Archive | IM Texas

Ironman Texas 2019 (April 27th) – Entry List


  • March 6th: Added Palmira Alvarez, Daniela Ryf, Jeanni Seymour, Lesley Smith, Natasha Van der Merwe (WPRO) and Balazs Csoke, Clay Emge, Pedro Gomes, Alexander Schilling, Jonathan Shearon (MPRO)
  • March 7th: Linsey Corbin has indicated that she won’t be racing Texas, also Kirsty Jahn announced a move to running. Both are probably not racing and I have crossed them out in the list. One possible addition is Jocelyn McCauley who said she put in her registration.
  • March 10th: Joe Skipper has announced that IM Texas is going to be his first race of the season.

Kona Slots and Prize Money

IM Texas has 2m+2f +2u Pro Kona slots. It has a total prize purse of 150.000 US$, paying 10 deep.

Male Race Participants

Name Nation
Blake Becker USA
Alexander Berggren SWE
Balazs Csoke HUN
Trevor Delsaut FRA
Pete Dyson GBR
Clay Emge USA
Martin Fredriksson SWE
Pedro Gomes POR
Pablo Gomez COL
Matt Hanson (KQ) USA
Allan Hovda NOR
Colin Laughery USA
Urs Mueller SUI
Sam Proctor GBR
Alexander Schilling GER
Jonathan Shearon USA

Female Race Participants

Name Nation
Palmira Alvarez MEX
Anne Basso FRA
Linsey Corbin (KQ) USA
Dimity-Lee Duke AUS
Hilary Fenton USA
Kirsty Jahn CAN
Jessica Jones USA
Sarah Karpinski USA
Nicole Luse USA
Kimberley Morrison GBR
Angela Naeth CAN
Daniela Ryf (AQ) SUI
Jeanni Seymour ZAF
Lesley Smith USA
Caroline St-Pierre CAN
Natasha Van der Merwe USA
Annah Watkinson ZAF

Texas Performances

When discussing the performances from Ironman Texas, most of the discussion is focused on two extremes: On one side, the position by Ironman seems to be “most everything went right, so the results are legit”. On the other hand, a lot of people argue that the results are invalid, creating an empty feeling by the athletes who did well in Texas.

I want to argue for a middle position – to me, the results shouldn’t be accepted as valid records while at the same time I want to point out some of the amazing performances we have seen in Texas.

No Records in Texas

There were a lot of issues with the Texas race this year, among them:

  • The bike courses short (by Ironman’s own admission), although there is some discussion as to the extent. The general consensus seems to be that the course was close to 110 miles (one example is the GPS data in the Slowtwitch post on Texas). This puts it short of the 112 miles of an Ironman-distance bike leg, but is well within the length of some other courses.
  • There were a lot of reports of blatant drafting, both in the Pro fields and among agegroupers.
  • All non-competitors (including the draft marshals) were pulled from the bike course for “safety reasons”.

By analyzing the results and comparing the Texas times to other performances, there are a number of observations that show how unusually quick the Texas times have been:

  • On average, the Pro athletes in Texas posted bike times that are about 12.2% quicker (or more than 30 minutes for a 4:30 bike ride) compared to their times on an average course, the largest number I have observed in analyzing Ironman-distance races since 2005. The closest bike adjustments are just over 9% (Barcelona 2015, Florida 2013). Just for comparison, the largest adjustment for Challenge Roth (often the “poster child” for a short course) is 5.9% (2009 and 2011).
  • If we accept the bike times, this would mean that 9 of the 10 fastest female bike times were set in the 2018 Texas race. The only non-Texas time would be Daniela Ryf’s 4:31 from Roth 2016.
  • If we accept the overall times, this would mean that there were 9 national records set in Texas this year. Last year’s race was already quick but only created to four new records.

To me, all this is a clear indication that the data from IM Texas 2018 is far outside of the normal parameters. As a consequence, I will not use them to rate the athletes that raced in Texas and will also not use them for future predictions.

Of course, the data cannot show the reason why the results are off. One can only speculate – were there favorable weather conditions (apparently yes, but  it’s hard to imagine improving times by more than a few minutes), was the course short (apparently not by much, at least not shorter than other races that did not produce abnormal data), was there drafting (apparently yes, but of course not uniformly – at least we can be sure that Starky didn’t draft any competitor when he rode his 3:55 bike split), was there a draft by camera motor cycle (unlikely as there wasn’t much coverage of the race and all motos were pulled from the course), etc. Even athletes riding legally will still get a good benefit when they are 12 meters behind a large drafting peloton. Speculating about what has caused a fast time is exactly what I don’t want to do. It’s also impossible to decide on an athlete-by-athlete basis to accept or not accept a performance without a lot more data then what is made available. Of course, this also means that the performance of some athletes get rejected even if they were not impacted by the factors above (or not quite as much) .. and of course I also understand the athlete’s frustration about this.

