Wednesday, December 7, 2011

2011 Season Recap

~Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it’s the courage to continue that counts~ (Winston Churchill)

I love the simplicity and truth of this quote. Reflecting on 2011, my thoughts seem to be divided between the many highs and a few lows. I feel fortunate that my lows were not terribly low; they may have been in my book, but we are always our own biggest critic. I raced a lot, I trained strong, consistently and healthy and I grew immensely as an athlete, especially at the Ironman distance. I have a lot to be thankful for and at the same time, I like to take the month of December to think about what went well, where I can be better and how I can learn from the past 12 months as the upcoming season approaches. In doing so, I wanted to do a quick re-cap of 2011; it allows me to focus on the positives but also bring some ‘closure’ the year and prepare to move forward. I like to try to always focus on what is ahead; the past is how we learn and grow, but the future is what we have control over.

JANUARY & FEBRUARY: Houston Half Marathon (US National Champs) was my goal race at the end of the month. Prep for this was a brief 3 weeks, and while I tried to eek out as much as I could from my run training in this short time frame, it resulted in a 1:16.59, not quite as fast as I had hoped for, but a PR and good for 19th overall among some of the world’s best runners. I truly enjoyed this race, especially running among the very ‘elite’, and felt honored to be there.

In February, I hit up the Rev 3 Costa Rica Olympic distance race. It fun to see a new part of the world, enjoy a laid back atmosphere, yet also get to line up against a good competitive women’s field. I was pleasantly surprised at my early season speed, up front out of the swim, taking the lead at the start of the bike and holding it through the end, finishing 1st in a 2:10.

MARCH & APRIL: I decided to continue my Central American ‘tour’ and head to the inaugural San Juan 70.3 in mid-March. Despite feeling fairly flat through about 30 miles on the bike, I decided to dig deep and push the final half, at which point the legs seemed to come alive. I started the run in fifth or sixth and by about the halfway mark of the run, I gained the lead and didn’t look back. I was able to secure my third 70.3 career victory here in a 4:15, a solid 4 minutes ahead of 2nd place; a great way to kick off the season!

Later March, I headed out to Oceanside for California 70.3, and I would attempt my first ever ‘back to back’ 70.3 races on consecutive weekends. I absolutely love this course as it always draws a top notch field and is an honest, hilly, challenging course. I wound up 5th (4:29) with the 2nd fastest swim and run times. I then headed just south of Austin for Lonestar 70.3, the US 70.3 Pro Championships, the following weekend. I was 5th (4:14) here as well, with a solid swim, lackluster bike but a stellar run which moved me right back into the action. I was just 14-seconds shy of 4th place and the Top American slot, so despite being a bit bummed that I missed out on that, I was very pleased with a come from behind run to solidify a solid result.

MAY & JUNE: May was the big one that I had been focused on for all of 2011 at that point, Ironman Texas. It was right in my backyard (3 hours south) and I felt excited, relaxed and confident. The end result for me was huge, as I exited the swim 1st, came off the bike in 9th and ran myself into 2nd with a 3:04 run and an overall PR by 29 minutes of 9:07. I was not surprised by the place, as I knew I was capable of finishing near the top, but I was pleasantly impressed with my overall time. I took some much earned downtime and came back in mid-June to one of my absolute favorite events (as I have done it 5 times!), Buffalo Springs 70.3, and notched 1st place there with a 4:26, a good 8 minutes ahead of 2nd place.

JULY, AUG & SEPT: I headed to my home state of Indiana in mid-July (2 weeks after Buffalo Springs) to race Muncie 70.3, which also happened to be my first half ironman back in 2004! Needless to say I was a little bit faster than 7 years ago, taking 2nd in a 4:12. July saw my husband Derick and I head out to Colorado to host a 5 day triathlon camp, followed then by a 5 week training stint in Salida, one of our favorite places nestled up at 7,000 ft. I raced Boulder 70.3 in the middle of this trip and in the middle of my Ironman Hawaii training block, but felt incredible, taking 2nd in another solid 4:12. As you all know, I opted to skip Vegas 70.3 in favor of focusing on Kona, so September was just a month of training here in Austin.

OCTOBER & NOVEMBER: Kona finally arrived, and we headed out there a week early to get situated. I felt great going into it, I had focused on my weakness’ (which to me, compared to 2010, every discipline needed to be faster!) and I was relaxed and jumping out of my skin to race. I exited the swim in a :55, which was 2 minutes faster than the previous year. I seemed to struggle to find a groove on the bike, and gave up about 2 minutes from the previous year; but I stuck with it and ran a PR 3:03 marathon to move myself up to 13th in a 9:29, a good 7 minutes faster than in 2010. I set very high standards for myself, all of which I set based on what I truly believe I can do, and this was not where I wanted to finish; that said, there were many positives to come from the day and in the big picture, I still consider myself a bit of a novice at the Ironman distance! There is so much to learn and Ironman Hawaii can really throw it all at you. The fire is fueled and the lessons are taken to heart to be better in 2012.

