Over the past 8 years as a professional triathlete Meredith Kessler has amassed 10 full distance and 20 half distance Ironman victories. In addition to winning Ironman New Zealand an unprecedented five times, she has also been crowned champion at Ironman Arizona, Ironman Coeur d’Alene and Ironman Canada.
Although she has not raced as much this year (4 times) compared to previous years, where she toed the line anywhere from 7-10 times before the Ironman World Championships, she is fit, prepared and ready to go! Look for Kessler to put together a solid race from start to finish this year.
Tell us about your current season coming out of the gates early this year with a win in New Zealand and then taking it down a notch this summer in preparation for Kona. How have you been smart about listening to your body?
Racing is a LOVE; as athletes this is part of what fuels us to keep competing. Originally on the schedule was Vineman 70.3 and Challenge Roth in July before Timberman in August. However, a high hamstring injury that we have been nursing for a couple years got very temperamental after Ironman New Zealand this past year so after feeling very subpar (and – INJURED) at Mt. Tremblant, we made the difficult decision to put the body in the body shop and rehab. So, to answer your question, the body and mind told me that it was IMPERATIVE to shut it down so that I could hopefully race without this pain in the 2nd half of the season. Although it was difficult to not race Vineman going for a chance at a 5 peat and Challenge Roth, a bucket list race, it has enabled me to really focus on rehab, weaknesses and trying to work on some things in my racing; in a sense, this was my ‘off’ season although I view triathlon as one continuous journey. As you get older, you genuinely have to race and train smarter, not harder!
You recently published the book “Life Of A Triathlete” giving a multitude of great advice for age groupers and pros about race preparation. Could you give us some snippets about some Kona specific race preparation that you have learned?
The Life of a Triathlete project has been one that has been in the making for a number of years. The goal is for age group and professional athletes to learn from my trials and tribulations to hopefully help them shave weeks/years off their journey to reach their goals. If a reader can take a snippet away from what we outline in the book to improve their racing, then we have done our jobs!
I have yet to fully crack the Kona code yet I have gained tons of experience racing on the big island. Once again, the Life of a Triathlete series of books has been created to learn from what I have done, right or wrong, and give athletes insight as to what they can do to help themselves succeed. I am a big believer in practicing on the Kona course to get the true feel of what it is all about. It is very difficult to duplicate the crosswinds riding up to Hawi or the intense heat bouncing off the pavement in the energy lab. If you are heading to Kona for the 1st time, make sure you plan on a few rides and training sessions in the environment. Nothing can prepare you for swimming miles out into the ocean and not seeing the bottom; it is eerie! Also, enjoy the atmosphere surrounding Kona but don’t overextend yourself. It may be enjoyable to take part in the activities yet it is key to build into your schedule down time to rest in Recovery Boots or to get out of the sun. Mental fatigue is something that cannot be measured though it is a factor leading into the big day!
If you want to learn more about Life of a Triathlete, go to www.lifeoftriathlete.com to explore!
What was one of the key things you learned from last year’s performance? What went well and what did you focus on improving from last year?
Nothing really went well last year; the goal this year is to finish running and not walking! Hydration, nutrition, and the heat are factors you have to master in Kona in order to have a quality race. The thing is, everyone is different, there is no cookie cutter strategy, and it is a science that has to be studied and put to the test. If you would have told me, when I first started racing Kona, how much detail needs to go into these three things, it would have looked awfully daunting but at least I would have had a better and more resourceful plan. Through trial and error and with the help of some smart people, hopefully we have developed a plan to minimize the effects of these factors in this race.
After any race, you try to figure out how to lessen what went wrong and capitalize on what went right. Hopefully, we have taken the proper steps to nail my issues in Kona. The best case scenario is, after the race, I can feel good about the steps we took to try to crack the Kona code!
What do you feel is your biggest strength heading into this year’s race?
My biggest strength is the knowledge banked competing here for so long. There is no substitute for racing on this stage for multiple years and I’m hopeful that muscle memory with play a key role. Although my results have been less than desirable in Kona, I can take solace in the fact I have weathered a lot of storms out on that course. Practice breeds confidence and comfort – my 38 year old legs have had a lot of practice on the big island!