Still, the Texas times should not be accepted as records. To me, records are like a rubber band – you can stretch it a bit, but when you put too much weight on it, it will break. Following the fastest times across different races and courses was always fun, even if any list of “fastest times” immediately created a lot of “yeah, buts …”. We are now in a place where “raw records” don’t really make much sense.

For a list of fastest times to start making sense again, a few things have to happen:

  • Certify course lengths.
    This would be an excellent project for the ITU and Ironman to tackle. Define a protocol for how to properly measure (incl. what is called “short course prevention” for road race measurements), set up an organization for measuring courses, pre-measure courses and release these measurements before a race. Then define acceptable parameters for “a full Ironman-distance race”, such as will short courses be accepted and some triathlon-specific issues such as currents in the swim.
  • Define minimum officiating standards.
    A lot of the standards are already in place, but often not fully enforced. I can’t see how you can have a record when there are no draft marshals.
  • Give the women a better chance not to be impacted by the agegroup race.
    A ten-minute gap between the Pro women and the fast agegroupers is not sufficient, especially if the Pro swim is without a wetsuit and the agegroup race is wetsuit-legal. Mel Hauschildt wrote on her blog: When the AG men overtake the Pro women, “the women’s race gets put on hold, the safety car comes out and brings the field back together until they’re free to race again a couple hours later.”

Defining the rules on when a race circumstances are acceptable as a record would be a great sign of a further maturing sport. In the absence of these rules, any comparisons between different courses purely on finish time is pretty meaningless and I’m struggling with whether it makes sense to put together any record-lists for now.

Great Performances in Texas

Even if I have argued above that the Texas times are not acceptable as records, there were still a number of great performances in that race. Based on my analysis of race data I have also built an adjustment model that compares results from different courses or races on the same course but different years. These adjustments (creating a course-independent “normalized time”) is not transparent enough to be used as a basis for a “world records list”, but even if the Texas data is likely outside the limits of the model, it still gives a reasonable indication of how the Texas performances compare to performances on other courses.

Here are a few great performances that should get more attention.

Matt Hanson Runs a 2:34 Marathon

When Matt crossed the finish line in first place with a 2:34:39 marathon, I found it hard to believe that the course was accurate – it was almost eight minutes quicker than last year’s winning marathon and seven minutes quicker than his own course record. In addition, by all accounts Matt was working hard on the bike, first being forced to close a gap of three minutes after the swim until the first turnaround and then pushing the pace in the chase group. With the data from the other competitors and GPS data, it seems clear that the course was the same as in previous years and relatively accurate. In my race database (going back to 2005) I could only find 11 sub-2:40 marathons, with the fastest being a 2:37 by Bart Aernouts from IM France 2013 on a course that was likely to be a bit short. (There is also Peter Reid’s 2:35:21 run split at IM Austria 1999, which was short by at least 1.5k.) When looking at the normalized time of Matt’s run, my analysis lists only two better run performances: Patrick Lange’s Kona runs from 2016 and 2017 that were faster by 38 and 44 seconds. I can’t wait to see what happens in Kona when Matt figures out how to run well in Kona!

Mel Hauschildt Wins Her Third Regional Championship on Different Courses

When Mel is healthy and able to train consistently, she is almost impossible to beat. Since stepping up to Ironman racing in 2014, she has won six Ironman races and is unbeaten in any Ironman she raced outside of Kona (DNF in 2016 and a 14th in 2017 when she didn’t have much time to prepare after two surgeries). As is typical for her, Mel lost some time in the Texas swim, she had to make up three minutes to most of her competitors. It took her about 90k to close that gap and usually she’s riding even better in the second half of the bike. In her blog Mel describes how frustrating it was to her to work hard only to be overtaken by agegroup men being able to slingshot behind her and forcing her to sit up to move to a legal distance .. only to have the process repeated again and again. But then Mel was able to show her strong run, took the lead after the first of three run loops and won with a gap of more than 12 minutes. Texas was the third Regional Championship she raced in, and it was also the third she was able to win. Matt Hanson also has three Regional Championship wins as well, but while Matt’s were all in Texas, Mel’s wins were on three different courses: Melbourne 2015, Frankfurt 2016 and now Texas 2018. This shows that Mel can race well on almost any course. If her prep for Kona goes well, we’ll see her mix up the field in Kona – to me she’s a strong podium contender.