I closed the season by heading to Ironman Arizona, which I decided upon after Kona. I felt strong and like I had better in me…I have had an insatiable appetite for competing this year, and my body has been recovering up well. Physically and mentally, I wanted to do one more race. I did many strong 3 hr rides in the short interim period, with the goal of biking well in AZ. The day started solid, with a 51 swim (2nd) and a 5:03 bike, which felt incredible (through mile 90). I believe that we have to take risk sometimes, even in Ironman. I started the run strong, with ground to make up, and struggled with some stomach issues; that said, I hate making excuses and in hind-sight, I feel I may have ‘overpaced’ it to start; no fault but my own. On a day when I was forced to make a few stops and walk a bit, I still managed a 3:11 run, and a 9:12 overall for 6th place. While I had hoped and envisioned a better result, I can step back and realize a few things from Ironman Arizona and my entire season…

• My PR Ironman time dropped from 9:36 in 2010 to 9:07 in 2011
• My Ironman bike dropped from a 5:22 to a 5:03, my run from a 3:11 to a 3:03
• I was 2x 70.3 Champion (San Juan & Buffalo Springs) & 2x 2nd place 70.3 (Muncie & Boulder)
• I ran a PR in the half marathon (1:16.59) and a 5k (16:48, which was 3 weeks post-Kona)
• I have now done 5 Ironman races, and I am a far more experienced Ironman athlete than
I was one year ago
• I proved to myself in Arizona that I CAN BIKE WELL; I came back from a disappointing bike in Kona and I put to rest the doubts I had about my cycling

I have always been one to see the bigger picture. I got my pro card in 2002. I have now raced everything from ITU to Ironman. I wake up each morning and I love what I do; I look forward to the anxiety of “can I hit this workout?” and I struggle to take full downtime in the off season because it makes me happy to ‘train’; it is just part of who I am. I’ve been told by a few people along the way that I would never be a good Ironman athlete, because I cannot ride well enough. I don’t do things to spite people, but I love when the card are stacked against me because it takes a hell of a lot for me to give up. I don’t really buy into race predictions and previews, because I believe on any given day, it’s anyone’s race to win (or for that matter, to lose). We choose our own path and I believe the mind plays a crucial role in the outcome.

So here’s to another stellar year in 2012; I don’t know what it will bring, but rest assured I’ll be giving it everything, just as I have the past 10 years.
Thank you for your continued support ~ Aim High my friends!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Merrywood Elementary "Career Day"

Over our Thanksgiving trip to South Carolina, Derick and I had the privilege of speaking to a group of 5th graders at Merrywood Elementary in Greenwood, South Caorlina. This is where Derick spent the first 18 years of his life (in Greenwood, not Merrywood...) =) His mom Donna (my mother-in-law) is currently the school guidance counselor there, and she was able to set this up fairly last minute. Unfortunately I didn't have my bike with me, as that would have surely been a captivating item for show and tell, but I did have my aero helmet and a few photos which we were able to put up on the 'smart board' (I guess this is the modern day chalkboard!).

We spoke with 2 classes each with about 30-40 kids in it, each for about 30 minutes. I talked first about what it was like to be a professional triathlete, how I got to where I am and how many years it has taken me to get there. Then Derick spoke on his education and how being a runner helped him get to college, and how his running really pushed him to his graduate degree and also current job of coaching and having his own business.

Amazingly enough the time went very quickly, and we both were able to allow a few questions during each of our talks. I loved the comment when the slideshow started that went something like "Hahaha...she isn't wearing any pants in that picture!" Some of the Top Questions included:

"Why is the helmet pointy at the end?"
"How many races have you won?"
"Do you have sponsors?"
"Where have you traveled to do races?"
"What do you do each day?"
"Do you run on a track?"
"How fast do you go on your bike?"
"Who's faster, you or her?" (to Derick)

I have to hand it to these kiddos...they had very good questions! One little guy even knew the exact distances of an Ironman! When I told them that riding 112 miles was like riding your bike to Greenville and back, that got a lot of "ooohhs" and "wows". They were so attentive, even when we talked about the boring stuff like 'even when you don't want to get up and do a workout, you have to, much like how you don't want to do your homework sometimes... because in the big picture, it is what you have to do to get to where you want to be.' My favorite part of chatting with them was when they called me "Miss Kelly." So cute.

I have to say that we both really enjoyed this, and it is something I would love to do more of. If you or someone you know would like to have us speak to your students, please feel free to contact me. It's something that I have not initiated enough, but especially in the off-season when time is more available, it is an excellent thing to do. These kids were like sponges; and even if this planted a small seed in their head (about dedication, sports/being active, hard work, goal setting, etc) then it was very much time well spent!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Ironman Arizona 2011

It’s sometimes the toughest to create a race story around an event when your end result is in that ‘gray zone’… it wasn’t the stellar race you had envisioned, yet on the flip side nothing went catastrophically wrong and made it an all out failure. You’re left with a mixed bag of emotions, walking away taking a few positives and a few lessons learned. This is how my Ironman Arizona race panned out. That said, knowing that it came at the tail end of a rather long season, I am trying to really focus on the positives as I look forward to embracing my off-season.

