Austin, Texas long course star Kelly Williamson comes into 2012 after two great seasons including four wins at the Ironman 70.3 distance, three second place finishes at the 70.3 distance and a 2nd place finish at the inaugural Ironman Texas. There was just one relative disappointment that didn’t quite meet up with her high expectations – a 15th and a 13th at Ironman Hawaii.
But she is working on it and the results so far in 2012 have shown it.
The scariest development for her rivals is her already great run. After years of a very consistent series of 1:17s at the half marathon, including similar times in the midst of 70.3 battles, this year she smashed her old limits with a 1:14:42 at the Austin 3M Half Marathon. In addition, at Ironman 70.3 Panama, she ran 1:16:18 while finishing 2nd to Angela Naeth.
A bit under the radar has been her improvement on the bike. While she did surrender 12 minutes to Panama 70.3 winner Angela Naeth on the bike, it was nothing like the 20-minute drubbing she took from Natascha Badmann a few years ago at Eagleman 70.3. More to the point was her 2:23:58 bike while winning San Juan 70.3 – which was the third fastest among women and a manageable 4:21 back of Linsey Corbin.
While she started fast in 2011, this year Williamson has gotten out of the blocks even faster with an overall women’s win and a big PR at the Austin Half Marathon, a 2nd at Panama 70.3 and a big win last weekend at San Juan 70.3.
Slowtwitch: Sorry to refer to your bike at San Juan as "mediocre." Maybe that used to be, but in retrospect you were 3rd best and just 4 minutes 21 seconds off the best women’s split of the day. So that wording was unfair. How good do you think your cycling has become? How did you raise your level?
Kelly: Ah, no worries. Truth be told, my bike is always a work in progress. It's crazy that in Panama 70.3, I lost 12 minutes to the strongest cyclist whereas in San Juan, I only lost 4 minutes; and in both races, the women (Angela Naeth in Panama and Linsey Corbin in San Juan) were great cyclists. So to get better, I am always doing a lot of work on the bike, whether it be increasing my riding volume or working on power-based intervals. I think what helped me in San Juan was a few key workouts where I was pushing hard in the TT position, and trying to push just a slightly bigger gear. Also you cannot discount the simple concept of giving yourself a good swift kick in the ass. I knew I had to bike stronger than I did in Panama, so I tried to bury myself on the bike as much as I could get away with; I knew I needed to bike well for my own confidence but also if I wanted to win the race. It was a good confidence booster; and how good has it become? I'm not sure. I just know that it needs to be good enough to let me get to the line first! If I can accomplish that, then I figure I am doing OK on the bike
ST: The usually swift-footed Magali Tissyre had an off day on her run [1:30:03, 10 minutes back of Williamson] but so were many other usually fine runners at San Juan. So you ran a nice race-winning final leg in 1:20. You are capable of a 1:16 or 1:17. So how tough was that run course?
Kelly: Thanks. In retrospect, going into the race I didn't think the run course last year was that hard. But this year it seemed a bit tougher. I am not sure if that is because I put more into the bike or what, but it is definitely a challenging run course (but nothing like a Buffalo Springs challenging). There are a few long rises as well as some steep uphills thrown in there. Add to it the heat and oddly the lack of wind on Sunday and it made for a tough course. But to me, it was not so much the heat that got me. My legs just felt heavy heading out onto the run. I just tried to remind myself that this was racing, and I was supposed to be tired. Of course I'd have liked to have run a bit faster than last year. But again, it really all comes down to the end result -- so it was good enough!
ST: Eighteen months ago, you had a bad crash at Miami. How much did that set you back?
Kelly: That didn't set me back at all physically. It was more of a hit mentally than anything. That crash [in October of 2010] showed me that I had gotten greedy; I figured I'd had a good season, why not eke out one more race? I had a little bit of a feeling of invincibility at the time and that crash firmly put me in my place. I was a little tired out there, and it felt like I wasn't totally thinking clearly when I crashed. Part of me was happy because I was like ‘Whew, now I can rest.’ Then I stubbornly got back up after 30 minutes and decided to finish the race. A terrible choice! But I learned a big lesson: Don't get greedy. And if you crash your bike hard in a race, do not get back up and finish just because you're stubborn and you 'never quit races.' It was stupid and landed me in the hospital!
ST: How healthy and fit are you now?
Kelly: Well I feel good. I don't really buy into the thought process of 'being only so fit' at certain times of the year, and 'being less fit' at others. Once racing starts, then I figure I better be race-ready. I'll never ever toe the start line of a race if I don't feel 100 percent ready to give it all I've got. I think that during the entire year, all 12 months, I am fairly fit. I don't have a 'race weight'; and it doesn't really change throughout the year. I just change my training throughout the season. But even in December, I am still active and doing 5ks because I enjoy them. So, I guess you could say I am pretty fit and healthy right now; but not terribly more so than I will likely be come October -- just with a different training focus.
ST: How much harder is it to defend than win for the first time (at San Juan of course)?
Kelly: Being able to defend the title definitely meant more than the first win. Just winning it in 2011 was huge for me, but to come back, with a very solid field assembled, and be able to come out on top and better my time from last year [by 1:32, while defending men’s champion Tim O’Donnell was 2:03 slower than the year before] really means a lot. I didn't think too much about 'defending' going into it because the way I see it, every race is a new race and it's anyone's game. The fact that I won in 2011 didn't mean crap on race morning last Sunday. I tried not to let it be pressure, but more so just motivation to execute the race smart, aggressive and with a lot of heart. Once I saw that I was in the position to win, I just tried my best to hang onto that win and make it happen.
ST: Did you race the Houston half marathon this year? If so, what was your time and finish place?
Kelly: I didn't race the Houston Half this year, but I did do 3M Half Marathon in Austin in January. I was able to manage a win along with a very big PR time of 1:14.42, which honestly is one of my proudest 'sporting moments'! I cannot tell you how many times I have run a 1:17 [she ran 1:16:59 by her watch at Houston last year] so it was like a huge monkey off my back. Not even a monkey, a gorilla.
ST: What is your strategy to race your best at the end of the year? Kona and Las Vegas I presume?
Kelly: Yes, my goals include both Vegas and Kona, but I'd also like to race at the 5150 Championship at Hy-Vee in Des Moines in August. To be at my best later in the season, my plan is to basically race a solid (but sane) schedule through June when I will race Ironman Coeur d'Alene. I then plan to take a good, solid break, head out to Salida, Colorado and train there for a good few weeks; just myself, my husband Derick and our dog Amico. We have done it the past 2 years and I absolutely love it out there; it's a great training locale, a chill little mountain town (population 5000), and every day ends with a play with our dog in the Arkansas River. I'd like to dial back my racing in the second half of my season a bit more than last year so that I can be fully ready for 'the big ones' come August, September and October.