Andy Starykowicz Posts a 3:55 Bike Split

The “headline performance” in Texas that caught the most attention was Andy Starykowicz’s blazing fast 3:54:59 bike split – the first sub-4 bike ride in any Ironman race. He was probably the athlete that had the least benefit from the issues discussed in the section above, after all there is no draft at the front of the race. Andy exited the swim with the front group and quickly rode away from the rest of the field. In T2 he had a lead of more than 14 minutes to the chase group. His bike time was more than eight minutes quicker than Johannes Ackerman’s (who tried to go with him but had to let go after the half-way mark) and more than eleven minutes quicker than anyone else in the field. He was clearly riding a step above everyone else in the field. Regardless of whether you accept his bike split as a world record or not, sponsors should be happy to pay out the bonuses to Andy – it’s not his fault that the race had a few issues, and he delivered what he set out to do. After his amazing bike split, Andy also posted one of his best run splits – he ran a 3:00:57 (his best run split is a 2:58 from Florida 2013) and finished in eighth place, securing his Kona slot. He’ll be one more strong bike rider in the Kona field – and I’m sure that he’ll join forces with Cam Wurf to lower the 2018 Kona race even further than what we’ve seen last October. With their bike strength and the progress on the run both Andy and Cam are working for, they will be making Kona even more exciting.

Lauren Brandon Has the Fastest Swim Overall

In all the coverage of the Texas race, the female swim was only a side note. But Lauren Brandon managed something that is rarely seen: Her 48:19 was the fastest swim split overall! (The fastest male was Sean Donnelly with a 49:06, he DNF’d.) She also put more than five minutes into Meredith Kessler and eight minutes into the rest of the female field. With her swim she set a new course record (improving on her own time from last year) and also swam faster than she and Lucy Charles did in Hawaii last October (also a non-wetsuit swim). Comparing swim times across races is tricky because the conditions can vary quite a lot, but Lauren’s swim is one of the best swim performances we have ever seen by a female Pro. If the conditions are right, I’m sure she and Lucy Charles will attack the swim course record in Kona.

Great Returns From Injury by Will Clarke and Matt Russell

Some of the most satisfying results came from athletes that raced Texas after being seriously injured. Will Clarke was qualified for Kona but had to decline his slot after he crashed on the bike and hurt his shoulder. It has taken him some time to regain decent mobility in the shoulder again and his prep races at 70.3 Dubai and Challenge Roma did not quite go according to plan. But he was in great shape for Texas and a third-best run split allowed him to claim the final step on the podium. He’s now in a good position to qualify for Kona 2018.

Another athlete I was very happy to see race in Texas was Matt Russell. Matt was hit by a car during the race in Kona and almost got killed when he lost a lot of blood. After a few days in the hospital he needed some time to recover but by now he seems to have made a full recovery. He posted the third-best bike split making up the time he lost in the swim to the front group, but he wasn’t yet able to deliver his typical 2:50-ish run split in Texas. A 3:02 run saw him fall back to 14th place. It’ll be tough for him to qualify for Kona, but typically he’s been doing five to seven IMs per year – hopefully he’ll be able to continue to race often and well!

Ironman Texas 2018 – Analyzing Results

Course Conditions

As you can see from a quick glimpse at the results, this year’s IM Texas was super-fast. This first impression is also supported by my analysis of athlete’s performances, cross-referencing their times from other courses to IM Texas. Compared to previous editions, the results of Pro athletes this year have been about 12 minutes faster on average than last year. The swim and bike have been pretty normal for IM Texas. Even with Matt Hanson’s winning marathon time of 2:34:39, the run course was on the same course as in previous years, the times may even have been slightly slower.

The discussion on various social media is focused on the bike times. (The bike leg is where the times were much faster than in previous years.) Part of it was from a shortened course, as acknowledged by Ironman Texas on their Facebook page:


I’m not sure if this FB post is telling the whole story of the bike course length: By a number of accounts the course was short last year, and the course maps showed that it was shortened even more for this year. However, it is nice that Ironman acknowledges the course was short and not eligible for any records. I will also consider the IM Texas results “invalid” and will not use them for fastest times or performances. (The comparisons between expected and actual times in the tables below are my best effort of analyzing the race.)

But even the shortened bike course is not telling the real story of the fast bike times at IM Texas. By almost all accounts from the race, there was rampant drafting going on during the bike leg, both in the Pro and agegroup ranks. Here are just a few observations from social media about the race:

  • In the briefing, the Pros were told that there likely wouldn’t be any draft marshaling in the second loop of the bike (Tweet by Ray Botelho).
  • Because of the crowding on the bike course, marshalls were pulled off the course during the race (Tweet by Tim Vibrock).
  • The main part of the bike course is an out-and-back on the three-lane Hardy Road. One lane is supposed to be for the out-leg, one for the back-leg and the third lane (the shoulder lane) for marshalls. Apparently this breaks down as soon as the bulk of AGs enters the road, and it’s no longer safe for officials to use the third lane (series of tweets by Kirk Noyes).
  • At least one Pro, Dimity-Lee Duke, abandoned the race when she didn’t want to join in the drafting going on (see her Instagram post).

