American Meredith Kessler has returned to Taupo to try and claim her third-consecutive Ironman New Zealand title. She heads into this race as a heavy favorite, but the 30th anniversary event has brought out quite a deep field. Kessler will be battling against fellow two-time champion Gina Crawford of New Zealand, 2014 Challenge Wanaka champion Candice Hammond, as well as former New Zealand ITU star Anna Cleaver. Kessler has raced more than 60 Ironmans, and is known for her ability to string together a series of high-quality Ironman and Ironman 70.3 performances in a single season, however this year she has vowed to scale things back so that she can head to the starting line in Kona as fresh as possible. We caught up with Kessler the day before Ironman New Zealand to hear her new racing strategy for 2014, as well as why she’s hoping to show the world that she has a three-hour marathon in her.
LAVA: You were kind of disappointed with your 7th place finish in Kona last October, so you followed it up quickly with Ironman Arizona in order to get your Ironman finish in the bucket early. You usually average three to four Ironmans a year, but this is your first one of the year and you’ve said you don’t plan to race another full distance race until Kona. Why the change in your Kona strategy and why did you still decide to race another Ironman in New Zealand?
Meredith Kessler: Well, it’s true that I didn’t need to be here, the plan was just to get my qualifier race done in Arizona and hopefully I got the necessary Kona points there. However, I really didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to be here for the 30th anniversary event. It’s such a special race, and I guess a part of it was to see if I could secure a three-peat. But really I just wanted to be here. So the plan is to do this race and then hopefully not have to do a full. Well, not really hopefully for me, because the truth is I would love to do another six fulls this year before Kona, but I’m 35 now and I have to be realistic. I’m not getting any younger. In the past I could maybe get away with doing four, five or even six Ironmans in a year but I don’t think that is a good idea now. I don’t think I could do that many Ironmans in a year and still get to Kona and deliver my best performance. I think I really learned that last year. So we’ve fine-tuned my race schedule so that I can come in a little bit fresher this year and I will once again go out there earlier so that I can set myself up for my best race possible there. And that is really my focus. That is our Superbowl, that’s our Olympics of the year, so that is my ultimate goal.
LAVA: You don’t really get a lot of credit as a solid runner, but you have a solid running background and you are capable of winning a race on the run. That said, you are going against some very strong runners, New Zealand’s Candice Hammond to name one, on Saturday. Have you been focusing on the run at all heading into this season and in particular this race?
Meredith Kessler: Oh yes absolutely. I’ve figured out how to deliver in a 70.3, I can run that 1:20, I can even run that 1:19. But honestly I have yet to do what my coach Matt Dixon and I believe that I can do in a marathon. The new black is running a sub-3-hour marathon or even a low 3-hour marathon. So that’s been my focus. I didn’t race Auckland in January because January and February I just really had a very solid block of run training. It wasn’t necessarily more running, it was more controlled intensity so that I can hopefully deliver what I know that I am capable of. And as for this race, well of course you care about placing and as an athlete I always race to win, but my goal is really to deliver the run I know I am capable in an Ironman. And also to feel good doing it and not like I am in a coffin, which is how I felt out there in the lava fields at Kona. So I want to see all that work I’ve been doing pay off. This is a slower course, so I think a low three-hour marathon is more my focus. That said, you can’t be so time focused because things happen in a race that are out of your control. But I do think that the run is the part you can control the most. The swim can be choppy, the bike can be windy or you can get a flat or whatever. So that is what I would like to see, I want to capitalize on all the hard work I’ve put into my run.
LAVA: Does having the multi-loop run course that they have here in Taupo help your chances of a stellar run performance or hinder it?
Meredith Kessler: I think that it helps it actually. I tend to go out on the run like a bat out of hell. In Kona, I felt great for the first mile and I was holding a 6:30 pace. That is too fast, well, that is too fast for me. It’s not too fast for Rinny [Carfrae], but it is for me. I think that if I can control my pace in the first lap and get into a groove, which is my goal. I think if I can control the first part of this run I can do what I do so well in a half marathon, which is negative-split it. So I’m going to use those three loops to my advantage. Control the first loop, build the second and then my third loop should hopefully be my fastest. That is what I have been working so hard to be able to do and I want to be able to showcase that tomorrow.