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The American is looking to build on a history of success in St. George.
Only one woman has broken the tape in St. George since it started hosting the 70.3 North American Championships in 2013: Meredith Kessler. As the prolific athlete prepares to win in St. George for the fourth year in a row (she also won the full Ironman in 2012), the 36 year-old sat down to talk with Triathlete.com about strategy, aging, race selection and her focus for 2015.
Triathlete.com: 2015 is off to a great start for you—a 70.3 win in Auckland and your fourth consecutive victory at Ironman New Zealand! It’s very early in the season—and last year, some say you lost a bit of steam when it mattered most (fourth at 70.3 World Champs and a DNF at Kona) what changes are you making this year to sustain your fighting form through October?
Kessler: Each season has different obstacles to overcome. Triathlon racing is one long progression; you learn from each race, bad or good, and move on, trying to grow and reach your goals. With that being said, in this day and age of social media and scrutiny, you get lambasted for making excuses, which I absolutely understand, even when it’s our job and not every ‘business meeting’ goes as we all may envision. I was very delighted with fourth in the world in the 70.3 distance based on some circumstances that happened in the race that I care not to elaborate on as simply put, that is just the way racing works sometimes. Ironman Kona has always been a puzzle for me that has been tough to figure out but last year we learned some important lessons that will hopefully improve our finish in the future. Once again, you live and learn and try to take advantage of experiences gained. We came away with a victory at Ironman Arizona in November so I would say last year was very successful all the way through and we were elated to reach a lot of our goals!
Triathlete.com: Compared to earlier years, you’ve scaled back significantly in your frequency of racing the full Ironman distance during the last few seasons. Why?
Kessler: I love to race and this will never change. My race schedule has more events on it this year than last year so nothing has been altered as far as frequency. However, with how far competitors have come and how high the bar has been raised in women’s triathlon racing, it does not pay to do as many full Ironman distance races as I used to enter. As you age, you have to race smarter, not harder and too many Ironman races can break the body down. I always say, three-quarters of the battle is getting to the start line in as best shape as possible and you can’t do this if you race three to six Ironman distance races in a year. Or if you can, great—yet I personally have learned that this isn’t the best set up for our progression.
Triathlete.com: Do you miss having a full dance card, or do you prefer this lighter schedule?
Kessler: As my time in the sport of triathlon begins to dwindle, you take steps to incorporate other aspects of the sport before it is too late. This means trying different courses, traveling to new cities and countries, and embracing being able to swim, bike and run for a living. We are traveling every month this year to some of my favorites—like Ironman New Zealand, St. George, Vineman—and trying some new ones: Challenge Williamsburg, Ironman 70.3 Raleigh, Dubai, Bahrain and Austria, which keeps things fresh and new. Yes, the amount of full distance Ironman racing will be reduced but there are plenty of 70.3 venues to keep discovering!
Triathlete.com: Now that you’re being more selective of which races to attend, what factors come into play when choosing to add a race to your calendar?
Kessler: Time is our most valuable commodity and we don’t have a lot of it in the sport of triathlon. You mature later in life in the sport, the miles on the body start to wear it down, and you don’t have 20 year-old legs anymore. We choose races based on what will be fun, interesting, and new with an eye towards points and qualifying for championship races. As the year progresses, you may have to change based on how your body is feeling and what you need to do to qualify. We have raced Oceanside on a consistent basis, but my body doesn’t do well three weeks after an Ironman, so we omitted it from the schedule this year. Experience like this plays a role in devising your schedule.
Triathlete.com: The pro field at St. George this year is even more stacked than last year’s—and the target on your back is even larger. You’re the only person to win the women’s race at the US Pro Championships in St. George. How important is defending your title for the third year in a row?
Kessler: The next race is the biggest race of the year. I have said it before and I will say it again: You concentrate on being healthy, the course, weather and making sure you start as close to 100% as possible. If all of these things come together, you might have time to concentrate on who you are racing against. It takes a lot of things to go right to win a race, let alone win it four times in a row. Hopefully the stars will be aligned again to have the opportunity to put forth a quality effort on the St. George course!
Triathlete.com: The St. George is notoriously hard. When it comes to success on this course, do you feel your advantage over your competitors is mental or physical?
Kessler: The St. George course is tough but that is why it is an Ironman race. As the women in our sport continually raise the bar, the course and weather can play a huge factor in the outcome because everyone is so good; the slightest advantage can be the difference between a podium and being out of the money. Mentally, having done the event so many times is an advantage yet it is one of many factors that can affect the outcome. Certain aspects of the course play into my physical strengths and this can help but at the end of the day once the gun goes off, it is anyone’s race.