While there were some crazy fast times on the bike (such as Andy Starykowicz’s 3:55, more than 8 minutes faster than anyone else in the field, or Jen Annett’s 4:25 followed by 4:27s and a 4:29) and also on the run (not only Matt Hanson’s 2:34:39, two sub-3 runs in the female field by Mel Hauschildt and Lesley Smith and also a number of what would have been PRs), the shortened bike course and the drafting make any “what would have been” a pure guessing game.

All in all, it was disappointing to see a Regional Championship provide such a frustrating race for most everyone involved. Of course there is a personal responsibility not to draft, but when there is no effort in enforcing the drafting rules and packs are forming, no one is held to a standard that is expected of Pro athletes (and age groupers as well).

The race organizers worked hard to come up with a course that’s acceptable to all communities involved. But Ironman could always be trusted to provide a good, reliable racing experience, and this year’s IM Texas fell short of that standard. I hope that the organizers will address the issues for future races in Texas.

Male Race Results

Rank Name Nation Swim Bike Run Time (Diff to exp.) Prize Money KPR Points
1 Matt Hanson USA 00:52:31 04:07:27 02:34:39 07:39:25 -26:33 US$ 30,000 4000
2 Ivan Tutukin RUS 00:49:30 04:10:21 02:35:19 07:39:57 -19:10 US$ 15,000 3400
3 Will Clarke GBR 00:49:49 04:09:58 02:40:43 07:45:22 -18:43 US$ 8,000 2890
4 Tim Van Berkel AUS 07:47:43 -08:17 US$ 6,500 2455
5 Jan van Berkel SUI 00:49:28 04:10:14 02:44:17 07:48:40 -16:21 US$ 5,000 2090
6 Brent McMahon CAN 00:49:26 04:10:26 02:44:52 07:49:49 02:26 US$ 3,500 1670
7 Ruedi Wild SUI 00:49:22 04:10:22 02:45:00 07:50:19 -08:32 US$ 2,500 1335
8 Andrew Starykowicz USA 00:49:27 03:54:59 03:00:57 07:50:56 -15:27 US$ 2,000 1070
9 Frederik Van Lierde BEL 00:49:25 04:10:29 02:48:32 07:53:43 -01:29 US$ 1,500 855
10 Johann Ackermann GER 00:49:15 04:03:19 02:59:38 07:57:02 -14:07 US$ 1,000 685
11 Jeremy Jurkiewicz FRA 02:55:00 07:58:45 -11:23 515
12 David Plese SLO 00:54:09 04:13:36 02:47:07 08:00:33 -06:03 385
13 Paul Matthews AUS 00:49:23 04:10:48 03:01:35 08:06:14 03:57 290
14 Matthew Russell USA 00:54:07 04:05:56 03:02:38 08:07:42 03:55 215
15 Matic Modic SLO 00:56:44 04:14:15 02:53:05 08:09:39 -09:08 160
16 Samuel Huerzeler SUI 00:54:47 04:11:48 02:58:13 08:10:43 -06:22 120
17 Kristian Hoegenhaug DEN 00:54:55 04:11:31 02:59:33 08:11:49 16:25 90
18 Daniil Sapunov UKR 00:49:31 04:15:36 03:01:58 08:12:48 -02:55 70
19 Justin Daerr USA 00:52:21 04:19:46 03:01:43 08:19:07 06:50 50
20 Jesse Vondracek USA 00:52:41 04:17:55 03:04:10 08:20:21 -15:42 40
21 Sebastian Najmowicz POL 00:49:33 04:20:47 03:05:55 08:21:51 n/a 25
22 Alexander Chikin RUS 00:56:16 04:19:42 03:03:07 08:25:22 -12:53 25
23 Blake Becker USA 00:58:52 04:21:52 03:02:17 08:28:17 -21:44 25
24 Seppe Odeyn BEL 01:09:15 04:21:15 02:53:41 08:30:07 -07:46 25
25 James Capparell USA 00:49:32 04:21:43 03:15:45 08:32:24 -00:54 25
26 Jozsef Major HUN 00:59:12 04:27:30 03:02:51 08:37:28 20:47 25
27 Raymond Botelho USA 00:58:57 04:20:20 03:17:31 08:43:03 -07:33 25
28 Jordan Monnink CAN 00:56:53 04:33:08 03:06:53 08:43:40 06:41 25
29 James Lubinski USA 01:07:13 04:24:34 03:09:21 08:47:01 03:34 25
30 Mike Schifferle SUI 01:03:43 04:26:35 03:18:31 08:58:03 17:22 25
31 Peter Kotland CZE 00:59:00 04:34:34 03:24:48 09:05:49 -09:12 20
32 Per Bittner GER 00:54:47 04:33:03 03:41:52 09:15:13 1:08:13 20
33 Tripp Hipple USA 00:53:42 04:18:37 03:56:42 09:15:16 58:44 20
34 Max Biessmann USA 00:52:25 04:25:18 03:53:10 09:16:20 -23:30 20
35 Ohad Sinai ISR 01:05:52 04:28:26 03:46:25 09:27:14 -04:17 20
36 Christopher Stock USA 01:09:25 04:31:12 03:59:04 09:50:11 n/a 20
37 Ignacio Rubio Gomez ESP 00:59:20 04:42:53 05:15:08 11:06:53 25:48 20
Michael Fox AUS 00:49:08 04:10:54 DNF
Sean Donnelly GER 00:49:06 04:15:29 DNF
Mikolaj Luft POL 00:53:52 04:16:51 DNF
Trevor Delsaut FRA 00:54:52 04:48:43 DNF

