How This Athlete Completed the Ironman Triathlon While Pregnant

Athlete Meredith Kessler accomplished the almost impossible: She finished the Ironman Triathlon while pregnant. We caught up with her to hear how she did it.

The Ironman Triathlon is no joke. The athletic event requires an incredible amount of discipline, a crazy-high level of fitness and nearly superhuman endurance to manage a 2.4 mile-long swim, a 112-mile bike, and a marathon-length run in a single day. But Meredith Kessler managed to do it—and as if that weren't enough, the athlete completed the event while pregnant.

Crazy, right? We caught up with Kessler, who represents ZÜPA NOMA chilled soup, to learn how she managed to pull this off—see what the mom-to-be had to say about staying fit while pregnant, as well as how she managed to get her 60th Ironman under her belt while expecting.

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Q: How far along were you when you raced?

A: "I raced Ironman New Zealand at around 4 weeks pregnant.  While I didn’t know it at the time, I was hopeful. My husband and I believed that the universe would guide the way with it all, even if that meant sacrificing something important in my job. I had diligently prepared for this race throughout the winter months in hopes of capturing a six-peat victory in a race that has been so special to my husband and [me] over the years. This preparation included 25 to 30 hours per week of training (swim/bike/run/strength hours!) in addition to many hours spent on body maintenance, physical therapy, MAT (muscle activation technique), massage and sponsor obligations.

I did not feel like myself out there on the race course and it makes sense to me now why I was so nauseous, ill and having pockets of vomiting throughout the nine-ish hours of racing! There was a severe lack of stamina and fortitude that I couldn’t pinpoint at the time and there didn’t seem to be a way to salvage any gusto while navigating through the race. I was thankful to place third on the day and later, was elated to find out that we had a little life on the way. While pregnancy understandably is not ideal for my job as a professional racing triathlete, being a mom has been a dream of mine for quite some time."

Q: How did you deal with morning sickness, frequent urination and the need to hydrate while you were on the race path? 

A: "This was the most perplexing part of the experience! The key was staying as hydrated as possible and having the mental mindset to prevail under duress. Fortunately, in Ironman racing, you just pee on yourself and as many times as needed—pregnant or not! The morning sickness part, just like the first 5 months of pregnancy in general, lasted all day long. I always carry Tums with me during an Ironman, so I was popping those like candy to at least try to get the puking to stop. Little did I know what was really happening in there!" 

Q: What are your secrets to maintaining your fitness level while pregnant?

A: "A secret that I abide by—even when I'm not pregnant—is to remember what I feel like after [I work out]. This helps to energize, recalibrate and settle the body into a better groove for the day. This is what gets me out of bed in the morning with the motivated mindset. Staying very active has also genuinely helped me cope with how terrible I feel in pockets of this pregnancy journey. I feel best when I am consistently moving and exercising every day. The goal is just to keep trying to have an active and healthy pregnancy."

Q: Have you modified your training regimen during your pregnancy?                                                                                                                                                                                           

A: "We just can’t go anaerobic very well when we have a bun in the oven. However, we can aerobic it up! Like many, as I surfed through nausea nation galore in the first five months, it was key to exercise in an effort to help manage it better. I felt best when I could at least move a little. Running felt the best during this time. Swimming too. Biking seemed the least pleasant.

The 4 am wake-up time for early training sessions has been put to the wayside. The only thing going on these days at 4 am is getting up out of bed for my 10th time to pee! I used to have nearly four hours of training done by 9 am, and now if I even start my exercising by 6 or 7 am, that is an early start. Exercising three to five hours a day allows me to keep the muscle memory, work ethic and athleticism as an athlete looking forward to coming back in 2018."

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Q: What advice would you share with pregnant women who are struggling to maintain healthy eating habits?                                                                                                                     

A: "For healthy eating habits, the key was finding foods that are nourishing yet also taste good and that you look forward to eating. For me, I knew I wasn’t going to whip up some steamed vegetables on a whim and quite honestly, that was the last thing that sounded enticing to eat. My way of consuming important and vital nutrients with quality ingredients was grabbing a ready-to-sip ZÜPA NOMA chilled soup."

Q: What's your advice for fellow pregnant women where fitness is concerned?                                                                                                                                                                             

A: "For exercising, it’s important to keep it simple, fun, and rewarding. A barometer was to be able to 'have a conversation' as you are working out. As long as you can still maintain some chit-chat while exercising, you are doing it right! 

If you struggle to find the motivation to 'get up and go' get some exercise, plan a class or a workout with a friend to catch up and reward yourself with an iced latte and/or nutritious lunch afterwards. Remember what you feel like after you get your sweat on a little – it’s good for you and for the baby."

Q: What are the biggest challenges that come with training through pregnancy?                                                                                                                                                                            

A: "In sport, I have always talked about having that 'get to' vs. 'have to' mindset. We get to train; We get to race in triathlons. No one is making us do it. We do it because it makes us thrive and we genuinely enjoy it. We dream of the elusive finish line, of accomplishing goals, perhaps of winning or finishing with zest. There are many people out there that dream of the opportunity to get to also achieve these athletic goals who are unable to for many reasons.

In pregnancy, the connection is similar. We dream of having a human life at the end of the 10 months—we get to try to experience that amazingness. There are many women and couples out there that would love to be in my position and for many reasons, they, unfortunately, struggle to have a positive outcome.

When we prepare for something—anything—enriching and worthwhile in our lives, in our jobs, in sport, in life: It takes work. Seldom does anything of this value and magnitude get handed to us. Pregnancy is no different. I will admit—very openly and candidly—that pregnancy has been one of the most challenging experiences of my life thus far."