Meredith Kessler had no idea she was expecting a baby when she placed third in her 60th Ironman triathlon. Here's her experience in her own words.
Growing up, team sports were my jam—soccer, field hockey, and lacrosse. In college, I swam and was fortunate enough to get a scholarship at Syracuse to play field hockey. When I graduated in 2000, I used my graduation money to purchase my first triathlon bike and slapped myself into a full Ironman distance triathlon two weeks later when I was 21 years old.
I caught the triathlon bug and spent the next nine years racing on the amateur level. When I turned 30, this nutty hobby became my job. It's been my career for the past nine years, and I've completed 60 full distance Ironman triathlons. (Related: 12 Triathlon Training Tips Every Beginner Triathlete Needs to Know)
On March 4, 2017, I raced Ironman New Zealand, not knowing I was around four weeks pregnant at the time. I had diligently prepared for that race throughout the winter in hopes of capturing a six-peat victory. But I did not feel like myself out there. It makes sense to me now why I was so nauseated, ill, and having pockets of vomiting throughout the nine-ish hours on the course.
There was a severe lack of stamina that I couldn't pinpoint at the time, but I was thankful to place third and was over the moon later when I found out 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.
A mindset that I abide by as motivation is: Remember what you feel like after. Pregnant or not, that's what helps me energize, recalibrate, and settle my body into a better groove for the day. Staying very active throughout pregnancy has also genuinely helped me cope with how terrible I can feel for parts of this journey. In other words, it feels great to move around between sessions spent in a fetal position, cradling my barf bag.
Right now, I exercise three to five hours a day, which allows me to keep the muscle memory, work ethic, and athleticism as an athlete looking forward to coming back to many race courses in 2018. (Related: How Much Exercise Should You Do While Pregnant?)
I used to have nearly four hours of training done by 9 a.m., but now that I'm pregnant, even 6 or 7 a.m. is an early start. The only thing happening before that is me having to get out of bed for the 10th time to pee.
As far as my training goes now, I swim between 6 and 10K a day. The water always has been my go-to place when my body is under duress. I also cycle on my CycleOps Hammer trainer four or five times a week and sprinkle in some SoulCycle classes with friends to spice it up a bit.
The first 16-ish weeks, I was also running between 40 and 50 miles a week. But eventually I developed this insane pressure around my pelvic area, and it just felt wrong. My doctor said that it was a combination of the baby sitting really low and just what some pregnant women experience as their uterus expands. Every woman carries differently, so I was assured that while the pressure wouldn't hurt my baby, it was important to listen to my body.
As a result, my running has significantly decreased and certainly slowed even more in the past two months. If I can squeak out three to five easy miles a day with this relentless pelvic pressure, that is a victory! I always remember that it's not important to push through that kind of stuff at this time.
Strength training is also key. My usual weekly sessions with my strength coach have been constant since the start of pregnancy, and my coach adapts with me as I change. For example, with my pelvic pain, she has incorporated a lot of pelvic strengthening exercises into the mix, which is helping with the jogging.
For athletes, it is ingrained within us to eat a balanced, healthy, and nutrient-dense diet as a way of life. I don't approach that any differently for pregnancy. Now that I'm more than 6 1/2 months along, I find that eating small meals throughout the day helps to keep my energy levels up while keeping any nausea at bay. (Related: The "Eating for Two" During Pregnancy Idea Is Actually a Misconception)
I've beefed up the orange juice and sparkling water cocktail for the extra folic acid that OJ provides, and I throw in some lean red meat at least once a week to get that needed iron. Ample fruits, Greek yogurt, almond butter on toast, Bungalow Munch granola, Züpa Noma ready-to-sip soups, and salads with grilled chicken and avocado also play a key role. In addition, just like when I'm heavily training and racing, I still make sure to stay balanced and have some chocolate, pizza, or a cookie every now and again. Variety is king.
REMEMBER WHAT YOU FEEL LIKE AFTER These six words have been engrained in the brain since youth - - not only in sport yet in nutrition too + now, in pregnancy as well Sure, normal goals are shifted FROM monitoring paces/speeds/distances TO healthy/safe/moving active minutes DILIGENCE, MINDSET, FOCUS, +PERSISTENCE stay the same. • Today's exercising in effort to maintain a #fitpregnancy was: *10k chi MBK swim at avg. 1:26 per 100. Mix of toys for 1/4 of it. The days of band only laps are dwindling with the extra buoyancy in the belly towing a human around the pool *5 mile jog at avg. 8:34 per mile. Often this can be 10' per mile. Anything longer or faster than this just doesn't flow with #BBK's pressure around pelvis. *30' rotating stair stepper: HR is the highest in this with a 16' "interval" in the middle to try to keep some stamina*Immediately post: An organic, tasty+fresh @zupanoma ready-to-sip tomato gazpacho superfood soup to replenish myself+BBK. Convenience is king. This is personally the right way to get in those needed nutrients for us both. Easy+tasty to sip+most importantly:you feel great about this exercise sitch+nutrition combo, AFTER! Use code MBKZUPA on drinkzupa.com for 25% off to try some for you and please let me know what you think!
In sport, I've always talked about having a get to vs. need to mindset. We GET to train. We GET to race in triathlons. No one is making us do it. We do it because we WANT to. We do it because it makes us thrive and we genuinely enjoy it.
In pregnancy, the connection is quite similar. We dream of having a human life at the end of our pregnancy—but we get to experience so much amazingness along the way. I will admit—very openly and candidly—that pregnancy has been one of the most challenging experiences of my life so far. This is precisely why, without a doubt, I always go back and remind myself of that get to vs. have to attitude. And I remind myself that the most enriching and most important things in life take some pain and a lot of resilience to get to the magical outcome in the end.
Having been with my husband, Aaron, since we were 14 years old, I have dreamed of the opportunity to create a human life together. I very much look forward to seeing Aaron and BBK (baby boy Kessler!) cheering on the race courses in 2018 and beyond—it will be the best motivation that I could ever imagine.