Ten Questions With…Professional Triathlete Kelly Williamson

When you look at the landscape of professional triathlon this season, there are a handful of athletes that have had spectacular years.  One athlete, in particular, who has performed exceedingly well is Austin resident Kelly Williamson.  She started off the season with a bang, bagging victories at Rev3 Costa Rica and IM 70.3 Puerto Rico.  Kelly’s season has continued to be strong, with a series of top five finishes, including three second place finishes (IMTX, Muncie 70.3, and Boulder 70.3) and a victory at Buffalo Springs 70.3.

Recently, TriMadness and Kelly sat down and discussed her season, her upcoming race in Kona, and her love of high quality craft beer.

This week’s installment of “Ten Questions With…” is with professional triathlete Kelly Williamson.

credit: LouisBPhotography.com

TM:  Congrats on a stellar season so far this year!  Six races with top two finishes is quite an accomplishment.  What are you most proud of so far?

KW:  Thank you! With regards to this season, probably the 2nd at Ironman Texas. While I knew I was capable of that performance, I would say that it came earlier in my ‘Ironman Career’ than I expected. I am also pretty proud to have put up the consistency I have thus far; given all the things that can happen in a race, that in and of itself is something to be proud of.

TM:  You had a huge race in the Woodlands at IMTX, with a 29 minute PR (9:07 overall).  How satisfying was that race knowing that was only your third Ironman? 

KW:  It was incredibly satisfying! In both my first two Ironmans, I played it fairly conservatively but I felt pretty rough on both of the runs. It was nice to run to my capabilities in Texas. I felt fine immediately post-race then the few hours later, it got very ugly…and I had to go to medical at 7:00 at night and spent almost 2 hours there. That told me I had definitely left it all on the course. The few days after the race, I felt almost like I had to pinch myself to realize I had actually gone a 9:07 on a legit, honest course.  

TM:  You had the fastest marathon split that day at 3:04.  How much faster do you think you can go?  Sub 3 hours?

KW:  I definitely think I can run sub-3! I was pleased with the 3:04, but I wasn’t surprised, given my run training. But it was nice to see a huge drop from my 3:11 in Kona. It showed me that I am on the right track, but I am definitely not content with that time… I know that I need to put up a slightly stronger bike and run under 3 hrs to be a factor, every time I toe the line, at this distance.

credit: LouisBPhotography.com

TM:  How is your focused Kona training going, and what have you done differently from last year?

KW:  The focused Kona training is actually almost coming to an end! I would say I started it back in early July; so the question is appropriate and given that a lot of it is behind me, I can tell you what I have done differently. I’ll first say not too much because when something is working, I see no point in changing too much. That said, now that I have another year of Ironman training under my belt, I know I can push my volumes & paces just a touch more. So, this past few months, I have upped my volume in all three disciplines (just incrementally) and I have also tried to increase my paces running and power efforts on the bike just  a bit more. I am overall a very low volume athlete, but I have looked at last seasons training and tried to bump things up just a bit from then.

TM:  Hot weather seems to agree with you (as evidenced by your wins in Costa Rica, San Juan and Buffalo Springs, plus your 2nd place at IMTX).  Did you alter your training to help you get ready for Kona, or just continue to train in Texas? 

KW:  My husband Derick and I just got back from about 6 weeks out in Salida, Colorado. We did this last season as well; we have had one of the hottest summers on record in Austin, and to do all of the Ironman training here is do-able but it is so taxing physically on the body. So, the time in CO is nice because the temps are cooler, we are at 7,000 ft, and the riding is unbelievable. I had Poncha Pass right out my door (a 7 mile climb to 9,000 ft) and Cottonwood Pass was about 30 miles away (an almost 20 mile climb up to 12,000 ft). It is nice for a change of scenery, change of environment, and our dog Amico (Autralian Cattle Dog) is MUCH happier out there; every day ends with a leg soak and a play with the dog in the Arkansas River! But, it is good to be back in Austin for a few weeks to adapt once again to the heat.

TM:  You were a high school and college swimmer.  Seems like there’s a pretty high correlation in pro triathlon between prior swim experience and success.  Why do you think that is?

