After a two-year hiatus from structured training and racing due to COVID race cancellations in 2020 and having a baby in 2021, Kalee Tyson had a remarkable 2022 race season highlighted by several breakthroughs while earning a slot to both the 70.3 World Championship in Finland and IM World Championship in Kona for 2023. Kalee shared with me her experiences being a new mom and her journey back to racing.
First and most importantly, you had a baby girl in August of 2021! How has motherhood been and what advice do you have for someone who is trying to balance being a parent, working and training?
KT: Motherhood has been amazing, challenging, exhausting, and exhilarating! It’s been the biggest learning curve of my life! When it comes to balance, I wish I had some perfect advice but I honestly spent most of this year feeling like I was failing at all three – motherhood, training, and my job. The best advice I have is to be patient and flexible. Lean on others for help. I feel so fortunate to have my husband and parents to lean on so I could train. I felt a lot of guilt for having an Ironman on my schedule when my daughter was still a baby and needed me. It felt very selfish. Instead of wasting my energy feeling bad about it, I tried to focus on being as
present as I could in each space of my life. I couldn’t give all of myself to any one part of my life – but I could certainly give it my ALL when I was doing each part. That completely shifted how I showed up as a mom, triathlete, and employee. I don’t know if the mom-guilt ever actually goes away, but it definitely helped.
With your return to structured training and racing, what were your main goals and do you feel you accomplished them?
KT: When I started structured training again, my main goal was to be able to complete the 4 races on my schedule and feel proud of the outcome. For the first time ever, it felt like I was starting the season from scratch – almost no fitness or endurance. I didn’t expect the year of racing after a baby to be full of PBs but I wanted to feel like I did the best I could for where I was at! My return to running was full of hurdles, so every running milestone I hit throughout training felt like a major accomplishment. I did my first speedwork right before CDA 70.3 and it felt like a HUGE accomplishment to be able to do intervals during a run! Then I ran two back-to-back days! That was something I wasn’t able to do early on in the season because of pelvic floor issues. Then, each long run I did felt like a huge accomplishment. At the beginning of 2022, it felt like it’d be impossible to ever get up to 15+ miles. I vividly remember sobbing at the end of a 6 mile run at the beginning of training (the longest I had run after having my baby) and thinking there was NO WAY I was going to be able to do an Ironman later this year. This body was a different one and it would NEVER hold up for a full Ironman. It’s wild how all the small, incremental increases in training really build up into something big without you really noticing!
After a two-year hiatus from racing, were you surprised by anything within the training process or on race day?
KT: I was surprised that I had to completely relearn how to fuel during training and races! I completely forgot what I used to eat and drink during training and races. I also forgot how exhilarating race morning is. It really makes you feel alive. Every part of racing and training makes me feel alive.
You had a very successful season in posting PBs across various distances from Olympic to 70.3 to IM. What stands out to you as the impetus for these improvements? (training protocol, better race day fueling/hydration, increased focus on recovery/sleep/nutrition, etc.)
KT: A lot of my improvements came because of consistency. I show up, get my workouts done, and trust the process. While my training might not be perfect, or on the day it was originally scheduled, I stay consistent and get those green boxes in TrainingPeaks (I am overly motivated by a green box). A change I did make throughout this season was to increase my fueling while training and racing. I almost doubled the calories I was taking in on the bike and it made a HUGE difference in my best two races of the season (WA 70.3 and IM Arizona). I also took in more calories on the run during those races which helped a ton. It felt like I was funneling Maurten gels way too often, but I never over-fueled or had GI issues so it worked! The last thing that stood out for me this year was the growth in my mental strength. It took a while to rebuild the muscle in my brain that would push when it hurt. I had spent my whole pregnancy and a lot of early motherhood “giving myself grace” and not putting extra pressure on myself – and that mentality naturally transferred over to training and racing. “I’m amazing for just doing this training” was how my mind was thinking. Halfway through this season, I realized it was time to make it hard again – stop giving myself grace in training and start applying myself more. My baby was 1 year old and was sleeping through the night. I was well rested and it was time to push in this part of my life. During WA 70.3 I pushed the bike and had my best 70.3 ride ever on a tough course – and with all the extra fuel I took in my run felt amazing… until it didn’t, and then I reminded myself that “it hurts and that’s ok” and pushed through to a 13.1-mile run that I could be proud of! That 70.3 PB SHOCKED me, but it helped me
grow a ton of confidence in my Ironman AZ build. Mental strength is like a muscle – you have to keep pushing it and growing it every day, and the build into Ironman AZ only made it stronger. My mind was READY for IM AZ. That race is the race I’m most proud of so far in my life. So many times doing an Ironman this year felt impossible – physically, mentally, emotionally – and it’s the best race I’ve ever had. It was absolutely a test of mental strength and that muscle showed off that day!
