Dispatch: Luke McKenzie Ready For Roth

The 2013 Kona runner-up chats about his unconventional season, becoming a father and the fierce competition he'll face on Sunday.

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After a breakthrough second-place performance in Kona last year, the kickoff to Luke McKenzie’s 2014 season was slightly less spectacular, clearly due to circumstances out of his control. There was a bike crash in the build to Ironman Melbourne, which injured his arm and impacted his swimming, and then a mechanical mishap with his helmet buckle, which further derailed his hopes for a podium finish. But McKenzie battled through impressively, finishing 13th and firming up his 2014 Kona qualification, thus freeing up his race schedule for the remainder of the season. On Sunday he’ll start Challenge Roth for the first time in his career; here’s what he had to report pre-race.

Triathlete.com: Your 2014 schedule is an interesting mix, with three iron-distance races (Melbourne, Roth and Kona) and three shorter races (SDIT, Malibu Tri and LA Tri)–and that’s it. What’s the strategy there?

LM: When I planned the year I had to take into account we were expecting our first child in May and that the period of time before and after that would be pretty hectic. I wanted to race Ironman Melbourne because it is the biggest event in Australia and at the same time secure my Kona validation early in the year. Roth is an event I have always wanted to race and, not having to chase KPR points, I wanted to take the opportunity. The rest of my racing I wanted to keep close to home in California to take away the stress of travel with a newborn. After years of travel to races right through the year it’s nice to scale it down a little bit for a change. In saying that, we just arrived in Europe, which is the one big trip we have planned for the summer.

Triathlete.com: You recently earned what I imagine is the title you’re proudest of: Daddy. While it’s obvious that your life has changed with the addition of baby, and while I’m sure you anticipated many of those changes, what are some things that have surprised you–either about the demands or joys of parenthood or about Wynne herself? And, how’d she do on the trip over?

LM: Beth [Gerdes] and I are loving parenthood and I am even surprising myself with how much I am enjoying it. Obviously babies demand a lot of attention and now free time and recovery between sessions is different, but we are learning every day how to deal with situations and getting used to this new life. Wynne really is a good baby and has a relatively good sleeping pattern already. We took her on a short three-day trip in California recently as a bit of a test and she dealt with it really well. It’s great that it can give Beth a chance to get out and do some training as well when we have the help because she has goals set for herself to race later in the year. We were a bit nervous to travel with her to Europe so young (five weeks old) but with the help of my sister Jacque it really wasn’t that bad. She traveled well, which is encouraging for the future. Hopefully if she gets used to it from a very young age, we can form good habits and things will work out well. I know a lot of other pro athletes have dealt with the “joys” of traveling with children so there are definitely a lot of people to turn to for advice.

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Triathlete.com: There’s a lot of talk about a number of top-performing triathlete moms these days. But what do you think are some of the post-birth positives for dads? Are there things about being a father that have positively impacted your training–and that you think will give you an extra edge on race day in Roth?

LM: I raced my first event as a father in San Diego recently and it was a really great feeling to run past Beth and Wynne and know that I am racing for them now. It really does give you that extra boost that wasn’t there before. I definitely spend a lot of time thinking about them while I am training and it really is a positive and a motivator to keep pushing. It will be fun to have them and my family in Roth and Hawaii, as it’s a big part of my life.

Triathlete.com: Let’s talk about the competition in Roth. We have the champions of the past two years returning–Dirk Bockel and James Cunnama–but it doesn’t stop there. We also have 2012 Kona champ Pete Jacobs, Eneko Llanos, Joe Gambles, Timo Bracht and the list goes on. No doubt it’s going to be a fierce day out there! Given that you chose to race Melbourne, Roth and Kona this year you seem to enjoy a stacked field, so my question is, what are some ways that you feed off of the talent around you in order to deliver your absolute best?

LM: I love racing the big events and it’s exciting to be amongst such a quality field in Roth this year. I believe if the conditions are right we can see one of the fastest races in history. I have a personal goal to break eight hours for the first time but I believe there are potentially several guys that can go sub-eight this year. Athletes like Dirk, James, Pete, Sebi, Freddy, Jan, Ivan, TO, Joe and Tyler (not to mention many other athletes) are going to keep pushing the sport for the next several years, so lining up against them in the big events is always going to be the big test.

Triathlete.com: One final question–are you willing to name your pick for the women’s race?

LM: Much like the men the field is stacked with talent, but I think it’s going to boil down to the big three of Xena, Rachel and Rinny. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Rinny run a sub-2:50 on this course, which I think would be hard to beat.

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