Pro Triathlete Beth Gerdes on Kona, Family and Equality in Triathlon

Only 16 months after giving birth, professional triathlete Beth Gerdes will be racing in the IRONMAN World Championship for the first time as a pro.
Photo Credit: Larry Rosa Photography

ACTIVE: What does the week before Kona look like for you?

BG: I've been in Kona for two weeks now, so we've been here acclimating to the heat and doing some final training sessions here on the course. The final week of the race includes all the final prep sessions, and we make sure we have all our gear and nutrition dialed in. We're also working with our sponsors and doing media interviews while still finding time to hang out with the family and go to the beach.

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ACTIVE: Was Kona your end goal? How has your season gone so far?

BG: I had a baby 16 months ago, then my goal was to make it to the IRONMAN World Championship this year, so I had to start racing pretty quickly in order to make it to the start line. As a professional we go through a points ranking system, so you have to accumulate as many points as possible during the season. So this year I've completed four full IRONMAN races. I placed in the top five of all of them, and I won IRONMAN Switzerland in July, which was awesome cause it was my very first IRONMAN win.

ACTIVE: What are you most excited about in Kona?

BG: I'm just excited about lining up with the 35 best women in the world. This is the race everybody hears about and knows about in triathlon and, for me, it's just an amazing opportunity to race on one of the toughest courses. The heat, wind and humidity make it really unique. This is my first time racing in Kona as a professional; I raced as an amateur in 2010 and 2011. I've spent a lot of time over the past five years training on the course and practicing so I'm very familiar with it.

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ACTIVE: What's your strength? Swimming, cycling or running?

BG: For me, my strength is in two different areas. People say swim, bike and run, and for me it's definitely the run. I've been able to come off the bike with pretty significant deficits and run my way up to the top or close to the top. I feel like usually I can count on my run in my back pocket, but you never know. I think my other strength is the problem solving it takes to be successful in IRONMAN.

There are many disciplines, but you also have to deal with nutrition and weather, too. I'm really able to nail my fueling and hydration; that's something not everyone thinks about.

ACTIVE: What was one of your biggest challenges leading up to Kona?

BG: I didn't grow up as a swimmer at all, and I hadn't really swum laps when I was 28 years old when I decided to try triathlon. Going up against other women who spent their childhood swimming has been a real challenge, but I've worked really hard to get to the level to be competitive.

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ACTIVE: Who do you think your biggest competition will be?

BG: Here at Kona there are a lot of girls everyone knows about, and Daniela Ryf and Mirinda Carfrae are the favorites in the world. But here, your biggest competition is really yourself. You have to manage throughout the day the best you can in order to get to the finish line as fast as possible.

ACTIVE: Switching gears, what's your nutrition plan on the course?

BG: For me, nutrition plays a huge role. It's the difference between just crossing the finish line or making it to the podium. It's something I need to manage from the moment I wake up. It starts with a good breakfast, but in Kona the hydration is the most important.

I've been using Gatorade Endurance for a few years and for me it's the right mix to keep me hydrated. I've been working with Gatorade and doing some sweat testing, figuring out what the composition of my sweat is and how fast my sweat rate is so that here in Kona I know exactly how much I need to drink per hour in order to stay hydrated. That's one of those little things that can really make the difference.

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ACTIVE: What are a few staples in your training diet?

BG: I really focus on good, healthy whole foods. I don't really have any restrictions in my diet. For me, the most important thing is to consume enough calories to support 30 to 35 hours of training each week. So typically, I eat normal meals with protein, carbs and lots of greens. During training, I hydrate with Gatorade and use their carb energy chews for fueling during long rides and runs. My favorite post-race meal is probably a burrito with really spicy salsa.

ACTIVE: You're there with your significant other, Luke McKenzie. How does traveling with another triathlete to high-caliber races work as a couple?

BG: As a couple, for Luke and I, it's really great to have your partner invested in the same thing you're doing. To go through the highs and the lows together is something we get to share. For us, we also have the unique situation that we have a baby we're trying to juggle while being professional triathletes.

It gets challenging when we come to a race like this when we're being pulled so many different ways while still having our daughter to look after. But he's an amazing dad and he does more than his share of the work, and we're lucky to have family members here helping us out.

ACTIVE: Do you guys have any fun plans after the race as a family?

BG: After the race, we have a couple weeks of downtime. We'll stay in Hawaii and go to the beach, then we'll go back to our home in California before heading to a race in the Bahamas.

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ACTIVE: Can you speak to your involvement in the push for gender equality in Kona?

BG: If we look at the past 10 to 20 years in general, the growth of women in the sport of triathlon has been amazing. Especially in the women's professional field, the talent has become so much stronger and in my opinion, we're rivaling the men in so many ways.

There are currently 35 pro women and 50 pro men invited to race in Kona professionally. I believe there should be 50 women and 50 men. I feel like that's something that can definitely happen in the next few years. There's a group called TriEqual that's pushing for equality in the sport. And it's not just for professional women, it's for age group competitors as well.

About the Author

Michael Nystrom

Michael Nystrom is the triathlon editor for Active.com. A California native, Michael graduated from the University of Southern California with a master's degree in journalism. He has done several sprint- and olympic-distance triathlons, raced Ironman 70.3 California and raced Ironman 140.6 Arizona. Follow Michael on Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn.

Michael Nystrom is the triathlon editor for Active.com. A California native, Michael graduated from the University of Southern California with a master's degree in journalism. He has done several sprint- and olympic-distance triathlons, raced Ironman 70.3 California and raced Ironman 140.6 Arizona. Follow Michael on Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn.

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