Austin, Texas-based professional Kelly Williamson was ecstatic after her first-place finish at the Memorial Hermann Ironman 70.3 Texas in Galveston on Sunday. And it wasn’t just because of her win—she was excited about her bike ride. “To hold the lead through almost 28 miles on a very flat and pretty windy course was a huge step forward for me, especially with a few very strong women behind me,” said Williamson.
She sees the race as a small breakthrough in her 10-year career as a pro triathlete. “The thing about me is I’ve been at this for so long—I’ve been a pro since 2002,” she said after the race. “I’ve sucked really bad on the bike. Even two years ago, I was still pretty pathetic. I guess there’s just no better feeling than to see that years and years and years of hard work have finally come together.”
So what has she done to improve her bike in the half-Ironman? Here are her tips to improve your 70.3 bike speed:
1. Train with a power meter.
“Everyone says, ‘It’s just time on the bike,’ and I don’t really agree entirely with that. To get stronger, you need to ride harder. But, you need to ride harder with a focus. I am a huge fan of training with power, and SRM is my choice because I think it’s the most accurate, reliable power meter out there. You can’t hide when it comes to training with power; it holds you totally honest.”
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2. But race hard by feel.
“I have been taping over my SRM because it seems to help me more to not see the numbers—to just ride hard, by feel. It was pretty painful! So I knew I was pushing myself.”
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3. Do an Ironman.
“I honestly just think that moving up to Ironman has made my bike stronger; it has forced me to spend more time on my bike. I could get away with just a ‘mediocre’ bike when I was doing Olympic-distance races and even half-Ironmans, but when you move up to Ironman, the bike is the largest portion of the race. If you lose a significant amount of time there, it really shows and it can take you out of the game. Cycling has never been my favorite of the three disciplines, so I’m not one to just ride five hours in December because it’s fun. Not my idea of fun! I’d never ridden 100 miles until I moved up to Ironman races in 2010. Even then, I didn’t often ride over 100 miles in training. Actually come to think of it, I’ve never ridden over 112 miles to date! So, I think it’s just been that I have ridden more volume the past few years than I had earlier in my career.”
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4. Get more long rides in.
“I have been doing a longer ride mid-week, which I hadn’t last year. I love to go hard, and if it’s up to me for a workout, I’ll go do max intervals on a hill. My husband, Derick (who coaches me), has kindly pointed out, ‘Kelly, being king of the mountain isn’t really going to help you riding in the TT position for 56 to 112 miles.’ I feel like something clicked between Kona and Ironman Arizona last year. I biked terribly in Kona, and I said to myself, ‘That is unacceptable. You are better than that.’ So going into Ironman Arizona, I rode a lot of fairly flat 50- to 70-mile rides and pushed harder. It showed as I biked 5:03 in Arizona which was great for me.”
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5. Get out of your comfort zone.
“I have always said that you can’t only race the courses that suit you; to be one of the best, you have to be able to race well on all courses. So taking myself out of my ‘element’ and racing flatter courses has forced me to do that. … I think the key is to address your weakness. If that is climbing, go climb. If it’s riding in the TT position, then do that. You can still do what you enjoy at times, of course, but you have to put yourself out of your comfort zone to improve. … I just think you need to know where you are in terms of your bike strength, know what your goals are, and have a path as to how to get there. Of course, a (good) coach can help with getting you there! But again, you have to be willing to accept and embrace your weakness; and try your best to change it.”