Pro Kelly Williamson is coming off two early season wins: the Olympic-distance Rev3 Costa Rica and the inaugural Ironman 70.3 San Juan. We chatted with the Austin, Texas, resident to hear about her keys to success in her nine-year pro career, what she thinks of the Ironman 70.3 California course and what it will take to beat Mirinda Carfrae in Oceanside this weekend.
Written by: Bethany Leach Mavis
Triathlete.com: Tell me about your win at Ironman 70.3 San Juan.
Wiliamson: I was actually pretty nervous coming into San Juan. After arriving, it seemed the start list kept growing, and with very strong women! I went into it just wanting to put together a solid race and hopefully finish in the top three. I felt decent in the swim, but not fantastic, and came back about 30-40 seconds off the top women. Interestingly it took me about 35 miles to start to feel good on the bike, which is not very typical of me. I had passed a couple of women but had also been passed, so I came into T2 in fifth place, and I knew that I would need a strong run, but I was excited about that, knowing that it was hilly and hot—similar to Austin. I felt so great going out onto the run, and as with Costa Rica, we were running through such an incredible venue. Winding roads into Old San Juan, up and down a few cobblestone hills, and out around a fort. It was interesting because three of the four women ahead of me were all running together, so I moved from fifth into second. From that point, it took me another few miles to catch first place, but I knew Cait Snow was back there so I didn’t back it off! I tried to gauge how much time I had when I saw her at about mile 9 or 10, and I just tried to keep my pace steady. I have to say, this win was probably one of my proudest moments to date in my career—it was a strong field of women and it could not have happened in a more beautiful place or among a more awesome crowd. I was happy to say the least, and having my husband, Derick, there with was icing on the cake.
Triathlete.com: How were you able to have such great early season fitness this year?
Williamson: That is a good question! While I can say that I am pleasantly surprised at the fitness I have shown, I do think that there are a few things that may have led to it. I took some very good solid time off after last season. In November and December, my training was completely unstructured and outside of one or two fun, short running races, I dialed back my volume and intensity significantly and really took some good R&R from the previous season. I honestly like to take 4-8 weeks of true decompression from any structured, planned training. That said, once we finished our three-week holiday road trip, I started training for the Houston Half Marathon in early January and hit some very good run workouts for that race on Jan. 29. I think that the rest combined with a short run focus in January allowed me to start to build things up a bit more in February with a good base but also some good leg speed. In general, I am all about quality training—very little “garbage yardage” as swimmers call it. Almost all workouts have a purpose.
Triathlete.com: Do you think it’ll be an advantage or disadvantage to be coming off back-to-back wins into Ironman 70.3 California?
Williamson: Well, it is a good confidence booster, but at the same time I just need to not put pressure on myself. I like to look forward and not backward; while it is great to have started the season like I did, I know that when we all toe the line it’s anyone’s game, so past results and records mean very little. I was sixth here last year and I was pretty pleased with that, so a top-three finish would be great, especially among the field that will be assembled there. Even though it is a higher profile race, it is really just the same as any other race: You get out there and execute it just the same.
Triathlete.com: What is the key to success on a course like Ironman 70.3 California’s?
Williamson: I think given that ever year it is a very quality field, you have to be on your game pretty much in every discipline to be successful. The swim is wetsuit-legal and often pretty calm water, so maintaining contact with the top women is important. The bike course is beautiful, hilly and challenging, but the hills break it up so I think you have to really race within yourself and not get too caught up in what is going on around you because you’ll probably not be able to see many of your competitors. Work the climbs, ride the speed on the descents. And the run is a fast few loops, but here you can see your competitors a few times, so I think that it takes a very fast run split to do well here because anyone who is a strong runner will lay it down at the end. I love this course, mostly in that it is very honest, especially with the hilly bike.
Triathlete.com: It seems like last year was a breakthrough year for you. You’re now considered a top contender in any half-Ironman event you enter. What do you attribute the success to?
Williamson: Thanks, I guess that it was a breakthrough year, but the irony is that I have been racing as a pro for a long time—nine years to be exact! I did ITU from 2002-2005 and then started racing longer, non-drafting in 2006. I sucked really badly on the bike for many, many years. I can’t tell you the number of races where I had one of the best swim and run times and the slowest bike time, by a significant amount—we’re talking over 20 minutes sometimes. I think that what finally clicked for me with my cycling was when I started training for Ironman distance. I started to put in much longer rides (meaning over three hours or 50-60 miles) and that not only led to my cycling getting better but also I was able to run off the bike with less fatigue. I also started swimming with the UT [University of Texas at Austin] Masters group last year, which has helped kick my swim back up a bit to where it should be. My husband Derick is really good at looking at my schedule and making small changes; he often pushes me a bit more on my run workouts than I probably would myself. I honestly just think that I am a testament to the fact that years of hard work can pay off with patience, consistency and steady improvement. I have done nothing amazing—just plugged away for a very long time. And I have always believed that I was better than how I was performing; I always felt I had more in me.
Triathlete.com: You train in Austin year-round. How do you think your training in those conditions will help you in Oceanside next weekend?
Williamson: Well short of training on hills here in Austin, the race conditions could not be more different! It’s been pretty comfortable, as in not too hot, here so far this spring, but it is definitely warmer and much more humid here than it will be in Oceanside. I have been so busy with racing and travel, so I need to get into the wetsuit again once more; a big advantage is that we have an open water quarry here which is about 60 degrees right now, so I’ll get in there before next weekend. But in terms of weather, I just hope I don’t get too cold! But I am usually pretty good at responding well in both warm and cooler conditions. My favorite temps and courses to race in are those like Oceanside or Coeur d’Alene—hilly, green and cool—so I can embrace it, but physically it will be cooler than I am used to. That said, I believe that ultimately the fittest person wins on the day, so conditions aside, it’ll be a good, honest race.
Triathlete.com: You have both Ironman 70.3 California and Ironman 70.3 Texas on your race schedule. What’s the key to being successful at two back-to-back long distance races?
Williamson: That is a great question, and if I can pull it off, I will let you know in a few weeks! This is my first time doing back-to-back half-Ironmans, so it will be interesting. I love to race so I figure that this way I get to race, do nothing for a week then try to do it again! Kidding aside, I think the key is truly just a lot of recovery between the two. Even doing two 70.3s two weeks apart, you cannot overdo it because you need to recover from one and rest up again; there are only really a few days of “training” in there—not much time to gain any fitness. So, given only one week, it will mostly be active recovery, focusing on the little things—ART or acupuncture if needed, recovery pump boots, sleep—and rest. I also believe that racing makes you so much stronger, so you have to realize that to make those gains are only made if you recover adequately.
Triathlete.com: What do you think it will take to beat Mirinda next weekend?
Williamson: Ha! Well, she is the reigning world champion and she has also owned this course the past few years! So I think that to beat her, or anyone else with a blazing fast run, I’ll need to hold a good position overall on the bike. But that said, I got really good at seeing people blow past me for years on end and not give up! Oh, the advantages to sucking on the bike for so long … Jokes aside, I think that it will take a strong bike on my part, not falling back too much within the field and then, of course, a fantastic run. But, I am sure that Mirinda probably views it as I do, in that there are a lot of women out there who can win on the day. For any of us to pull off a win, it simply requires us to be on our game from start to finish. The sport is getting so much faster, there is little room for mistakes, especially at a race like Oceanside.