Tim Berkel lost hos timing chip in the swim and his maraton time in the results (2:51) does not correspond to how the race developed. By his own data he swam in the 49-minute group, rode a 4:10 (coming off the bike in 4th place) and then ran a 2:43. Jeremy Jurkiewicz probably also had issues with his chip, I’m not sure how accurate his marathon time is.

Female Race Results

Rank Name Nation Swim Bike Run Time (Diff to exp.) Prize Money KPR Points
1 Melissa Hauschildt AUS 00:59:07 04:29:55 02:57:07 08:31:05 -17:16 US$ 30,000 4000
2 Jodie Robertson USA 01:00:42 04:27:30 03:08:52 08:43:16 -14:10 US$ 15,000 3400
3 Lesley Smith USA 00:57:50 04:39:56 02:58:47 08:43:51 -23:04 US$ 8,000 2890
4 Michelle Vesterby DEN 00:56:05 04:33:11 03:11:20 08:45:47 -04:10 US$ 6,500 2455
5 Sara Svensk SWE 00:59:33 04:32:33 03:09:53 08:46:49 -19:54 US$ 5,000 2090
6 Meredith Kessler USA 00:53:47 04:34:32 03:13:27 08:47:44 03:37 US$ 3,500 1670
7 Jen Annett CAN 01:02:23 04:25:10 03:16:52 08:49:27 -12:11 US$ 2,500 1335
8 Kimberley Morrison GBR 00:56:23 04:27:45 03:21:54 08:50:59 -13:47 US$ 2,000 1070
9 Tine Deckers BEL 00:59:29 04:35:01 03:17:18 08:57:34 02:50 US$ 1,500 855
10 Darbi Roberts USA 00:56:19 04:41:32 03:15:27 08:59:03 -19:31 US$ 1,000 685
11 Caroline Gregory USA 00:59:31 04:43:00 03:17:18 09:05:06 -1:00:29 515
12 Helena Kotopulu CZE 01:12:20 04:45:39 03:09:55 09:15:02 -08:51 385
13 Lauren Brandon USA 00:48:19 04:38:15 03:48:20 09:20:16 19:18 290
14 Kelly Fillnow USA 01:07:56 04:46:43 03:20:33 09:21:26 -04:56 215
15 Robyn Hardage CAN 01:03:18 04:50:34 03:22:02 09:22:13 -14:54 160
16 Amanda Wendorff USA 01:02:26 04:34:46 03:56:19 09:39:51 09:49 120
17 Kimberly Goodell USA 01:03:46 04:52:41 03:40:03 09:43:13 07:45 90
Jocelyn McCauley USA 00:56:51 04:32:12 DNF
Dimity-Lee Duke AUS 00:59:39 DNF
Helena Herrero Gomez ESP 01:03:45 DNF
Ashley Paulson USA 01:19:00 DNF

Kona Qualifying Implications

Here are the top men and their Kona qualifying chances:

  • Automatic Qualifier: Matt Hanson, Frederik Van Lierde (validated his AQ as former Kona champion)
  • Safe: Tim Van Berkel, Ivan Tutukin and Andy Starykowicz
  • On the Bubble: Brent McMahon, Jan Van Berkel
  • Close (but more points needed): Ruedi Wild, Will Clarke, Jeremy Jurkiewicz

And a look at the females and their race to Kona:

  • Automatic Qualifier: Mel Hauschildt
  • Safe: Lesley Smith
  • On the Bubble: Tine Deckers
  • Close (but more points needed): Jodie Robertson, Michelle Vesterby

Athlete Focus: Brent McMahon

Brent entered the world of long-distance racing with a huge bang: He won IM Arizona 2014 with a time of 7:55:48 which is still the fastest IM debut ever. He continued his first season as an Ironman athlete with another sub-8 finish at IM Brasil and a ninth place in Kona. Since then he’s been racing at a similar level, winning IM Brasil in 2016 and IM Lake Placid 2017. But he hasn’t been able to make that next step forward that everyone seems to be waiting for: His Kona results were not what he was looking for (30th in 2016, DNF in 2017), and while he raced well in Arizona, his results were overshadowed by Lionel Sanders winning the race three times in a row. Brent is now lining up to race his first 2018 Ironman in Texas.