I went into Ironman Arizona feeling great. I had taken solid recovery from Kona, put in a few quality weeks of training in Austin, and felt like my body has absorbed the fitness from October yet also gotten a small bump in fitness from one short final training cycle (notably cycling, as I focused on a number of outside rides in the 60-mile/3 hr range during this time frame). Just as with Kona, I can honestly say that approaching Arizona, everything felt good; there was nothing as I joke that I could have ‘used as my bad race excuse’ going into it. Most important was my mental state; I was genuinely excited to toe the line. This was probably the biggest surprise to me, as I often hit November and all I want to do is think about some downtime. I have to attribute this to likely having not had the race I had anticipated in Kona; I felt like I had ‘unfinished business’ and I was chomping at the bit to get to it.

The days leading up to the race were filled with the arrival of family (my parents, my husband Derick and a good friend from Austin who surprised me at dinner the night before the race!) along with a few race commitments. I did an autograph signing on Thursday and met numerous first time Ironman racers, which is always great to see; and crazy to remember that I was in their shoes just 18 months prior! I also enjoyed a Slowtwitch gathering put on by Tribe Multisport, an awesome tri shop in Scottsdale, and meet many of the local triathletes from the Tempe/Phoenix/Scottsdale area as well as meet numerous others racing on Sunday.

Sunday was the usual up bright and early for the 6:50AM start. It was a cool morning, but a short 5-minute warmup jog and I felt great, making the call to forego any clothing on the bike. I knew the sun would come out and figured that it would end up being an amazing weather day for a race (which it was). I worked my way into my Zoot Prophet full wetsuit (water was at about 61F) at about 6:20 and began to make my way towards the swim start. It was not my favorite kind of swim start, as they would send off the pro men and women together (I still don’t quite understand the rationale behind this, given that we are not competing against one another?) but I figured no sense in worrying about it. We hopped into Tempe Town Lake at about 6:40 and made our way towards the start line.

The gun sounded and we were off. Despite it still being quite dark, I was able to see the yellow buoys fairly well and I seemed to find a nice rhythm within about 15 minutes. The turn came quicker than I had expected, and a group of about 3 of us were swimming together. I knew Meredith Kessler was next to me and I was not sure who else was there, but we pushed on and I ended up leading the small but nicely arranged (read: no fighting) pack until the final red turn buoy to the finish. I’m not sure why, but it felt like forever coming back home! I noticed something for the first time in a race was that my hands feeling were swollen near the end of the swim. Again, I noticed it but as we closed in on the finish, I quickly forgot about it as we had a serious flight of stairs to climb upon exiting. I made it up and headed towards T1 with Meredith, patting her on the back, as she’d had a great swim and I am always happy to compete alongside Meredith; a true class-act professional.

Heading out on the bike, I realized that Meredith, myself and Leanda were just about 2-3 minutes behind stellar swimmer Amanda Stevens. Meredith pulled ahead out of T1 and I settled into my rhythm aboard my pink camo QR CD0.1. I had opted for my Reynolds RZR 92 wheels, which ended up being absolutely perfect for this course and its conditions. We had a 3-loop bike ahead and I was ready to tackle it with all I had. Since Kona, I had put in a fair number of strong longer (~3 hr) rides. I knew that I did not feel quite like myself in Kona on the bike, and I tried to address that in the short time I had between these two races. I knew that to be at the top of a quality field like this at the finish, I could not afford to ride too conservatively; in short, I was going to roll the dice on the bike; ride a bit more risky than I had in the past, take care of myself nutritionally, and hope that my run was there as it usually is. I figured that I didn’t have much to lose and I was hungry for a top finish here in Arizona. No risk, no reward, right?

This plan was working spectacularly through almost exactly 90 miles. A few things happened at this point. I was out of nutrition. How did that happen? I pride myself on nailing my nutrition (thanks to ~15 PowerBar gels and Perform drink) yet I had already blown through 2100 calories on the bike. I had taken 2000 in past races on the bike (and about 100 in transition from swim to bike) and it had worked fine. Suffice to say, it would appear that I am an eating machine when I race. When I found myself out of my 14 gels and 2 bottles of drink, I had no choice but to take a gel from an aid station. Options were chocolate or vanilla (which is precisely why I always stock my own, certain flavors work, others don’t). I had to take one and the one I grabbed was chocolate. I got about half of it down and kept moving along. Unfortunately the stomach went a bit south, but so did my power on the bike. I knew I had taken a ton of calories and I could feel some stomach distress, so I tried to carry on those final 15 or so miles on little calories to hopefully let the stomach calm down. This is when having a power meter is a very bad thing… the numbers were so discouraging! But telling…I knew I had cracked a bit and I was anxious to get off the bike.

Into T2, I tried to just focus on the task at hand… running… which I was excited to do. While I had been doing a good bit of cycling going into Arizona, my run legs had also been feeling pretty great and this was my favorite part of the race! I just knew it would be good (or so I thought). I was out of there in my Zoot Kapilani’s, visor, Oakley’s and my 2 gel flasks (8 gels total).

