Professional triathlete, Meredith Kessler, is someone who strives to acquire proficiency in more than just one field while living her philosophy of BALANCE in life. She enjoys coaching several athletes under the purplepatch umbrella while maintaining a rigorous daily training schedule as an elite Ironman triathlete.
Meredith grew up in Columbus, Ohio where she was a 4-sport athlete and was inducted into her high school’s Athletic Hall of Fame. Meredith went on to receive a Division I athletic scholarship at Syracuse University where she participated in field hockey and track. After graduation in 2000, she used her graduation money to purchase her first triathlon bike and entered in a full Ironman (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run) 2 weeks later.
She sat down with GOTRIbal and offered up some poignant advice for women wanting to live the active, endurance sports lifestyle.
GOTRIbal: You were a 4-sport athlete growing up, even winning a scholarship to Syracuse where you participated in track and field hockey. How did you make the transition to multisport?
Meredith: I was fortunate to find triathlon shortly after graduating from college in 2000. In addition to playing team sports the majority of my youth, I also grew up running and swimming and I thought I would give riding a bike a whirl. I decided to use my college graduation money to buy my first TT bike and I entered my first triathlon, an ironman distance, 2 weeks later! It’s been over a decade later and I am still enjoying the ironman journey.
How do you encourage others who don’t have your athletic background to consider enjoying the lifestyle of a multisport athlete?
Meredith: This is a fantastic question! I did not have the goal of ‘going pro’ when I initially started triathlons as I didn’t think it was a possibility at the time due to life, work, time etc. I think since I have been active and enjoyed playing sports my entire life, I wanted to embrace another outlet after college and to continue this way of life seemed optimal.
You start out this sport just wanting to finish the race which is a huge accomplishment in itself. You then graduate to trying to podium in your age group and then win the entire amateur level. Once you plateau at each stage, you understandably strive for more. You don’t have to compete at an elite level to enjoy all of the positive aspects of triathlon. The benefits of getting involved will help any individual their entire life. These include friendships with like-minded individuals, discipline, work ethic, learning how to get in shape, proper nutrition and hydration, etc…The list goes on and on; in San Francisco, it is the ‘new golf’ meaning it is the way people socialize, do business, get some exercise, and enjoy their day. The triathlon races are growing immensely in popularity and you see all different kinds of abilities, body types, and ages so there is a tremendous push into the sport. It has been amazing to watch the growth even in the short 3 years I have been a professional and it will only continue to grow. The short answer is to have someone who is on the fence (about racing triathlon) go to a race so they can witness firsthand people just like them involved in the sport. This is all the motivation they will need. Specifically, watch the finish line of an Ironman from 10pm-midnight. Those moments provide the most profound and rewarding memories of the sport.
What specific challenges might a non-multisport (or person with little formal athletic background) have in taking up the sport, and what 2 or 3 things can you offer that will help them get started?
Meredith: As with any sport, you need to get the proper training which will help you achieve your goals. The mistake most individuals make, athletic or non athletic, is that they do not learn the proper mechanics when taking up a new sport. In reality, a good athlete has more trouble with this because, since they have succeeded in the past, they feel that they can master any sport they try. It took me 8 years of mediocre performance to break down and hire my current coach, Matt Dixon, which made a world of difference. If you go back to the golf analogy, individuals who do not start out with the proper mechanics, equipment, technique, and knowledge will have a miserable time on the course and will not improve.
During my childhood, there weren’t any youth triathlon programs so individuals may not have grown up knowing the sport like baseball or basketball. Everyone is in the same boat when they pick up triathlon so they need to bite the bullet and hire a coach, join a triathlon community where you can train with others for that extra motivation, read books, learn from mistakes and don’t be afraid to ask questions in order to achieve their goals.
The idea of “balance” is a constant in the life of any multisport athlete; for students, career professionals and mothers who work in and out of the home. What’s one way we can think of this differently and throw out the “balance”-idea and still feel fulfilled (without feeling guilty!)?
Meredith (on right) with friend on a bike ride.
Meredith: Balance is an interesting word that is often used too freely in today’s society. In reality, we all understandably say that we strive to be balanced as that is the ultimate goal for every busy person in life. An individual starting a new company has to put in the time and effort or it may not succeed. If they try to find true ‘balance’ with all of the directions that life pulls you in, the business may fail. The same thing is true with being a multisport athlete. If you do not put in the work, you may not succeed so you have to be conscience of what you can and cannot do. I believe that people need to take a bird’s eye view of their lives and make the decision in that moment of what they can handle and what they may need to omit in order to semi emulate that goal of balance in order to also achieve and keep HAPPINESS.
I have seen amateurs & pros overly consumed with the sport to the point where relationships and families are affected and this is not healthy in any capacity. If you are starting a new business and you have no time for your kids and family, something has to give or change. There are enough hours in the day to succeed in this sport, have a job, and have time for friends and family. I feel like I have a little more color on this topic since I experienced it first hand when I worked 55+ hour weeks at RBC Capital Markets along with training for triathlon while making it a priority to maintain my relationships and social obligations with friends and family which ultimately comes before triathlon. You will be surprised the amount you can get done during the course of a day without disrupting your life.
What nutritional strategies have evolved for you as you’ve gotten older in the sport?
Meredith: I would say the most difficult thing about my training is pairing it with nutrition and hydration. We often forget that triathlon actually has 4+ major components: Swim, Bike, Run + Nutrition/Hydration. In triathlon, if you do not have what you put in your body in conjunction with your training, you will be underachieving. Life is fast paced and you have to be conscience to set aside time to properly eat and drink or you will suffer in your training and race performance. I majored in nutrition in college and I truly
believe in variety and moderation when it comes to nutrition. However, it takes enormous effort to remember to drink and eat properly when you are on the go in our hectic society. One of my mottos is to keep things simple the week before the race and race day. That said, with nutrition and hydration, I have learned to take meticulous notes as to what I have consumed and what I need to consume on race day. I learned the hard way at Ironman St. George in 2011 that not being properly prepared with your nutrition can end your day prematurely – I passed out cold on mile 22 because of lack of electrolytes. I can safely say that I really had no nutritional strategies during races in my amateur years. Now, through trial and error, I have developed a system that provides me with the nutrition I need while allowing me to achieve peak output.
One instrumental tip I have learned that everyone should thing about: Practice your nutrition and hydration in training WELL before race day and NEVER try something new race week or during a race. Research what works for your body, how much liquid you need to intake, and what to eat the night and week before the race. Follow the weather to determine the heat and adjust your hydration and electrolyte needs based on this information. There is a way to do this without being too anal or overanalyzing! Keep it simple but remember that these little things make the big things happen. Do not learn the hard way that your nutrition/hydration was not up to par because you don’t want all of your hard work to end up with a DNF during the race.
How do you and your husband share this lifestyle?
Meredith: I am so fortunate that my husband, Aaron, is my #1 supporter at races in addition to being CFO of Meredith Kessler Inc. so we are quite intertwined with the lifestyle which I am so thankful for every day. It helps for multisport athletes to have support at their races because there is a lot to prepare and you might not be coherent at the end of the event. We have developed an efficient system together leading up to the race to hopefully put me in a position to perform at my best. Once again, it has been a lot of trial and error but we now know how to prepare for a race in a comfortable environment. On regular weeknights, we can prepare healthy meals, drink a little wine, and watch our favorite shows after he gets home from work and I have finished teaching my cycling classes or whatnot.