Meet new Team MPI Coach Kelly Ryan
Updated: Jan 8
Coach Kelly joins Team MPI after a ten-year career as a Naval officer and several years of coaching triathletes. Her triathlon background includes two Kona qualifications, two IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship qualifications and numerous other podium finishes. Kelly is both an IRONMAN and USA Triathlon (L1) certified Coach. She’s lived and trained all over the world including Bahrain, Hawaii, Southern California and now, Washington, DC. Kelly’s coached numerous athletes to their first 70.3s and IRONMANs, to major personal records, and even to their first ever triathlons.
After years of training and coaching while forward deployed, Coach Kelly truly understands the demands life places on athletes outside of competing and how to incorporate training into our busy lives. In partnership with her athletes, she works hard to write programs that they will actually be able to fit into their lives. A “no-nonsense” coach who does not believe in “junk miles”, she is also a big proponent of strength training and mobility as critical pieces of our training programs, not the first things to fall off when life gets busy.
You spent a decade as a dressage trainer/instructor. (A type of competitive horseback riding.) How did you come to triathlon from that sport?
I did! In fact, I basically grew up on the back of a horse. My parents own and run a dressage training facility on Oahu. Long before I was a triathlete, I was a farm girl. But my transition to triathlon actually came more from my years in outrigger canoe racing. During my first year of one-man season as a high-schooler, my coach introduced to this amazing female athlete. She had an M-dot tattoo on her arm and I asked her what it was. She told me all about this crazy race in Kona where they swam, biked and ran crazy distances. I looked up to her so much. She was a firefighter, and an incredibly strong paddler. From then on, I knew that one day I wanted to do that crazy race. “Kona” became the pinnacle of my bucket list (way before it was everyone’s! ;).
I rode horses and paddled all through high school and college so I was always a little too busy to get into triathlon, until I decided to join the Navy. At that point, I knew I’d have to give up riding horses for a while because they just aren’t all that easy to throw on a plane when you’re traveling all over the world and moving all the time. The day after I sold my horse, I bought my first triathlon bike and the rest is history!
What lessons from dressage and working with an equine partner do you carry with you into triathlon?
Oh wow! That’s a great question! You know, I think the most valuable lessons from working with horses is selflessness and not taking anything too personally. From a really young age, I was responsible for the health and well-being of animals that couldn’t take care of themselves. It was on me to get my butt out of bed in the morning and feed the horses, clean stalls, bandage legs, the list goes on and on. While it’s not exactly the same, something that I really love about triathlon is it’s all on you. Either you’re going to put the training and the work in or you’re going to go out and have a “training day” at a race. Of course, there’s a lot more that goes into race results on any given day, but your overall success is really up to you and the hard work that you put in day after day.
Also, when you’re working with a 1000 pound beast with a mind of its own, you really can’t take anything too personally. They have their own natural fears and motivations and it’s on you to learn how to work with those to build a partnership and get their best work out of them. I think that translates really well into triathlon.
What was your sports background in high school?
I didn’t really do the traditional organized sports in high school. I’ve always kind of done odd ones. As I mentioned, I basically grew up on the back of a horse. The girls that I grew up riding with are still my best friends to this day. When I got into middle school and high school, I really wanted to broaden my horizons out of the sport that I’d done my entire life and I begged my mom to let me join Lanikai Canoe Club to race Hawaiian outrigger canoes. (It also helped that there were boys divisions. Not many boys were riding dressage back then!) That was where I got my first taste of endurance sports. As a kid, all we did were 1/4 to 1/2 mile sprints, but as I got closer to graduating from high school I got to join the women’s division who did the long distance season after sprint season. To this day, crossing the Molokai channel is probably one of my biggest athletic accomplishments.
What strengths did you bring into triathlon? What were the areas of greatest opportunity/challenge for you?