As with the bike, I attacked it. I left transition quickly but tried to settle into a rhythm within a mile or so. I was not checking my pace too much, as I just wanted to run by feel; focus on taking one mile at a time, and try to tick time off of those ahead. The first loop (8-9 miles) was fairly smooth, gels were going down, and I had finished 4 of them by mile 12. At this point, things started to get a bit foggy. I recall my stomach feeling full and I did something I’ve never done in a race and ducked into a bathroom. After a fairly unsuccessful trip, I exited and tried to keep on running. Every time I took a hit of my gel flask, my stomach turned sour again. What?! This doesn’t happen to me! (which goes to show, even if it hasn’t, it can…) Miles 13-18 were again very foggy. I walked briefly, visited the bathroom again (to little reprieve) and just kept moving forward. I ended up with another first, which was resorting to taking Coke. The thing about Coke is, while it may settle alright, the amount of calories from a sip out of a cup is not as much as I’d be getting from my gels. The body was just not cooperating. Herein came the mental battle.

I knew I had swum fast (51? 52?). I knew I had biked in or around the 5 hour mark, a huge success for me. I was on pace for an amazing race, a PR and the hopes of a race at or under the 9 hour mark. I knew this was possible; I knew I had the fitness for it. But there comes a point in a race when, if your body begins to shut down, you have a choice to make. You either pull the plug, or you gather every ounce you have and you push forward, knowing the result will not be what you wanted; knowing that despite giving it all you have, you’ll cross the line; it may not be a time or a result you were seeking, you had planned for and you KNOW you were ready for, but you’ll be damned if you quit. I, of course, chose the latter. I always have full confidence in my run, but today, it was not happening, no matter what I did or how badly I wanted it to.

I pushed on and miles 22-25 could not come soon enough. I had been moving between 6th and 7th, thanks to the bathroom stops. At mile 25, I decided I was not giving up 6th place and pushed with everything I had for the final mile. I didn’t look back, and I crossed in 9:12, overall 6th place, with a marathon of 3:11. Needless to say, I was pretty toasted by the time it was all said and done.

Upon a few days of reflection, I have come to the realization that I believe I ran with too much emotion and may have cost myself a solid run time and a few spots up the podium. My first 9 miles were run at an average of 6:34 pace (approximately, according to the Ironmanlive split). The first 2.2 miles were at 6:18 pace. That is simply too damn fast. In hindsight, I can acknowledge this… at the time, I had biked with a bit of extra aggressiveness, knowing I had little to lose; in short, I was willing to take a gamble on the bike. I am glad I did and it was a great ride for me. That said, it was not smart on my part to try to also take a gamble on the run and bomb out of the gate. Had I of run this as I did at Ironman Texas and said “It is 3 loops. Run controlled on the first one and build as you go,” the end result may have been different…I say MAY because I am not one to make excuses and place blame on anything. I can just look back and realize that I was not running smart in the start of the marathon, and I do not think I gave it the respect it deserved. Huge, huge lesson learned on my part. I am glad that after a few days of stepping back, I can see this perspective and learn from my mistake. In Kona, I nailed the swim and run but lacked the bike strength; in Arizona, I nailed the swim and bike and crumbled on the run. I guess you could say I am still figuring out this whole Ironman thing! (Thankfully this year, there was Ironman Texas...!)

And so ends the 2011 season. It obviously did not end on quite the high note I had hoped for, but I can also step back and realize that compared to one year ago right now, I am a far better athlete and I have learned so much in the past 12 months. I am thankful for the great races and moments and can appreciate the rough ones as they allow me to become a better athlete. Ironman Arizona was a great event, one that I may be back for in the future. It made it all the better to have so many good friends and family there to support. While I may feel a bit down about the end result, I can hold my head high knowing that I finished on a day when things were not going according to plan; and I knew the result I was capable of was slipping through my fingers. I have said it before and I’ll continue to say it, the days like this when challenges crop up (especially in an Ironman) are the days that we grow ten-fold as an athlete and likewise as a person. A huge thank you to my sponsors for their support all season long: Zoot, Quintana Roo, PowerBar, Reynolds, Recovery Pump, ISM, Road ID, Oakley, Durata Training, Katalyst Multisport, Jack & Adams, Xcis, Hill Country Running, Go with the Flo, and Advanced Rehabilitation. It’s been a good 2011 – Cheers to some R&R and coming back even stronger in 2012. Thanks for reading, and see you next year!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

IM Hawaii 2011 - Perspective Is Everything

Part of the beauty and mystery of sport is that we can prepare perfectly, we can do everything right, but come race day, absolutely nothing is guaranteed and even less is going to be given to you. I am the last person to ever expect it to ‘be so easy’, but this year's race was emotionally a bit of a doozy. While I had not put all of my eggs into the Kona basket (so to speak), this was a huge focus for me the entire season. If we are talking eggs, I’d say I put 80% of them into this basket. I passed up Vegas 70.3 so that my preparation for this would be optimal. I knew I had raced early in the season, so I opted to train a bit more and pull back the racing throttle going into Kona to be ready and focused to toe the line, knowing I had put in the big training I needed. Unfortunately, the end result was not what I had hoped for, nor what I had expected. But, in hindsight, I would not have changed a thing and I am immensely proud of the fact that I gave it every ounce I had until I crossed the finish line.