Besides being the Ironman World Championships, what/how do you prepare differently for this Ironman compared to others? Are there more race tactics, etc…? Or do you prepare for this race the same as other Ironmans?
The saying goes is that the biggest race is the next one on the calendar. However, we all know that Kona is a different beast and is our Super Bowl so, as much as you want to keep your preparation the same throughout the year, it makes sense to change it up a little for Kona. The heat here has always been a factor so I have to go to the big island a few weeks before the race in order to acclimate to the surroundings. Yes, you can do things to improve your heat sensitivity such as going into a sauna or training in hot conditions in your hometown but I train in Northern California where the temperature doesn’t see ninety degrees Fahrenheit. Nothing beats training in the environment of Kona and experience the island first hand; this knowledge will only help on race day. So, the bottom line, I travel and train at the location of Kona way before any other race on the circuit. This year, however, as part of the hamstring rehab, I became a Hot Bikram Yoga fanatic! This new activity played a tremendous role in helping to fix and strengthen the injury yet it also helped with ‘heat’ training side which I appreciate for sure!
Do you have any race day superstitions or special things you do before an Ironman or before Kona?
I write the initials on my hands of meaningful individuals in my life. This allows me to look down, when times get difficult on the bike and run, and remind myself of what is important in this world. It gives me that extra pep in my step to get me through the finish line! This year in Kona, Ventum so kindly allowed me to design a very personal custom bike. It has the initials of all the people that have been on this journey with me from the get go – my inner circle. It also has my favorite word from youth embedded on it as a constant reminder to keep calm, carry on, find fortitude and keep the chi out there. That word is: GUMPTION. This bike is very special to me and I will cherish it forever. I look forward to racing on it for the first time on the big island!
What do you feel defines you as a strong professional female athlete? Are their specific thoughts or mantras that make you feel stronger on race day?
It is important to me personally to be remembered in life as MBK the person and not just MBK the triathlete so hopefully, everything I do in my life is geared to being the best wife, friend, daughter, sister, aunt, friend and mentor that I can be – every day. It is also so vital in our lives to only be surrounded by individuals who ENRICH our lives and who LIFT us – this is what is so important for everyone in life.
Some specific thoughts that constantly replay in my mind:
Triathlon is a relentless pursuit of learning, growing, fine tuning and recalibrating. As you can imagine, it’s been a journey. There have been epic highs, There have been very goth lows. The peaks have been priceless and cherished and the valley’s have been understandably challenging and bleak. There has been success that will never be taken for granted, and there has been FAILURE that has created a fabric of possibility to really realize how much we need it in order to prosper later. This FAILURE taught me how to really value and appreciate the saying:“You can’t control the waves of the world but you can be the captain of the boat”
I also think it is important to remember to: NEVER LET SUCCESS GET TO YOUR HEAD, OUR FAILURE TO OUR HEARTS. Failure too, is GROWTH.
Racing specifically is filled with the most intense moments – ones that also bring us the most extreme and raw possibility. These moments enable us to craft meaning in what we have been doing – with effort, stamina, gumption, fortitude and of course – FAILURE. If we don’t fail, if we don’t lose – what will drive us to be better???
What was and is always constant through this journey – something that never strays, wavers or disappoints, something that can be learned and nourished, something that can help shape and define us: IS THE MINDSET. The most beautiful part of anyone’s journey is simply returning to the peaceful feeling of being. This peace is the result of retraining your MIND to process life as it is vs. what we think it should be. We all have our own PROCESS and our OWN journey and EVERYONE’s is organic and authentic to them.
I genuinely believe that training and racing IS A MINDSET. A very very marquee and important MINDSET. The slightest SHIFT in our mindset can make or break so many things in running, triathlon and in life really. We have to train this mindset to DELIVER in practice and on race day – this is where the magic happens for us all.
It is also VERY IMPERATIVE to remember that the JOURNEY is more important than the OUTCOME. This is what really sits vibrantly in my soul on BOTH the great days and the challenging.
We wish you the best in this year’s Ironman World Championship!
For more about Meredith Kessler visit her websites below:
Interview by Mackenzie Madison.