Meredith Kessler, Ironman New Zealand Champion: A Review
By: Matt Dixon, Coach of pro-triathlete Meredith Kessler
In March of 2015 Meredith became Ironman New Zealand Champion for the fourth time in a row, breaking her own course record for the second year in succession. This marvelous achievement, on such a historic course, is something that we don't take lightly. I thought it may be interesting to gain insight into the riding portion of her race with a little look at her power file.
Meredith Kessler's Ironman New Zealand 2015 Power File
Before we dive into my perspective on the ride itself, it is important to put the race preparation in perspective. For Meredith, Ironman New Zealand has become a staple of the annual racing calendar, even though it obviously sits at the very early part of the racing season. Due to these logistics her preparation does not typically resemble a classic Ironman preparation. In fact, this year was complicated with a big race (Challenge Dubai) happening prior to the New Zealand race, as well as a shift in training approach for this season.
Meredith's bike in the Ironman New Zealand transition area.
As Meredith creeps toward the later stages of her elite career, it becomes more important to focus on recovery and “gaps” between really challenging sessions. In addition, her “need” for big miles begin to diminish, as we evolve and aim to get more out of key sessions. With this, the winter months were spent aiming to increase power and speed potential, almost mimicking an Olympic Distance type athlete's work. The big miles were missing from preparation, with very limited outside riding (most was completed on an indoor trainer), and no rides over 120 km, nor runs over 90 minutes. This certainly left Meredith a little rusty on her riding “form” and skills, especially around terrain management. This is something we have worked hard on over the last years, but hadn't polished leading into the race.
Meredith Kessler during her Ironman New Zealand 2015 fastest-bike split of 5:04:29.
A further complication to race week was that Meredith spent much of the week laid up in bed with sickness and, more than once, I was worried about her being able to start. This affected the strategy and the output on race day. Looking at the file, the overall output was certainly lower than her training potential, but this was assumed to going to be the case with both the prior race, travel and race week sickness. We decided to attack this issue with a very strong effort early, to get “out of sight” early in the race. In prior years, Meredith has built into the ride with a lower output, and then been very strong in the last half. We wanted to avoid any repeat of this, to ensure that she could pad a larger gap into the run, and then manage and necessary to get the result. This is shown with the higher output as she leaves the swim to bike transition. It may sound like genius planning, but a big part of this was Meredith's reaction on race day, as she swam a little slower than usual, simply due to a navigational error. She is experienced enough, and resilient enough, not to panic, but make strategic decisions on race effort dependent on the situation.
As you review the file, it is important to realize that Meredith knows this course very well, and realizes that the varying of power/output to make speed on this race terrain. You will notice various increases in power to navigate the crests of rollers or small hills. It does seem that her timing is a little off on some sections of this, as speed, cadence and output are mismatched, but we may be able to put this down to simple terrain management, or the natural ebb and flow of her physical resources at the time.
The second half of the ride was at a lower output, which is in contrast to how she has traditionally ridden this course. Race day did bring some rising temperatures and increased winds, but the output drop was likely down to the little early surges to gain time, as well as the depletion from sickness. The key was that Meredith didn't fight to ride a certain split, and was aware enough to manage the ride well, and aim to set up a solid run, instead of stubbornly fighting for the fastest bike split or time gains going to the run. The result was one of her better and more controlled runs. Even split, completed with great form (which we have been working on), and a marvelous performance to cap off a great day.
Peak Power Chart
Overall, despite some questions and limitations going in, the accolades go to Meredith for refusing to “guess” her level of performance, and simply aiming to maximize the resources she had on the day. While the output was lower than potential, it was well dosed within the dynamics of the race, and still set her up for a record breaking performance.
Meredith Kessler at the finish of her 4th annual Ironman New Zealand victory.
Matt Dixon is one of the leading endurance coaches in the world. He brings a unique background of professional coaching experience, elite athletics and education to lead the purplepatch team. He is a highly sought-after resource in the endurance community, writing and contributing to multiple publications such as Triathlete Magazine, Lava Magazine, Outside Magazine and Triathlete Europe.
His Master's degree in clinical and exercise physiology, as well as his experience as an elite swimmer and professional triathlete, form the backbone of his coaching philosophy, but it is his incredible ability to lead, educate and develop all levels of athletes to their potential with his excellent communication style that makes him such a sought after resource. You can follow him on the purplepatch blog, Facebook or Twitter @purplepatch.