Before I get into the nitty gritty of the day, I want to give a huge thank you to those who have supported me this year...Zoot Sports, Powerbar, Quintana Roo, Reynolds, Recovery Pump, Road ID, ISM Saddles, Katalyst Multisport, Jack & Adams, Durata Training, Oakley, Xcis, Hill Country Running, Advanced Rehab, Go with the Flo, and 3 Cosas; and to my family, friends and so many supporters who have followed my journey. Your support means more to me than you’ll ever realize.

I went into this event believing that a Top 5 finish was entirely possible. On paper, most would say I was crazy. Probably 8 or 10 women on paper would have beat me from the start. I guess you could say, I am not one to believe predictions and what ‘should happen’. I like to moreso believe that anything really is possible, given adequate, focused and logical preparations and a never-say-die mindset. A genuine calm confidence in oneself can elicit great things. I knew that I had to swim much faster than last year’s dismal 57+ minute swim. I started off right next to Rachel Joyce, who seems to seriously fly under the radar yet is a stellar athlete. I learned the day before that she had the fastest women’s swim split last year (doing my homework!). She had put 5 minutes into me in 2010; while I did lose her feet and I was unable to bridge the gap, I managed a 55-minute swim, about 2 minutes faster than last year. Unfortunately I was pulling along a huge group in a challenging ocean swim. I had a feeling that was what was going on behind me, but what can you do? I sure as hell wasn’t slowing down! I felt good about what ended up being the 5th fastest swim, so a decent start to the day.

Onto the bike, I had a small mishap in T1 as my Giro Aeon helmet strap came loose. (I opted for a non-aero helmet given the conditions…I definitely could have used the extra few minutes, however I knew that cooling would be important on this fairly steamy day.) Luckily I was able to fix it quickly and only lose a minute or so, but it goes to show you how you really need to maintain composure in those situations. I was soon off and onto my awesome ‘vehicle’, my QR pink camo CD0.1 with my Reynolds 92/46 RZR combo, and ISM Breakaway saddle. Despite a kickass bike set-up and having felt great going into this race, here is where the days struggles began.

Long story short, I just never felt strong on the bike. My legs felt like they were working very hard from the start, yet I figured that I would settle in and find that rhythm that I have had so many times this year, both in races and in training. But, it just never came. I felt very in control despite some ripping winds out near Hawi, even on the turnaround (stable and comfortable in the crosswinds), and I had hoped that once I turned back on the Queen K I would get a tailwind. No go there; it felt like an unrelenting headwind, non-stop, the entire last 30 miles. I kept eating, drinking, hoping I may find one more gear; but it just never came.

As I neared the end of the bike, I tried to let off the gas (or let off the little bit of gas I was giving it) and relax the legs a bit for the run to come. This is Ironman, and a lot can happen those final 3 hours. I knew a few women ahead of me would likely stay there, but I also knew that I had the capability to run some down. I exited and headed out for my final 26 miles of the race; hoping that I could actually get back up where the action was.

I cruised through the first few miles and I saw some splits in the 6:25-6:30 range. I knew that this was a bit quick, but my thinking was this…you have a hell of a lot of ground to make up, so screw pacing. You cannot afford to dial this back. Run strong, push your pace and try to run sub-3 hours; otherwise you have no chance of getting anywhere near the front end of this race or even the Top 10. So I did just that. I was able to pick people off one by one, starting about 10 miles into the race, once we neared Palani Hill. Some dude was running with me for a few miles, so close that he was elbowing me despite having an entire shoulder of the road. Really?! We are not Dave Scott & Mark Allen, sir, nor are we racing one another. Back off. Simmer. I kindly told him to give me some space and he told me he ‘wanted some draft’. Really?! Who SAYS that? Anyhoo, I tried to track some of my mile splits, but I finally just told myself to run by feel and run as strong as you know you can. Sometimes when we know that the race is not going as we hope and we know we’re not running for a win (or for the end result we had envisioned), this is the best approach; otherwise, it is easy to get too ‘heady’ about it all; maybe wanting to throw in the towel if we see the pace slip. I would check a split here and there, and it was not until about mile 20 or 21 where I really started to feel some strong fatigue; much like I had felt out there on the bike. I didn’t worry or panic, but I was told that I was 2 minutes to the next girl with about 2 miles to go. I knew it would be hard to close that gap, but it forced me to drop my pace as best as I could and really drop whatever hammer was left in me. I ended up finishing in 9:29, just 40 seconds out of 12th place, closing with a 3:03 marathon.

The finish kind of took me by surprise. I actually thought I was closer to a Top 10 finish, if not within the Top 10. As I ran down Ali'i Drive, I just gave it all I had. I knew I was not running for a win; far from it. I knew that the Top 5 goal I had was well out of reach. But I was here, I was still competing and I had too much pride to ease up just because I was out of contention for a top finish. I wanted to post a good fast run split and know that I had left it all out there; this was the World Championships after all. I owed it to myself, to my family, to my friends, to my sponsors, and to all of the amazing spectators to respect this race enough to know that I had put every ounce of myself into it. I crossed, saw Derick and lost it as we hugged. Not so much because I was disappointed in the end result, but moreso because of the physical and emotional toll it took on my body; and a feeling of mixed emotions, disappointed it was not what I had hoped for, but also a huge sense of pride that I had not given up.