Thorsten: Looking back on your 2017 season, it seems to have been lots of lows and highs.

Brent: It was certainly an up and down year which was frustrating because my fitness was always there. The down races could have just as easily been great races because I was fit and ready .. but “bad luck” (for lack of a better word) is just what happened.

SuperLeague was one of those opportunities that you have to take. I wanted to be part of such a cool new format, a little nostalgic for me from when I was younger and racing the short stuff. I enjoyed it but the really short and fast stuff is no longer in my wheelhouse and the risk is too high. I was taken down in SuperLeaue and had to get thumb surgery.

Once recovered I went to Brasil ready to duke it out with Tim Don – then I got a sinus infection the week of the race. I carried my fitness into Lake Placid and I was super happy to win with a new course record. I knew I’d have a great race there, I was fit for the whole season but just haven’t been able to race before. Lake Placid was an indication that the fitness is there and I raced 70.3 Worlds to get a solid effort before my Kona build.

Kona went sideways when I got stung by a jellyfish all over my calf warming up, maybe four minutes before the start. It hurt like hell but I couldn’t get out and do anything about it, so I just had to go and see what happens. Towards the end of the swim my asthma started to flare up, once on the bike anything I ate or drank just came back up. It was hurting a lot with the wind blowing on it. I just wasn’t able to keep going. Tactically, I’m comfortable with Kona. I know where I need to be, and I was able to do that the first year I raced there. I just have to do the same thing and get my hydration right for the marathon – and then run what I’m capable of which should be under 2:50. We’re figuring that puzzle out and I feel pretty comfortable that we’ll have it completely sorted by the middle of this year.

After Kona I went to Arizona, I’m comfortable on that course and had a solid day to finish second. Of course Lionel is always pushing the pace there and it wasn’t one of my top performances. I was just happy to carry the fitness from Kona into another race and finish the season with another solid Ironman. Then I took a good off-season to regroup, put things behind me and focus on this year. I think I’ve had enough bad luck and am excited for this season!

Brent AZ Bike  1

T: How did you prepare for Texas? Any heat camps to avoid the Canadian winter?

I have a training base on Maui with friends. I’ve been there for all of March and I will probably go back there in September and early October to get ready for Kona. Daniela asked me all about it last year, I spilled some good parts but told her to keep it on the down low. It’s awesome there but there’s not a ton of triathletes there.

I did one prep race in Davao. [Brent finished in tenth place with an uncharacteristic slow half marathon of 1:45.] We were trying to figure out the nutrition and hydration for hot weather. I was taking too much sodium so I started cramping up halfway on the bike. On the run I was also cramping up pretty badly, and it took me until the halfway of the run to take up enough water and start to jog again. We tried some different things that obviously didn’t work. I’ve had a few races with symptoms of cramping, but we think we now have the dosage figured out which should allow me to race better in Kona. It’s hard to take these beat-downs, but as long as you’re learning from it then it’s worthwhile.

T: Have you had a chance to explore the course in The Woodlands? 

I got in Tuesday evening and have been checking out the course. The bike course is a long interstate highway that we go South and then turn around and come back. There are a few turns at the start and the end, but the middle 160k is all straight and flat. It’s similar to Brasil and Arizona once you get on the main part of the loop. This course has some overpasses but essentially it’s flat. It’ll be about pacing, being consistent and strong towards the end. Similar to Arizona I think there’ll be some groups on the bike. It’ll probably be a little tighter for the first 90k and then things will break apart on the second 90k. You just have to balance your efforts and see who’s doing what. At the start it’s similar to Kona where there’ll be a group and you have to bide your time and make your move at the right time for you.

T: What will you and the others do when Starky is going off the front?

He’s going to do what he’s going to do. I have my own kind of race plan, even if I have a mediocre marathon I can run ten minutes into Starky. If it starts to get towards 30 minutes then it’s something to worry about. But if we’re in the ten to 20-minute range then I’m going count on my run being there and being smart on the bike.

T: What about the other good runners in the field?

Everybody wants to be in a good position coming off the bike, Starky is going to do his thing off the front, the rest of us runners will try to drop some of the other runners. There are enough competitive guys here to push the pace regardless of what’s happening way off the front on the bike. Not everybody wants to be sitting in and just have a marathon – I race triathlon so I’m trying to make everyone work, make the bike hard and then get off and run fast.

