Defending Champ Returns to Her "Happy Place" at IRONMAN New Zealand

Wednesday 04 March 2020

American IRONMAN athlete Jocelyn McCauley is returning to her happy place as she prepares to defend her title at Nutri-Grain IRONMAN New Zealand in Taupõ on Saturday, in a country that holds a very special place in her heart.
 
McCauley was an impressive winner in race record time in 2019, setting a new mark of 8:53:10 on the back of a 2:58:06 course record for the marathon as she held off Teresa Adam (New Zealand) and five time winner Meredith Kessler (USA), both of whom are returning in 2020.
 
While McCauley clearly loves the course and success here, it is her love for the town and New Zealand in a broader sense that sees her return year after year to start her season.
 
“While I do enjoy this course, my love is more centered on the country, the town, and the people. I visited New Zealand when I was 12 and fell in love with it. Every time I come back to this amazing country I feel at home. Everyone involved in this race, from the Race Director and management team to the volunteers, is exceptional. That is the secret behind what makes this race amazing.”
 
McCauley takes a very pragmatic approach to her racing, coming into 2020 without any undue pressure on herself to repeat last year’s result.
 
“The approach to 2020 is like any other year. When I race, I always race to win, so there isn’t any more pressure this year than in years past. I only can go out there and give what my body has. That’s how I always race.”
 
The main competition to McCauley is both daunting and familiar, with the podium returning from 2019. Teresa Adam (New Zealand) has finished runner-up twice (2018 and 2019) and has mixed up her training in preparation for Taupõ , winning the Time Trial title at the recent New Zealand Road Cycling Championships in Cambridge.
 
And it is the roads that are top of mind for Adam as the Asia-Pacific IRONMAN champion contemplates another tilt at a first New Zealand title.
 
“The course in Taupõ is always a huge challenge. The roads on the bike are the classic New Zealand surface, good ol' heavy rough chip, so you always start to feel it coming into T2! The run is also quite tricky, as the rolling terrain out the back half of the lap starts to bite in the last part of the marathon. However, this challenging terrain, along with the incredible crowd support, is what makes me love racing in Taupõ!
“Obviously being a proud Kiwi, I would really love to win my ‘home’ race in Taupõ. However, at the end of the day, all I try to focus on is my own race plan and performance, and whatever happens, happens!”  

Also, on the start line is five-time New Zealand champion Meredith Kessler (USA), her third-place finish last year all the more remarkable with 15 month old son Mak watching on from the sidelines. Like McCauley, Kessler considers Taupõ her spiritual home.
 
“It is so special and enriching every time we come to New Zealand yet last year was especially gratifying to share it all with Mak and my husband, Aaron. Two years prior, Mak was a budding baby boy in my body at IRONMAN New Zealand in March, unbeknownst to us! So, in some respects, this makes New Zealand more meaningful to us and a kindred spirit for Mak!
 
“We value and appreciate being able to show him our haven of Taupõ. It’s been a whirlwind tour these past nine years coming to IRONMAN New Zealand and ones we hold very dear to our hearts. Even though we only spend two to three out of 52 weeks in a year in Taupõ, when we come back, we love catching up with old Kiwi friends that have become like family and being embraced by the town as we walk through the streets. As we have always said, it is truly like our second home.”
 
Kessler says she is stronger and has banked more endurance training into her legs another year on from Mak’s arrival.
 
“Last year, in particular, it was clear that I had 'newer mom' 70.3 legs, and it showed in my results. I did not have the resilience I needed to be able to conquer the distance at that time and three quarters through the bike and run, my body was wishing the race was indeed a 70.3!
 
“Coming into 2020, the objective has been to gear training towards IRONMAN numbers and be able to sustain this throughout the entire race, not just for half of it! The focus also has been on efficiency rather than an abundance of volume. As you get older too, it is imperative to train smarter, not necessarily longer.
 
“Over the many years in this sport, and IRONMAN New Zealand being my near 70th IRONMAN distance, these ol' legs have banked thousands of miles, and the muscle memory is there. The goal has also been to get my bike and run to its happy place, so fine-tuning has been the forefront of the preparation.”
 
The returning 2019 podium will not have it all their own way on Saturday however, with plenty of other candidates lurking in one of the deepest women’s fields seen for some years in Taupõ. Amongst those athletes the one to watch might well be Radka Khalefeldt as the Czech athlete debuts over the full IRONMAN distance.
 
The 70.3 expert and mother of toddler Ruby may be an unknown quantity at the full IRONMAN race but has knowledge of the course following her dominant victory at Taupõ 70.3 in late 2018. The form of the Australian based athlete (married to former Australian ITU star Brad Kahlefeldt) has been superb, with seven wins and 11 podiums from 13 starts in 2019.
 
Lisa Roberts (USA) is a six-time champion around the globe and one of the top-five women with the most sub three-hour race-day marathons, meaning she will always be lurking in the minds of the other athletes on Saturday.
 
One of the more fascinating characters lining up on Saturday is Rachel (Rach) McBride. The colourful Canadian (literally adorned with significant body art) is a renowned cyclist in the sport, holding numerous bike course records at 70.3 and IRONMAN race distance around the world.

2020 Nutri-Grain IRONMAN New Zealand Pro Women Start List

21 Jocelyn McCauley (UNITED STATES)
22 Teresa Adam (NEW ZEALAND)
23 Meredith Kessler (UNITED STATES)
24 Lisa Roberts (UNITED STATES)
25 Rachel McBride (CANADA)
26 Radka Kahlefeldt (CZECH REPUBLIC)
27 Kelsey Withrow (UNITED STATES)
29 Judith Corachan Vaquera (SPAIN)
30 Melanie Burke (NEW ZEALAND)
31 Julia Grant (NEW ZEALAND)
32 Federica De Nicola (ITALY)
33 Laura Dennis (AUSTRALIA)
34 Alyssa Godesky (UNITED STATES)
35 Jennifer Lentzke (CANADA)

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