Athlete Report: 6 Lessons Learned at Ironman Arizona
By Meredith Kessler, Professional Triathlete
Race reports are difficult to write for a large audience because they are cathartic for the individual racer, almost like a diary, yet the immense detail can lose the reader. It is kind of like when you describe a dream to someone; it is deeply personal to you but the individual who is listening starts drifting.
With that in mind, I try not to describe my race by going through each detail succinctly from what I ate to when I was in the porta-potty. Instead, it is sometimes better for me to describe events leading into and during the race that are learning experiences.
We recently completed our book, Life of a Triathlete: Race Preparation, where we discuss the things I have learned through my 60+ Ironman and countless half distance races to hopefully help athletes reach their triathlon goals quicker than they would on their own.
The truth is, I am still gaining knowledge through every event; it is impossible to know everything in regard to mastering the three distinct disciplines of swimming, biking, and running.
Here are some things learned during Ironman Arizona 2016!
The body can be resilient.
I have been battling a high hamstring pull for two years that got worse after Ironman New Zealand 2016 this past March. Extensive rehab has been performed on it, and I took time off to hopefully get it back to where I could race somewhat pain free. The injury was not ready in Kona and I had the same feelings getting off the bike in Arizona. However, after mile 18, the body pulled through to be able to get to that finish line with much more gusto.
Sometimes the body surprises you; it is a complicated machine that endures a lot of punishment. At some point, it all just went numb, adrenaline took over and I could carry on with my desired Ironman race pace. I guess the lesson is you do not know an injury has been healed unless you test it, bringing it to the brink of failure.
It pays to be meticulous with your preparation
My husband and I try to prepare for everything that could potentially go wrong before a race. This includes checklists, double checking equipment, and making sure we know the exact schedule as to where to go and when.
For some reason, I had an inclination that I needed to bring an extra kit in the car race morning. Sure enough, when I was putting on my ROKA wetsuit 10 minutes before T1 closed, the zipper on the race kit broke completely. My husband sprinted to the car and got the other kit; we made it into T1 in the nick of time.
If you think something could go wrong and you don't prepare for it, the odds are it will - so it is vital to prepare to the fullest! The one time you forget to charge your di2 on a long training ride, it goes out or if you forget your fix-a-flat, you get a flat. Double and triple check; you never know when you will need spare gear!
You have to adjust your hydration & nutrition.
There is no cookie cutter approach to hydration and nutrition on race day; everyone is different.
You should have a foundation on what you need to do in perfect conditions, yet this will understandably need to be adjusted as the temperature, wind, and course changes. What I consumed at Ironman Arizona was far different than in Kona. This may sound like an obvious statement but far too often we go with what has worked in the past without thinking about the changing conditions.
Crowded bike course, being very AWARE and paying attention is vital.
The Ironman Arizona bike course is a crowded, three-loop video game. Since everyone is fighting the same battle of sifting through crowds of riders, all you can do is adjust to the course. You constantly need to monitor your PowerTap computer in order to stay on pace because it is easy to drift out of paying attention to your effort and into focusing on the multitudes of athletes.
A good rhythm and combination of making sure you are within your allotted watts and keeping the proper distance from the other riders will help you stay safe and hopefully lock in a quality bike time.
You have to pound hydration after a race to avoid the dreaded dehydration headache.
Going to drug testing after a successful race has saved me from the agonizing post-Ironman headache. You are forced to ingest liquids to be able to go the bathroom where, in other circumstances, you usually forget this crucial step because of Ironman brain.
It is crucial to get some good protein and liquids in after a race so that you can get on the proper course of recovery. In addition to water, I immediately take Vector450 and a half of a Red Bull. The Vector450 helps the post-Ironman depleted immune system stay healthy and it also reduces inflammation of the muscles. The Red Bull provides necessary B vitamins while the small amount of caffeine (nothing more than a half cup of coffee) helps prevent a headache and also makes me more mentally acute after an IRONMAN!
Defending champion is a responsibility & honor.
Racing with a target on your back as the returning champion is a lot different than competing without the fanfare. You have a responsibility to come prepared and compete to the best of your abilities. It is an honor to have this added pressure.
It's important to transform with pressure: we need to stay calm, control what we can control and do our best. As long as we do those things, the rest, regardless of result, will fall into place.
Meredith Kessler grew up in Columbus, Ohio, and attended Syracuse University on a Field Hockey Scholarship. Using her college graduation money she purchased her first tri-bike in 2000 and never looked back.
Since then Meredith has competed in over 60 full Ironman races all over the world. When she's not racing or spending time with her husband Aaron (also her high school sweetheart!), she's writing a series of manuals called "Life of a Triathlete". You can stay up to date with Meredith at her website, on Facebook, or @mbkessler on Twitter and Instagram.