Brent Run AZ

I’ve raced Will Clarke on the half distance and Matt Hanson has run really fast here in Texas. Fred Van Lierde is a Kona champion, he knows how to race well and he knows how to bike and run. I’ll pay attention to them, but ultimately I have my own race and I’m going to do my efforts. If these guys are around, then they’re around, and if not they’re not. We’ll see who’s riding low-4 hours and running low 2:40s.

T: Assuming you secure Kona qualifying in Texas, what’s the plan for the rest of the year?

I’ll be staying in North America this season, doing a little less travel and focus more on being home. We’ve got 70.3 Victoria in my hometown that I haven’t been able to do the last years. I live on the trails and the roads that we race on, so I’m looking forward to that. Then I’ll head over to Tremblant at the end of June. Before Kona, I also plan do 70.3 Cebu, the Asia Pacific Regional Championship race – the climate will be a good test for my Kona hydration. I won’t be doing 70.3 Worlds this year, I’ll just take a big block into Kona.

I’m also looking into doing IM Canada in Whistler. It’s one of the races I’ve been looking to do since I’ve started racing Ironman. It’s a good strength with a lot of climbing on the bike, it’s a good hard event so it’ll be good training to get in the legs. It looks like a good opportunity to race without much travel. When I feel strong and healthy at that time of the year, it’s still far enough out from Kona that I can take a bit of a break in August and then train up for Kona. Doing Lake Placid last year put me in a fairly good spot through August, with no 70.3 Worlds this year it could work out well. Even if you take a break, you’re still holding most of your fitness it’s more about getting your adrenal system rested, then you can carry your strength and the aerobic fitness into the two-month training block for Kona which is enough time. But we’ll make the call a little bit later, also depending on how the body feels after this weekend and a couple more races.

Texas is a big race on the Pro race calendar, and obviously a big one for Brent as well. A good result such as a Top 5 should take care of qualifying and will allow Brent to plan the rest of the year leading into Kona as he wants to. But I’m sure that he has his eyes on the win in Texas. I have him seeded in first place (full seedings for IM Texas) but the margins are pretty small.

There are likely to be changing alliances throughout the race: For most of the bike the stronger runners will probably work together to keep Starky’s lead from growing too large – while at the same not exerting too much energy to save their legs for the run and letting the others do most of the work. With Brent but also Matt, Fred,  and Will there are experienced Ironman racers that have shown they can work in this tactically difficult situation.

I’m looking forward to following an interesting race, and I hope that Brent can plan an important role in it!

(Photos: Brent on the bike and run at IM Arizona, supplied by Brent and his team.)

Athlete Focus: Meredith Kessler

Meredith Kessler is one of the most prolific Ironman racers. She raced a ton of IMs as an age-grouper, since turning Pro in 2009 she has 27 finishes! (In the Texas field, the only woman with more Pro finishes is 47-year-old Dede Griesbauer with 28 finishes.) After finishing third in Ironman New Zealand 2017 (full results here), she announced that she was pregnant and took a break from professional racing. Son Mak Ace Kessler (spelled either Mak or MAK, his initials and also short form for his parents’ names Meredith and Aaron Kessler) was born in November, too close to reclaim her New Zealand title in March 2018. I’ve had a chance to chat with Meredith before her comeback race at IM Texas  at the end of April.

Thorsten: You’ve raced IM New Zealand in 2017 without knowing you were pregnant, how active have you been able to stay during the rest of the pregnancy?

Meredith: Exercising and training have always been a way of life, and this didn’t change when internally growing a human! I am a big believer in maintaining your lifestyle during pregnancy. After all, we are pregnant, not powerless! The intensity was not the same, and there were no 5-hour rides outdoors, yet it was relaxing to me to keep up on exercising two to four hours every day while pregnant up until giving birth. Running on the treadmill, swimming (the most!), strength training, and indoor bike trainer workouts were all part of the routine. This gradually became walking on the treadmill, using my buoy a bunch in the pool, and slower indoor bike rides. Healthy mom and healthy baby!

T: After giving birth to MAK, how was your return to training?

Giving birth is traumatic on the body; there are no ifs, ands or buts about it! From the havoc it inflicts on the body, to the emotions, and lack of sleep, you end up just running on adrenaline. Knowing this going in, I tried to get copious amounts of sleep in the months leading up to the birth, though you are never prepared for the actual thing.

In addition, my personal labor was a little hectic in that I ended up needing an emergency c-section after 20 hours of labor. My birth plan was simple: To have a HEALTHY baby and that was what needed to happen in order to do that. Sure, recovery from that was a bit more invasive than I had imagined; yet, just like in sport with injuries, it was key to let the body guide the way.

