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What It's Really Like to Train for (and Be) an Ironman

 

Every elite athlete, professional sports player, or triathlete had to start somewhere. When the finish line tape is broken or a new record is set, the only thing you get to see is the glory, the flashing lights, and the shiny medals. But behind all the excitement is a lot of hard work—and that's putting it very lightly. Inspired by the incredible athletes who seemed to do the unbelievable at the Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii (like these 6 incredible women) we decided to get a closer look at what life and training are really like for an athlete at this level.

Meredith Kessler is a professional triathlete and Ironman champ who has completed more than 50 Ironman races around the world, including the World Championship in Kona. So what did it take to get her ready for a competition of this magnitude? And what does the career résumé of an Ironman champion even look like? Kessler gave us an inside look:

A day in her life leading up to a major event like the Ironman World Championship is even more daunting than you probably thought it would be. Take a look at her typical training, fueling, and recovery schedule:

4:15 a.m. Wake-up run—2 to 5 miles
Refuel with oatmeal and 1 tablespoon of almond butter; small cup of coffee

5:30 a.m. Interval swim—5 to 7 kilometers
Refuel on the go with Greek yogurt, Bungalow Munch Granola, and a banana

8:00 a.m. Indoor or outdoor cycling session—2 to 5 hours
Refuel and rehydrate with a lunch of ready-to-sip ZÜPA NOMA soup, a turkey sandwich with avocado or hummus, and two pieces of dark chocolate

12:00 p.m. Strength training session with coach, Kate Ligler

1:30 p.m. Deep tissue massage or physical therapy (active release technique, ultrasound, or electric stimulation)

3:00 p.m. Down time for resting in compression recovery boots, checking emails, or grabbing coffee with a friend

5:15 p.m. Pre-dinner aerobic-endurance run—6 to 12 miles

7:00 p.m. Dinnertime with friends or family

9:00 p.m. Netflix and chill...back in those recovery boots

11:00 p.m. Sleep, because tomorrow it starts all over again!

And leading up to race day don't think that you'll find her lounging around in those recovery boots for a week. Nope, Kessler says she trains up until the day before a race "to keep the muscles firing properly." Here's where you'll find her a week before any big race such as a full-distance Ironman:

Monday: 90-minute bike ride (45 minutes at race pace) and 40-minute run

Tuesday: 90-minute interval swim (6 kilometers) with race-specific sets, light 40-minute treadmill workout (18 minutes at race pace), and 60-minute strength "activation" session with coach, Kate Ligler

Wednesday: 2-hour interval bike ride (60 minutes at race pace), 20-minute "feel good" run off the bike, and 1-hour swim

Thursday: 1-hour interval swim (last one before the race), 30-minute "shoe check" jog (to make sure the race shoes are ready to go), and 30-minute strength training session

Friday: 60- to 90-minute "bike check" ride with very light intervals (to make sure bike is in good working order and gearing properly)

Saturday (Race Day): 2- to 3-mile wake-up run and breakfast!

Sunday: This is the one day that I really don't feel like moving much. If anything, I would get in the water and swim slowly or sit in the hot tub to soothe sore muscles.

While Kessler has always been an athlete, getting to this level of training to be able to successfully compete alongside the world's greatest athletes is not a side-gig for her. Being a professional triathlete is very much her day job, so you can expect her to be clocking the same hours as any other 9-to-5er.

"I go to work every day doing a number of things such as training, hydrating, fueling, recovery, human resources for our brand, booking plane flights for the next race, returning fan emails; this is my work," says Kessler. "However, like an employee at Apple, I will make time for family and friends to keep that life balance."

Kessler quit her other day jobs, which including part-time investment banking, triathlon coaching, and teaching spin classes, in March of 2011 so she could devote all her time to her professional athletic pursuits. (Like Kessler, this Olympic gold medalist went from accountant to world champion.) Now, in a perfect, injury-free year, she'll complete as many as 12 triathlon events, which includes a mixture of full and half Ironmans with maybe an Olympic-distance race sprinkled in for good measure.

What can we say, other than we're impressed, awed, and thoroughly inspired by Kessler and all the other elite athletes who prove that with time, dedication, and some serious passion, any woman can become an Ironwoman. (This new mom did it.)

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