I think the biggest strength that I have is grit and determination. I don’t give up easily. In fact, when things get more challenging is probably about the time I get more stubborn. I’m also pretty meticulous with certain things. If my time in the Navy has taught me nothing else, it’s the realization that no good plan survives first contact. With that mentality, I think I’m pretty good at handling changes to the plan. When something unexpected happens, I’m pretty quick to re-analyze the situation and just keep moving forward.
How would the athletes you coach describe you?
Haha!! I think maybe you should ask them!! But seriously, I think what some would say is that I am encouraging and flexible and I try to make sure my athletes know the “why”. I think we all work better when we understand why we’re doing what we’re doing.
Most athletes face challenges to fit training in around life. As a Naval Officer, athlete, and coach, what are some of the ways you’ve addressed time management?
Day by day! The line of work that I’ve been in is been very crisis oriented, so I know that I, personally, have frustrated some coaches in the past by letting life get in the way of my training. I’m also a single mom so, while triathlon and racing success has been important to me, it’s never been as important as my job or my daughter. Sometimes, you’re just not going to get that workout in, and that’s OK. It’s the bigger picture that really matters.
It’s important to understand what your key workouts are and work with your coach to find ways to work those in. My line of work usually meant really early mornings so early morning workouts have often not been realistic for me. One unique strategy I’ve used is keeping my bike trainer in the car, commuting to work and doing my weekday trainer workouts there (just in the parking lot). That way, I’ve beaten the traffic and saved myself 30 minutes.
Another strategy is I always have my equipment ready to go in my specific “go-bags”. I’ve got my swim, bike, run, yoga/strength go-bags ready to go at all times. I roll out of bed in the morning grab my coffee, breakfast and go-bag(s) and hit the road.
You are a proponent of strength training, something many of us struggle to schedule in. What suggestions do you have in this area?
Yeah, our strength workouts always seem to be the first to go, don’t they? One way that I’ve found to be successful for a lot of athletes is to break it up into much smaller segments and do exercises that you don’t need to take into the gym. For example, I will schedule core or strength sessions for 10min first thing in the morning from Monday-Thursday. You’re not blasting yourself and you’re giving yourself Friday to recover before your long weekend workouts but now you’ve broken up these workouts into much smaller, more manageable chunks of time. Anyone can find just 10 minutes to do a few exercises. The trick to making them effective is not giving yourself any rest in between and working the same muscle group with multiple exercises, back to back with no rest.
What is your why - what do you love about the sport and competition?
You know, I think the thing I love the most about this sport is the comradery. At every race, no matter if you’re at an IRONMAN event or a local sprint, people are always so encouraging, even out there on the course. You’re passing somebody on the bike and they give you a “good job” or you’re running with someone on the run and you hear a “good pace”. We’re honestly always just good to each other!
What do you say to people who tell you regarding triathlon, “Oh, I could never do that!”
“Anybody can do a triathlon! The real question is do you want to do it?” The thing is, some stuff about the sport is scary. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea and it doesn’t have to be! But if it’s something that interests you and you want to see if you “can“, my answer is “Absolutely!” But if it’s not something you want to do, then why do it?! Find your “thing” and do that!
What is your favorite post-race meal?
A Starbucks iced mocha! That might actually be my secret post long-ride cheater… I admit to nothing!
Any pre-race rituals?
It’s not really a ritual but in the week or so heading into my a races, I usually write out a fairly detailed race plan. It helps me conceptualize everything from start to finish. I work out what I need to do, from getting to the airport and getting on the plane, to crossing the finish line. It helps me visualize everything I need to do in the days prior to the race, all the way through where I want to line up for the swim and how I might handle things that could go wrong during the course of the day. It’s really just a visualization exercise, but I am a writer and typing it all out really helps me not get distracted (otherwise I might get to thinking about where I’m going to line up and then start planning my meal prep for the following week… “Squirrel!!”)
Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me! I’m so excited to be a part of Team MPI!
Welcome, Coach Kelly! We are so happy you are part of Team MPI!