KW:  That’s a good question. I know when I finished with collegiate swimming, I was just not ready to be ‘done’ being an athlete; I still loved to swim and loved to compete. I had always enjoyed running; and a running injury lead to me jumping on a spin bike; which led to getting a road bike. I think that swimmers learn very well how to suffer, and we also learn how to deal well with boredom; monotonous, repetitive activity (read: following a black line back and forth for hours on end). Swimmers have huge aerobic engines, so they naturally are talented athletes, but they get into triathlon and realize that either the bike or the run usually does not come easily; for me, it was the running. I think you often see good backstrokers and breaststrokers are strong cyclists due to their leg strength. In any case, I think the change of pace and the new challenge is inviting; and we also can handle the first leg of a triathlon without any problem, something that many struggle with. The draw for me also was that it was an open, variable environment; swimming is so controlled. I loved how there were unpredictable, variable elements to deal with in this sport vs. in swimming.

credit: Randy Sadler

TM:  Racing is hard, especially when you’re trying to gut out the last few miles on a run.  How do you handle those times when you’re really suffering?

KW:  As messed up as it sounds, those are the times I really thrive on. The physical part is just training; it is keeping healthy, challenging yourself, and doing the work. The mental part is to me what makes a good athlete a truly great athlete. It comes down to who can suffer the most, who can play their cards right… and it is those most challenging, lowest moments when we really find out what we are made of. That’s the good stuff right there. What gets me through those times? My head.. I think things like “This is nothing compared to all the hours you have spent training.” or “One mile at a time.” or “Race for those who can’t.” Not to sound cliche, those mantras can do wonders. They can also keep your head occupied and detract from you feeling sorry for yourself. I know that no matter how badly it hurts, I have chosen this path, and I am damn lucky to be out there doing it. I cannot stand whiners or excuse-makers, so I just make the best of the situation; and the pain will end, eventually!

TM:  What do you enjoy most about your job of being a professional triathlete?

KW:  It’s crazy, but I love that I feel like I am still doing what I was doing 15 years ago and that is ‘being an athlete’. I have never had a typical desk job, and I would be OK if I never did. I truly love being active…there are very few times I have ever had to really drag myself out the door to do a workout. It hasn’t been easy and success has far from come overnight for me, but to know that I get to wake up each day and challenge myself and my body in various ways is so exciting. I love finding new ‘limits’ to my body each day. And a cool part about being a professional and seeing more success is, I feel like I have been able to inspire a few others along the way. I think that my journey is a bit different in that it’s been a long one! I got my pro card in 2002. I have had many ups and downs, but I have stuck with it and I am so glad that I have.

TM:  What do you like to do when you’re not training or racing?  Do you have any hobbies?

KW:  I coach a handful of athletes, so that keeps me occupied outside of training. I also love to write, and take any chance I can do to article contributions, personal blogging, etc. I help out at a mens homeless shelter in downtown Austin when I can find the time; moreso in the winter months and much less during race season, unfortunately. I really try to keep a good ‘life balance’ going… once I finish a workout, I say ‘that was good’ or ‘eh not so good’, but I try to move on and focus on the next thing happening; whether that is another session later in the day or if I am done, I enjoy putting my feet up and not thinking about triathlon; reading a book or catching up with friends. I love to ski (snow..downhill…) but there’s not too much of that happening in Texas.

TM:  I read an interview you gave to Herb Krabel at Slowtwitch back in 2010 that you would love to have a microbrewery as one of your sponsors.  Any luck with that yet?

KW:  No luck yet!! We live about 1/2 mile away from 512 Brewing so that would be a lovely sponsor. I am a big fan of Stone Brewing, and lately Oskar Blues…Mama’s Little Yella Pils… Really any micro-brew… ‘good beer’ as I call it. If any makers of ‘good beer’ out there are looking to plaster their logo on a professional triathlete, I am more than willing to step up to the plate and help them out. I literally end most days with a good beer while I make dinner. Signifies the ‘end of day’ to me, time to relax and enjoy the evening. And, from what I have read hops have an anti-inflammatory effect; so I feel it benefits my training, too. 🙂

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