I have been fortunate to now have experienced Kona twice. Last year, I was here to take it all in; looking back, I feel like a 15th place was pretty amazing given my lack of Ironman and specifically Kona experience. The run was fairly overcast and I would describe the conditions as mild, definitely far from brutal. This year, it seemed many of the professionals who crossed the line collapsed immediately or spent a good few hours in medical. Of course we all leave it all out there, but in some way, it seemed different this year. I think I got a slightly skewed perception of this race last year. Before Saturday, I would say all of my first three Ironman races were similar; challenging, but you are putting your body through a test of 140 miles of endurance; challenge is a given. Every race is hard in its own way, course and conditions aside. After this race, I can honestly say that I now realize what the lure of this event is. The air felt steamier, the winds felt stronger, and there was this sense all around me that no matter who looked good out there, we all were similarly hurting. As I said before, nothing is given to you on race day, and it is not supposed to be easy.

I did something that I have never done before as well; I went down to the finish to watch the final 2 hours of ‘midnight finishers’. I saw many of the 70-80 year old racers cross the line, looking like they may fall over, but grinning ear to ear; I witnessed one woman cross the line only 5 seconds beyond the 17-hour cutoff. I saw one man cross the finish line and go straight to the ocean, pulling a bag out of his pocket, and tossing his mothers ashes into the water, as she had died of breast cancer recently and he promised her he would finish. The stories and the journeys of those who came here were incredible. The place was alive and jumping, far more than it was 8 hours earlier. I realized that the end result mattered to me. It mattered a lot, it is what I was focused on, what I wanted so badly and what I had prepared for. I believed it, I knew it was possible, but in the unpredictability of sport, it was not my day to have that elusive ‘perfect race’. And that is OK. It can take some years to figure this race out. I took a step in the right direction. I am better than I was last year. I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that it was all I had in me on the day, but it is not all I have in me. I can take solace in that, but also in the fact that I am lucky to be a part of such an amazing sport. Now I understand and respect so much more the mystery and the tradition that is Ironman Hawaii.

Having had a few days to reflect on the race, I found myself feeling rather disappointed today. As with the finish emotions, it took me by surprise. I am not one to mope in misery or feel sorry for myself. But when asking ‘why’ I am so disappointed, I realized it is simply because I expected so much. When you expect huge things of yourself, you have to accept that disappointment and letdown are a possibility. I would rather deal with this than the alternative, play it safe, expect less yet never realize the satisfaction of achievement beyond what you ever thought possible. So, on that note, here’s to dreaming big. Life is too short not to. I once heard the saying "Aim for the moon; if you fall short, you’ll land somewhere among the stars." I love that saying. It’s all a journey and it’s what we take from it and who it makes us in the process that really matters.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Success is not a Staircase

It is hard to believe sometimes that my husband Derick and I have been coaching athletes for 6-8 years now. I believe that the ability to ‘learn to coach’ is not dissimilar to anything else in life. You may have the appropriate tools (a physiology-based education, experience as an athlete) yet it is the accumulation of years of working with people, learning how to interact, learning that every person is different, and figuring out how various people respond to training that allow you to offer the best possible guidance for each individual who comes your way.

I have also learned a lot through the years about ‘expectations’. Some people come to us with very specific goals in mind and likewise, they expect that they should reach these goals (understandably so). Others may approach a coach simply looking to improve their current fitness and in the back of their mind, they have goals that they would like to address in a year or two. No certain approach is necessarily better than the other, as it all comes down to your personal ideals. One thing however is certain. Everyone who comes to a coach is looking to be successful, in his or her own way. Maybe that means winning their age group at a key event, or maybe it means improving a time, or eventually qualifying for a certain event. Maybe success is simply finishing their first marathon. I have found that some people think this success can happen in a certain time frame; as if it is an equation. What I am here to tell you is, there is no given time frame for success, and the road to it is not a stair-step climb.

Improvements as an athlete are made through the very basic principles that we have all heard numerous times before: consistency, dedication, hard work, following a plan, and patience (to name a few). You must sketch out some sort of a plan which includes where you currently are, and where you would like to go. This entails a ‘road map’ of sorts. Whether it is you individually or a coach doing it, this is a necessity if you would like to get from point A to point B. You must then figure out what needs to be done to get you there (ie: the training plan) and this needs to be implemented and followed as consistently as possible. There will be road blocks along the way (family obligations, unexpected injuries, small setbacks) but this is all part of the process. You manage the small road blocks, you take them in stride and you stay on track as best as possible. You find that you have good days and bad days; some days, the dedication part is easy. You feel great, you nail the workout and you know that the plan is working; you believe in the plan. You believe that success is just around the corner. Life is good on these days; but these days are only made so great by those that counter them, the tough days… when you may not hit the training, when your body is not giving you what you need from it, and when it does not come easily. These are the days that test our patience, make us ask ‘why am I doing this’, and often may make you want to just throw in the towel. Again all part of the process, and if you do not have these days, then you have not been at it long enough, and I guarantee you, you will.

