Two years ago, a soft-spoken woman from Finland burst onto the professional racing scene and shocked the world with some solid results, and culminated the season with a fifth place finish at the Kona World Championships. The following season, she went and did it again, taking fifth place at the biggest race in the world. Now Kaisa Sali is preparing for her third Kona event, and she’s eager to go a few places higher and take a podium finish. She has a new training regime and a reinvigorated competitive fire, so how has she brought all of the other elements together to prepare for the most important race of her life? And will anyone bet against her taking another top five finish? We certainly wouldn’t. After all, the third time’s the charm.
FELT: Tell us about your 2018 racing season so far. What have been some of the highlights and some of the low points?
Kaisa: Challenge Roth was the most difficult event I have raced in my whole life. I had perhaps the worst day because during the race it became obvious that it was that day of the month for me. Therefore, I was more or less out of power during the cycling leg and had some serious stomach problems during the run. Despite the challenges, I was able to push through the pain and finish in third place, so one could say that this was both a low point and a highlight for the season. Of course, winning at Ironman Zurich four weeks after Challenge Roth was great, and especially because I learned that you really can run an Ironman marathon without any pain and with a big smile on your face.
FELT: What’s your favorite memory from your career racing triathlon?
Kaisa: My best memory was taking first place at my second Ironman race, the African Championship. That gave me the ticket to my first Kona race, which had been one my dreams since I was twelve years old.
FELT: What racing goal would you like to achieve that you haven’t yet?
Kaisa: I would like to have my best-ever performance at the Kona World Championship.
FELT: Describe your hardest day of training for Kona.
Kaisa: My training for Kona this year was very rigorous. I trained in Boulder, Colorado, which included high altitude camp on Tuesdays. I started at 7:00am with 5-kilometer swims with lots of high-intensity speed sets that took my lactic acid levels through the roof. Those were followed by about one hour of cycling on an indoor, stationary trainer on quite a nasty effort level. Then, I usually did a short, half-hour run, which was already more in my comfort zone. Interestingly, these high-intensity mornings hit my body way more than the high volume, more traditional “big” full-distance days.
FELT: What’s the most unique element of your training plan for Kona?
Kaisa: This year the most important part of my training has been maintaining my consistency. During my relatively short long-distance career, I have been developing quite well. I was still racing ITU short-distance events in the summer of 2015, and I decided to try Ironman late that year. So we decided not to do anything radical after last year and just build on this great foundation, with perhaps adding a bit more running volume.
FELT: What makes the Kona World Championship unique, compared to other triathlon events?
Kaisa: Kona is the only long-distance race where all of the top competitors are racing, and they are all in their absolute best shape. The racecourse, with its winds and heat, along with the tradition of the race, is also something very special.
FELT: Describe your perfect race day at Kona.
Kaisa: My perfect race day would start with a strong swim, after which I would feel as if I was able to leave everything in the water. That would be followed by cycling evenly, with no crazy bursts resulting in pushing my pedals way too easily. For me, it’d be starting a bit easier than in years past, yet finishing strong. My perfect day of pedalling would feel smooth despite the winds and the heat, and I would feel powerful through the whole bike course. Finally, I would be able to run to my fullest potential without any stomach problems or any out-ot-the-ordinary pain. After this kind of day, I would be satisfied with my race whatever my placement ended up being, as I would know that this was my best performance ever.
FELT: If you weren’t a professional triathlete, what career would you pursue?
Kaisa: I have a Master’s degree in Human Nutrition, so most likely I would be pursuing something related.
FELT: What are three things you cannot live without?
Kaisa: My husband. Vegetables (salads, fruits, and all of the “greens”). Swimming.
FELT: You’ve taken fifth place at Kona each of the past two years. How have you prepared for this year’s Kona to go even faster and achieve a better placing?
Kaisa: I have kept up the good consistent work with my coach Siri Lindley, as it has been working well and seems to take me forward. That said, I do not think so much about the placing, as my goal is to become as fast and strong as possible. I will do my absolute best and then afterwards we will see how this compares.
FELT: Tell us about your Felt IA Disc bike. What do you think of disc brakes?
Kaisa: I was trying it for the first time in the Rocky Mountains with narrow, winding roads and hairpin turns. It was easy to see how much advantage one gets from the disc brakes on these kind of courses.
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