Please share one or two key training sessions you did this year that really boosted your confidence.
KT: I love all types of training – but I HATE testing. You could probably give me a “test” type workout without the word “test” and I’d do great and hit my targets, but the moment I see “run test” or “FTP test” it’s a PANIC. I used to emotionally break down during every test – I just put a weird pressure on myself! I had my first run test on the schedule mid-season. Brad very clearly stated to not worry about this run test, and that we just needed some data now that we were doing actual run workouts. I didn’t have a lot of confidence in my run and wasn’t even sure my body would hold up pushing for three straight miles of effort! For the first time EVER I didn’t totally melt down and stop mid-test (I considered it, but reminded myself that no one cared about the results of this run, only me) and my speed wasn’t even that far off from my last run test in early 2020 when I was a faster, fitter runner in my opinion! I had not imagined that great of an outcome! I was super thrilled all around – but mostly with my mental performance and ability to talk myself out of quitting when the test got hard. At that time, “control” was a mantra-type word I was leaning on because the rest of my life felt like I had no control, and training was where I DID have control, so that word helped during the test. I had CONTROL of my speed, of my body, of the outcome. Before Boulder 70.3 Brad had a 1 hour run with some effort coming off a long bike on the schedule. I hadn’t run long off the bike outside of CDA 70.3 and it looked way too hard to me (also, it was HOT that day)! Because of my lack of faith in my run all season I was already talking myself out of this run while I was riding. “You don’t have to do the effort part of the run” I told myself. But when I actually went out on the run I thought, “might as well give it a go! What can it hurt to TRY”. It was a 30 min race pace and 30 min easy. I was SHOCKED at how well it went! I ran well, in the heat, coming off a long bike! It gave me a lot of confidence going into the second half of my race season that maybe my run could come back around this year!
What are you most excited about in racing both the 70.3 World Championship and IM World Championship in 2023?
KT: I have never done a World Championship race before and it’s such an honor to get to do BOTH World Championship races! It still feels like a fever dream that I’m getting to race Kona. I’m incredibly excited about both races! I’m hopeful that I can show up fit and able to try to race my best at both!! I’m also excited about the travel – Finland will be my and my husband’s first trip without my daughter so I’m looking forward to that, AND I can’t wait for my daughter to get to go to Kona and maybe, kind of understand what’s going on. She definitely doesn’t understand any of this stuff yet so I’m excited for her to be there with me in Kona. This last year I kept reminding myself that I’m laying a healthy foundation for her and the kind of person she’ll grow into – she’s going to know that she can do extraordinary things and that hard work pays off because she sees her mom and dad do hard things – but for now all she knows is that mom leaves the room and then she bursts into tears. So, I’m looking forward to sharing these moments with her when she can understand them and be a part of them.
Anything else you want to share with our D3 community?
KT: The best thing I learned this year was to let go of expectations of training and racing going perfectly. When I showed up to training knowing that it was something I do for fun, something I do for ME because I love it, it completely transformed that time for me. It wasn’t an obligation, it was a joy. Certainly, each day wasn’t pretty, but it was a gift to get to DO it. After so many years of not getting to actually do this stuff (covid, pregnancy) I was just happy to be back in it. The attitude you approach things with can change the entire experience and outcome (this also really applied to parenthood, too).