As much as we would love to buy into the philosophy that ‘doing everything right’ will lead to ‘success’, this simply not the case. If it were this easy, then realistically speaking, we would all be world champions if we stuck to the plan for a long enough period of time. This is where talent, reality and of course patience come into the equation. The reality of it is, if you work hard and stick to your plan, you will likely improve; if you get to the point where you can train a bit faster, you will likely in turn race a bit faster. Goal accomplished! But along the way, there will be setbacks (damn that word is back!). You’ll get faster; then you may have a mediocre race. You may have a mediocre year. You stick it out, you figure out what may not be working, you assure that this is what you WANT to be doing, and you carry on. You look at various factors, you try to utilize all the possible tools around you, and you push forward. The overall profile will likely be something to the effect of (we hope) up/up/down, up/up/down, up/up/down… repeat. Rather than our profile of success looking like a staircase, it may more realistically look like many small staircases lined up; and of course, there will be times when our road to success may involve some valleys.

But getting through the valleys are what makes us able to rise up again towards the end goal; it is hitting the bottom and finding it within yourself to climb back out that will elicit success. Nobody, not even the best athletes out there, experience a road to success without some low points along the way. And the overall journey? It is just as tough for the strongest of athletes as it is for those who may never win their age group… we all work hard, we all push through, and we all have to keep our eyes set on the end goal, having faith that we will get there, though we cannot unfortunately predict the time frame. That is the exciting part. Put in the work, keep your head down, keep your eyes firmly focused down the road, and one day, when you may least expect it, that is when it all comes together; and the moment is made truly special from the mountainous journey you took to get there.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Final Mile

It happens when nobody is watching. It's just you, your thoughts, and that one final mile. Nobody is holding you accountable. Nobody is there to cheer you on. Nobody is there to encourage you. Nobody is watching. Twitter doesn't care. Facebook doesn't care. Some forum post doesn't care. These people don't know you anyway. What matters is you, right now, and you're the only one who knows it. You're the only one who knows what you have done; what you can do.

It's staring you in the face; it's saying "I am going to break you", and you're saying "Hell no you're not." You are 95% there, but that last 5% takes everything you have. It all comes down to this. 95% won't get you anything in the end; stopping at 95% makes you a quitter. The job isn't done, and the thought of giving up makes you sick to your stomach.

You know you have saved up a little bit, but is it enough? Is it enough to kick it up a notch for the final effort? This is when it all happens. This is when it truly matters. The rest of it is important, but this is the crux of it all. This is when everyone else breaks. This is when most let it all get to them. Those thoughts you have been dreading start creeping into your head. "I can't finish this. There's no way I can go any faster. Oh shit, this hurts so bad. I can't breathe. Make it end. Make it stop." The pain you've been staving off and denying starts to accumulate and your legs hurt, your breathing hurts, your head hurts. You're hot, you're uncomfortable, and you're doing this to yourself. Why? What for? And while physically you are about to break, physically you may start to crack, it all comes down to your head. What will you do to combat those thoughts? What will you throw back at them?

"You have another gear."
"Final mile. You can do anything for a mile."
"This is when it counts. This is when all others give up."
"Anything's possible. Faster is possible."
"You can do more than you would ever believe."
"Fuck you, pain. Not gonna break me."
"It doesn't hurt, it doesn't hurt. Only 12 minutes. Only 6 minutes. Only 1 mile."
"You can always go further. You can always go a little harder."
"Don't give up. DON'T QUIT."

And you finish. It does end. You did go faster. Maybe not much, but you hung with it. You went faster than you expected; how did that happen? It feels so good to be done, everything still hurts, but damn, it feels good that you didn't give up. You finished. Today, you are a little better than you were yesterday.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Boulder 70.3

The quick and dirty on Boulder 70.3! (As quick as I can possibly make it...which may be a contradiction in terms).

This race was a bit of a last minute decision (well, seeing that I am a planner, last minute being probably 6 weeks ago that I decided on it). Derick, myself and Amico have been hiding out for about 3 weeks now in Salida, Colorado; a nice little mountain town of about 5,000 people and at about 7,000 feet of elevation. My original plan was to race Steelhead 70.3 on August 14th, but seeing that Boulder was just one week prior and it was only a 3 hr drive from Salida (and ~1500 feet lower in altitude), I figured why not give it a go. Minimal travel is always a plus when considering where to race. Plus, I had not raced this event since 2006 when it was "5430" and when I truly still sucked on a bike.

Photo by
(Why am I smiling? I wished the ladies 'good luck'. Someone said 'have fun'. We all laughed, and I said "Yah right... we all know that is such a load of shit!" all honesty, I figure a smile or a laugh if even forced before the gun relaxes me a bit!)

I went into this event not fully 'rested', but at the same time, definitely not 'tired'. I don't think it's so smart to go into any race of this distance fully tired, especially in the back half of a season. So we headed to Boulder on Friday for the Sunday race, and I took a few light days including a rest day going into it. Weather was awesome on race morning, and while it was predicted to be 'hot', it turned out to be very comfortable for me. The women kicked off right at 6:33, 3 minutes behind the pro men.