Swimming came first, about two weeks post MAK (no flip turns for a bit!) and biking at about four weeks. Running was much more of a labored process. After studying and chatting with many athletes who gave birth, the main thing, again, was to just listen to the body and not go out too hard because overcompensating hurt areas can lead to damage elsewhere. I tried running very slowly (we’re talking 12 minutes per mile) eight weeks post MAK and just widdled away at that day by day. There were tolerable days and there were days where the body said NO to that. I would say for the swim/bike, it was about 12-14 weeks that I was gradually back to harder interval sessions and for the run it was a few more weeks after that as I needed to spend time building the base.

MAK will have just turned 5 months come IRONMAN Texas and it is amazing how resilient the body can be if we just allow it to do its thing! Could I have used a few more weeks? Absolutely. I’m sure many others could have as well yet I look forward to going out there and doing the best that I can muster – and seeing MAK and my husband at the finish will be so rewarding and appreciated!

T: How did your “daily routine” change with MAK in the picture?

With a new boy in the mix, we have adjusted our routine accordingly. We are on his schedule –  he is the boss, ha! Once we get a schedule down, we have to be adaptable because it can change in a heartbeat. The most significant difference is the timing of my workouts. With my training partners in California, we were starting at 5:30 am and everything would be done before noon depending on the day. Now, my workouts may begin at 9 am. There could be a swim with high schoolers which starts at 4 pm and so forth so the day is much more spread out.

Mbk mak bike

Some of my best sleep comes between 4 and 7 am so these hours are crucial for my well being as the adaptation between fueling MAK up and resting takes place. It also is advantageous that my husband works from home, so he plans his schedule around my training and helping with taking care of Mak. If we did not have this luxury, we would absolutely need to hire a nanny to do our jobs yet we had been hopeful for this for a long time and planned accordingly. It is indeed a team effort and of course there are times when Mak needs his mommy so it is demanding, awesome, challenging, and rewarding all wrapped into one and I am stilling pinching myself that he is real!

T: When we chatted in the fall last year, you mentioned that you’d love to do IM New Zealand in March, but now IM Texas is your first race back. 

Taupo, New Zealand is a second home for us; we love it there, so of course it was hard to miss the iconic Ironman New Zealand. We missed hanging with our friends, going to the beautiful Poronui fly fishing resort and enjoying good times and living the lush life New Zealand has to offer. However, it did not make sense for many reasons to go all the way there and not be able to give all that you could on race day; we just didn’t know how the body would react, so we decided Ironman Texas was the right call to give ample recovery time.

I have been racing a long time, and I am counting on this knowledge and the body remembering (c’mon muscle memory!) what it takes to get to that finish line! There is no substitute for experience, and this breeds comfort. With that being said, there is always the fear of the unknown though what I have found is that the body can be resilient and you need to test it to see what it can do. As I mentioned, I equate this to an injury, which I have had my fair share, and trying to bounce back into race shape. Yes, there will be stumbling blocks, yet you don’t know where you are unless you go out there and do it – and TRY.

Mbk runT: Texas is a race that’s usually decided with a stellar marathon.Since the run is probably the hardest to come back from after giving birth, what are your expectations before Texas?

There is the good kind of nervous and the bad kind. The right kind is knowing you have done the work and you are up for competition which is why you race. If you are human, you have this type of excitement or nervousness. The wrong kind is if you are unsure if you have done the work and you are questioning your fitness. There isn’t much scaring going on in triathlon; you either race to your potential or you don’t, and the chips fall where they may. I’m not sure how many competitors will be shaking in their boots about a 39-year-old who just gave birth and hasn’t raced in a year, so let’s go out there, give it some gumption and have fun in the process!

The run, in any Ironman, is where all of your inconsistencies, deficiencies, and inadequacies come to light. You always go in with the mindset that you will complete a dominant run, but this is where that lack of hydration a month ago or lousy fueling day a couple of weeks back come to the forefront. All you can do is trust your process, do all the little things, and compete.  It’s those little things that help to make the bigger things happen. It’s about showing up every day and doing what you can to become a better athlete and racer. I have really enjoyed trying to do these things – now with Mak leading the charge!

T: What are your goals beyond Texas for this and the next seasons?

The goal for 2018 is to show that being a mother, wife, sister, aunt, friend, triathlete, and living a balanced life can be done. I was always so inspired by the age group triathletes that competed in triathlon with loving families in tow. Now, I am so thankful to be in their boat, and the journey will be rewarding and hopefully inspirational to others like they were for me!  And heck yeah, these old legs still have many more years of competing with Kona being a puzzle (for me) to continue to try to solve!

T: Thanks so much for the chat, Meredith, and all the best for race day!

Based on the numbers (see my seedings for IM Texas),  MBK is certainly one of the athletes in the mix for a win in Texas, but everyone (including Meredith!) will have to wait for race  day to see how much of her potential she’s able to show just five months after giving birth. I hope that she can have an enjoyable race day (at least for most of the day) and a result that she can build on for the rest of the season.

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