned into a bit of chop, and of course the 3 of them were a bit more efficient than solo Kelly, so I lost a bit more time. But I didn't let it get to me. I knew that I have some swims where I am in the mix and others I am just out of it. I pushed on to the clearly marked swim exit ramp and began the ~400 meter run to transition.
The bike course entailed about 10 miles of cycling out of the city of San Juan, which included a few rollers (read: overpasses), at which point we started out two-loop portion of the flat, windy course. It was very beautiful as we had the ocean just over our shoulder on parts of this course, but you could not spend too much time sight-seeing for fear of getting whipped around by the winds. I was feeling very mediocre on the bike, and I was passed by a few ladies. Magali Tisseyre passed me very convincingly early on which started to get into my head... was she riding that strong, or was I just riding that poorly? I tried to keep her in my sights but it was her day on the bike and she just rode away! Then the mental struggles arose... I seemed to be leap-frogging a few ladies but also getting passed by some, and for the first 25-30 miles, I really began to think "Kelly, maybe this isn't your day. It would suck, but it happens." I kept pushing my PowerGels, to assure that I was not just low on fuel. Something clicked on the final turnaround (~mile 35) and I started to get pissed off at myself. I gritted my teeth and began to finally pick up my pace, and interestingly enough, felt best that final hour. I was also riding my new Reynolds Sixty Six/Forty Six tubulars for the first time, and they felt incredible in the flat yet windy conditions. I started to think that maybe this could still be a good day, and entered transition in about 5th place.
I am about to show my age here and I fully acknowledge it! But when I transitioned onto the run, they were playing Guns n' Roses "Paradise City" and it got me fired up. That and Adam Reiser was announcing, as I know Adam and he had some encouraging words as I went out for the run. I was told that I was about 4 minutes down from the leader. I knew if I could put together the kind of run I was capable of, this was still a race. The pink Zoot TT's were on and it was time to roll!
I have been wearing my Tissot T-Touch orange screen watch while racing lately; it may become a superstition now, but I opted to go completely sans splits on the run. I figured I was racing here and I wanted to do whatever it took to win, not focus on what each mile pace was. I took it out smooth and controlled, rolling along the road towards Old San Juan, hitting a steep uphill followed by a downhill on cobblestones which led me to the fort section, a winding out and back. I was able to catch not one but 3 ladies here, as places 2-4 were all running together, and by mile 4 I had moved into 2nd. I kept the pace steady and was able to move into first place right at the first loop turnaround, which was pretty cool among all of the crowds! I have had a history of getting excited, high-fiving people, or waving to my parents at this point, only to be followed by an epic blow up or pass in the finish chute, so I kept my head down and kept plugging away. The second loop I tried to run smooth yet very controlled; as strong as I could without risking a blow up. All felt amazing until about mile 11, when it began to hurt a bit. Here is where mantras get you through ('you can do anything for 2 miles'...'you ran 'x' pace on the track last week, this is no problem'...) -- really whatever works for you, use it! When it gets tough physically, try to lean on the mental side to be your backup. Easier said than done but the alternative will only make it exponentially harder.
When I finally took the final turn over a small pedestrian bridge to the finish, I let myself begin to celebrate. The fans were lining both sides of the chute, Adam was announcing and it was amazing. It was probably the biggest smile I have had in a race finish, and I was welcomed with so many of the locals wanting to get their picture taken with me! Awesome. Shocking. Overwhelming. But ultimately I just felt such a sense of relief, knowing that the past few successful races 'were not flukes', that 9 years of hard work (yes, I have had a pro card since 2002) have started to truly pay off, and that I was able to put together the kind of race I have known was 'in me' for quite some time. The evening awards was icing on the cake, as I was asked to make a speech (again, not so comfortable in the spotlight, but I actually enjoyed it and tried not to ramble on) and I had the opportunity to mention that this past week was Multiple Sclerosis Awareness week, and I was fortunate to be able to donate a portion of my prize winnings to the National MS Society; something that means a lot to me.
This sport can sometimes be seen as 'self serving'. I for one have battled with this at times; am I being selfish? Is it wrong of me to chase something that burns inside of me so strongly yet in the big scheme of things, is not really doing anything to help anyone else? Then I counter it with a few thoughts. I am simply trying to make a living; and I am able to do something I love in the process. I have also climbed a huge, daunting ladder for the past few years to get to where I am today. I have learned more about myself than most other 'jobs' could have shown me, and in the process, I hope that others have been inspired even in small ways to not be afraid to chase after big goals; no matter how big, and no matter their starting point. When I was out there on the bike I recall thinking "Ugh, make the pain end. Why do I do this?" Then I get on the run and I realize that I love the pain. I love the feeling of pushing my body to it's limits and finding new horizons within myself in the process. I love the spirit of competition, and while I may have a serious game face out there from start to finish, I have so much respect for my competitors and all of the others out there taking part. I think this was part of my problem with ITU racing; I never liked that we had our own event (the professionals), and I loved getting back to the longer course, non-drafting when we raced alongside all of the age groupers. A good friend from college used to call me "Kelly the Swimmer," to which I would respond "No, I am Kelly the Person." I guess this comment sums up my personality well; while triathlon is the avenue where I want to succeed, it is not what I want to define me. I want to just be a normal person who strives to accomplish abnormal things.
A huge thank you to my amazing sponsors and support team: Zoot Sports, PowerBar, Quintana Roo, Reynolds Cycling, Recovery Pump, Road ID, Katalyst Multisport, ISM Saddles, Jack & Adams, Xcis Software, Hill Country Running, Advanced Rehabilitation, Go with the Flo, 3 Cosas and Oakley. And no doubt I will be leaning on all of you to help me be ready to do this all again in just a short 1.5 weeks at California 70.3! This race is without a doubt one of the most beautiful venues, accompanied by some of the most welcoming people. An amazing way to kick off the season but be sure you stay at least an extra day to relax and enjoy all that San Juan has to offer.
Thanks for reading; and see you at the next one,
Kelly H. Williamson