Swim was wetsuit-legal, so I opted for my Zoot sleeveless Fuzion. I knew I could be solo'ing this swim, but luckily the course was beautifully marked and very easy to sight; thank you to the race staff for not making us swim into the sun! I took it out hard knowing that I needed to create as much of a gap as I could on the other ladies for the bike, notably on Angela. The first few hundred yards felt good but I could feel my breathing a bit shallow given the altitude, so I tried to dial it back a touch by the time I took the first turn. I relaxed yet tried to keep my pace strong, not knowing where the other ladies were, and exited the water in 26:12, with a good 2-minute lead.

Photo by

I transitioned onto my pink camo QRCD0.1 equipped with my badass Reynolds RZR 92's to the rolling yet fairly fast bike course. I loved the first 6-10 miles which were kind of a false flat, and I tried to push my intensity a fair bit to keep a lead. Unfortunately I was passed about 15ish miles into the bike by Angela, which was much earlier than I would have liked to see her! She blew by me and at first it angered me to see her so quickly, then I said, "Keep her in sight." That was a good plan yet it only lasted for a few more miles. I let it go yet tried to keep on the pace I knew was the best I could sustain. Coming onto the second loop, I actually felt just as strong, taking my PowerBar gels consistently (about 7 of them on the bike) which kept my energy levels up. When we did the final short out and back at about mile 45-50, I could see that I had maintained a gap the the other women, which I felt good about. But I needed to worry more about the 6 or so minutes that I had to make up coming into T2! As with Ironman Texas and Buffalo Springs, I intentionally dialed back my intensity just a bit the final 2-3 miles of the bike to loosen up the legs for the run. A 2:23 bike split lost me some time, but overall it was a solid effort and honestly all I had in me on the day; onto the run. Nothing I could do now about the gap but try to close it.

Photo by

I transitioned and was out on a mission. I often don't mind a gap (on the flip side, I love it because it means there is a race ahead of me that I need to become a part of!) but 6 minutes was fairly hefty. The Zoot pink Ultra TT's were on and I was out of there as quickly as possible. The running legs felt great, and in that first mile I said to myself "OK, 6 minutes. If you can run 30 seconds each mile into her, you can close the gap." I am always up for a challenge, and I felt strong but tried to run smart. The quads felt like they could cramp up. I was really running in no-man's-land as I could not see her up ahead of me at any point on the 2-loop, dirt road run course. I just focused on each mile, taking a PowerGel every 3 miles, and running strong. At the halfway point, I heard a few people tell me "4 minutes back." NO GOOD KELLY! THAT AIN'T GONNA CUT IT! To be honest, it pissed me off! I said to Derick when I passed him at mile 6, "I can't run any faster!" I then came through transition right after seeing D and the announcer said, "Kelly has about a 4 min gap to Angela, and is running about the same pace!" and THAT made me angry! ha! I knew she was running very strong, but I thought about what I had said to Derick and told myself "Now or never, blow up or try to win it. Period. You CAN run faster." When I hit mile 7, I notably picked up my pace and the craziest part was, I had another gear! It was pretty cool and a bit surprising. I felt stronger and stronger as I went and I eventually was able to close the gap to just over 2 minutes, but I knew with about 2 miles to go that this was Angela's race to win; that said, I pushed my pace to the limit all the way until the finish line. That's just the way I like to race; I may not win, but I'll challenge myself as much as possible; and you never know what could happen up ahead.

I was able to finish with a 1:21.10 run split, and actually negative split it, which is something I was very proud of. Total time was 4:12, and she was a 4:10; Angela is a very solid athlete and she has put in her time at this distance! That said I was pleased with 2nd on the day. You cannot control what others do; this was her day, and the competition pushed me to a close to PR overall time on a solid course at altitude nonetheless. Also a shout out to Joe Gambles, overall men's winner who had a stellar day out there; seems hometown advantage worked for both of them! I see this as a good sign of where things are, and it gets me excited for the final training block for the big one in Kona on October 8th.

I feel very fortunate to have put together thus far a solid and consistent season. I felt a bit of anxiety the week before Boulder as the pressure could mount up, if I let it... I will admit it would be easy to let it. But, as with anything else in life, I knew all I could do was go in there and once the gun went off, race my race to the best of my ability. There is never a question of if I will leave it all out there; and when I knew that I was losing minutes to Angela, I had to focus on myself, my bike, and my race. Yet another good lesson in controlling what we can control and letting go of the rest; and despite maybe a large gap, believing that a win is possible; it may or may not happen but I'll know that I gave it my best go.

A big shout out to my amazing support team: Zoot, Quintana Roo, PowerBar, Reynolds, Recovery Pump, ISM, Road ID, Katalyst Multisport, Durata Training, Jack & Adams, Oakley, Xcis, Hill Country Running, Advanced Rehab, Go with the Flo & 3 Cosas. The next order of business is a few more weeks in Salida then we'll mosey on back to the oven (Austin) for final Kona prep. Unfortunately, I'll not be at Vegas 70.3 Worlds; it was a very tough decision to make but I just don't think that one is a smart race for my overall plan. I may toss in one more low-key race, but we'll see how the coming weeks pan out.

...and this is where we get to retreat to for two more weeks!...

Thanks for reading & be safe out there,