So what does it take to complete in the hardcore race that combines a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike race and a full 26.2-mile marathon? A lot of prep work.
“I train 25 to 40 hours a week depending on what I’m preparing for, and that’s just the swim, bike, run aspect of it,” Kessler, 38, tells PEOPLE. “There’s the recovery, nutrition is a huge component, massage, hydration, and just making sure your body stays intact.”
Kessler starts her day at 4 a.m. with a 15 to 40-minute jog on the treadmill. At 5:30 a.m., she begins her main training session, which is either swimming or biking for up to four hours, followed by a five to 12-mile run.
“A couple of days a week I do an indoor training session that’s power-based intervals,” adds Kessler. “Then after lunch I do an afternoon session that could be a treadmill workout or interval workout, or I’ll run outside on run trails. Then I might have a massage or physical therapy.”
The professional athlete – who will compete in the Ironman World Championship in Kona later this week – also does an hour of Bikram yoga three to four times a week.
“That’s helped me prevent injury and with stretching,” she says. “It also helps with heat training – in Hawaii it’s going to be 100 degrees out!”
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Nutrition is also a major part of Kessler’s prep. She begins her day with a bite of almond butter before her morning jog, then has a full breakfast before her main workout. Her go-to is a mix of rice, coconut milk, almond butter and Greek yogurt, along with granola and bananas.
Immediately after her workout, Kessler fuels up again.
“When I’m done with a session, it’s so important to eat within the fueling window – which is typically within 30 minutes of finishing your workout,” says Kessler, who is sponsored by on-the-go chilled veggie soup snack ZÜPA NOMA. “ZÜPA NOMA has been a huge part of my regimen because I keep a cooler in my car so that right when I’m done with my workout I can grab it.”
For the rest of the day, Kessler eats “lots of hummus and turkey sandwiches, watermelon, and quinoa bowls with chicken for dinner.”
While Kessler admits preparing for Ironman races is difficult, she encourages anyone who wants to compete in one to take it day by day.
“It’s important to remember that it’s more about the journey than the outcome,” she says. “In our sport, you have to fail to learn and grow. It’s a constant evolution.”