Now an Ironman champion, the Texas-based pro has her eyes set on Kona.
After a rough start to the 2014 season—starting with an 11th-place finish at 70.3 Oceanside followed by a DNF at Ironman 70.3 Texas—Kelly Williamson found her long-course stride. At Ironman Texas on May 17, Williamson ran a 2:54 marathon en route to her first Ironman victory.
“Texas was my dream race,” she says. “Everything came together… I knew I had it in me, but there were so many doubts – I pulled out of Galveston, I wasn’t feeling like myself on the heels of a pretty bad Oceanside, I really stepped back and realized I was putting way too much pressure on myself”
Williamson, who swam for University of Illinois, was the first woman out of the water; however she also displayed strength on the bike. Ninety miles into the bike Williamson gained ground on the lead riders, entering new territory for the prominent swimmer and runner. “I realized I must be doing something right here; it was a great confidence boost.” Williamson then overcame a six-minute deficit out of T2, bringing her into second position on the run. “Once I got into the run it hit me that this is going to happen. This is going to be my day.”
Williamson took the 2013 season off from racing Ironman distance, sticking to only 70.3 and Olympic distances. “I love going hard and going fast,” she said. “Stepping away from [Ironman] really did ignite my passion.”
Her 2013 season even ended early—she underwent leg surgery last September for endofibrosis of the external iliac artery, which causes narrowing of the artery and prevents adequate blood flow throughout the left side. The surgery and diagnosis provided some reprieve to months of undiagnosed pain. Then the underwhelming start to her 2014 season was coupled with some smaller injuries, including falling down the stairs in January and having to take time off in February due to a back injury. Despite these setbacks, however, Williamson says she has found the place where she is relaxed and excited to toe the line again.
“I’m just grateful that I’m [now] strong and healthy. I was excited at Texas. I had to get to a place where I was relaxed and excited. You have to know what’s best for you.” The injuries, surgery and forced rest reminded Williamson of what is important, which she says is her rekindled passion for the sport. “These setbacks were a blessing in disguise.”
Since the Ironman Texas win, Williamson says she is taking the season race by race. Her eyes are ultimately on qualifying for Kona, with her next race at Ironman Coeur d’Alene on June 29.
“I don’t think I’ve tapped out my potential at Ironman,” she said. “I’d really like to get to Kona and not destroy myself in the process… Kona is the focus.” Williamson currently stands 34th in the Kona Pro Rankings—the top 35 go to Kona.
In terms of training, Williamson said she and her coach, husband Derick Williamson, are building off of where she is today. “I know my strengths and weaknesses, and I accept them. The bike is always the focus for us. I’m always trying to get the most out of cycling.”
After Ironman Texas, Williamson says she feels little pressure for Coeur d’Alene, as she is mainly racing to earn points toward Kona. “Texas was my dream race, so there’s no point to put so much pressure for Coeur d’Alene. I can only do what I can do, which is to go in there and do my best,” she says. “I want to enjoy Coeur d’Alene.”
Ironman Texas served as a reminder for Williamson that racing—even 140.6—is still what she loves. “I will use Texas as a reminder of how to find what works for me and just remember that nobody is making me do this. Texas was a reminder that I do still love it, and I do still have it in me,” she says. “I knew it was deep within me, but who’s to say that it ever comes out?”