The Kona buzz is in full effect for some and the baby frenzy is as vibrant as ever for others! We have watched some regular Kona stars such as Mirinda Carfrae and Liz Blatchford recently have their sweet little girls with gusto knowing that they will be back in top form in Kona 2018.

Text By Meredith Kessler | Images Supplied


Then, we are also in awe of mums like Rachel Joyce, who had her son last September 2016 and returned to racing in 2017 with two Ironman titles through the year. She toes the line again in this year’s Kona race which exudes resilience at it’s finest that “us” future mums strive for as athletes. Let’s also not forget to mention the many other ladies on the entire triathlon (70.3, ITU) circuit that have gracefully had their babies and have started the journey back to their jobs and their passion of racing with zest.

While a majority of our Ironman colleagues are in their most primed racing shape in effort to prepare for one of the biggest events of the year in triathlon, there are others of us Ironman distance veterans that are sitting on the sidelines this year to try and bust out a human; ones that are still in our bellies for a few more weeks while Kona takes place!

Of course we envy our peers dips in dig me beach, rides along the iconic Queen K and practice runs in the energy lab, yet we also know that we may be better suited at present for this whole “nesting” situation that we keep hearing about; in air con no less.

This surely doesn’t mean that we all aren’t keeping #fitpregnancy active, engaged with our communities, healthy and our muscle memory in check as we bake our bubs. Our views from the sidelines this year just include a little different lens, such as looking down from our indoor bike trainers at our growing bellies vs. out at the lava!

WITSUP checked in with Jodie, Caroline (Xena) and I (MBK) to see how our pregnancy journey has been so far – – here are some of our thoughts:

Name: Jodie Cunnama

Partner: James Cunnama

IRONMAN Victories: 3: IM Cont. Champs Asia/Pacific 2016, IM Cont. African Champs 2015, IM Sweden 2013

70.3 Victories:  11: SA 70.3 Champ x 7, 2nd World 70.3 2014, Sweden/Lanzarote/Boise/Singapore victories

World Titles:  3: World ITU Long Distance Champion 2016 and 2009, World 70.3 Champ 2010,

Sponsors: Bahrain Endurance, Cervelo, TYR Sport, Enve, Xlab Hydration, Schwalbe, Rotor, Smith Optics

Month Due: November

Recent Media Published By/About Jodie:

Cervelo Series Profiling and interviewing fellow Cervelo Pros heading to the #IMWC – 10 profiles in total:

Australian Triathlete Magazine monthly pages #followtheswallow Select available on the internet, all available in publication

Bahrain Sports Information Initiative for Bahrain Endurance 13 and Power Up Magazine

Videos and information #chroniclesofapregnantathlete

Elite Coaching #cunnamacoaching

Name: Caroline Steffen

Partner: Pete Murray

IRONMAN victories: 5XIM; 1XChallenge Roth

70.3 victories: 23

World Titles: 2X ITU Long Course Worlds

Sponsors: Bahrain Endurance 13, ALASKA, Cervelo, SRAM, Zipp, Quarq, TYR, F2P, On Running, Currex, XLab, ISM, Shots Nutrition, Greeper

Month Due: December

Name: Meredith B. Kessler

Partner: Aaron Kessler

IRONMAN Victories: 11: Ironman New Zealand(x5); Ironman Arizona(x3); Ironman St. George 2012, Ironman Coeur D’Alene 2012, Ironman Canada 2010

70.3 Victories: 21

World Titles: 0

Sponsors: Ventum, ROKA, Red Bull,Rudy Project, ZÜPA NOMA, ENVE, ISM Saddles, PowerTap, Recovery Pump

Month Due: November

Recent Media Published By/About MBK:


  1. What has been the most enriching part of your pregnancy journey thus far?


JODIE: I think primarily the love I feel toward the baby already and the love I feel from my husband toward us both. He understands me, how difficult this process has been for me, and has really sacrificed as much in terms of going back to Brett – who he would not speak to for three years. He is working like a Trojan and delivering on the race field to satisfy our sponsors and support our family financially. We are a real team.

Other than that I would say the reinforcement of my feeling for instinct and my absolute trust in my ability to be a good mother. I have had low self esteem, hated myself and beaten myself up a lot in my life but I always get through things and somehow, somewhere, in this pregnancy, I rediscovered my self belief. Bit strange I know!

XENA: Maybe not the answer you would expect but … the most enriching part is to care and look after someone else other than just myself. It’s a nice feeling to take responsibility for another “creature.”

MBK: It has always been a dream to become a mum in this lifetime. Specifically, to share in an enriching parenthood experience with Aaron (AK), who has been my partner in life since we were 14 years old. Having been together for so long, everyone understandably thought that we would be the first to bust out a human many years ago, yet amongst our close circle, we are certainly the last! This goes to show that everyone is on their own timeline where there is no set script or precise schedule – and you flow with your own rhythm and path.

In addition to relishing in this luxury of being able to try to create human life with AK, I think it became even more like this dream may become a reality much later on in the pregnancy when I could feel this little person’s kicks and punches in my belly. This seemed to make it more real and my love for him continues to soar.


  1. In turn, what has been the most challenging part of the process?


JODIE: Two things – the fact that I can’t race and don’t feel like I look like myself, both of which I rightly, or wrongly, derive my self-esteem from. Normally, ladies have their husbands to boost them through this process but James has been away at camps and races for more than half of the pregnancy so it really has been difficult for me to keep from feeling down, but I manage and it is just three more weeks now until James is back home.


XENA: I had days (and still have them) where I get very emotional and super upset for absolutely no reason. Tears flowing all day long and I feel tired and drained.


MBK: I have admitted very openly and candidly – that pregnancy has been one of the most challenging experiences thus far. Explained more vividly in this ‘half way’ picture blog post back in June:

You learn to positively surrender in a lot of ways as an athlete and as a human in general. It’s the reality that SOMEONE ELSE RUNS THE SHOW – a human life within you – and we have to LET IT GO. This means it’s understandably necessary to slow our roll a little bit and be at peace with that.

In the beginning, I didn’t know what was happening in this capacity yet when I could shift my mindset a little and settle into it all, there was so much that was learned in the process – and I am still learning in these final few weeks!

It was very important to parlay that ‘GET TO’ vs. ‘HAVE TO’ mindset that we have in sport, into pregnancy even if it was through a more compromised lens as the connection is quite similar.

When we prepare for something – anything – enriching and worthwhile in our lives, in our jobs, in sport, in life: it understandably takes work. Pregnancy is NO DIFFERENT. The art of pregnancy relentlessly requires a sincere, genuine, focused, planned and empowered EFFORT – EVERY DAY. It also really makes me appreciate and value womanhood in general and what our bodies CAN do on this creation journey.


  1. How has Ironman training influenced getting through any physical difficulties of your pregnancy?


JODIE: I think mainly being an athlete has its advantages in that you know and trust your body a bit better perhaps than normal.  You have a better sense of what is normal and what is pregnancy hormones or tiredness or perhaps nutritional deficiencies but predominantly I moan as much as anyone about pregnancy, perhaps more!

XENA: Not sure if it was the Ironman training or just the early mother instinct which gets you through the days. Think the most important thing is to set priorities and be flexible with the new challenges that the day brings. I am pretty lucky so far with how everything went. I had no morning sickness or any other strange stings happen to me. Maybe it is also my positive attitude towards the whole pregnancy journey. I simply love it!

MBK: Just like in sport, we learn how to GCBU (Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable) it up also in pregnancy! We are athletes – we know our bodies to a tee and most of the time, we know how to listen to them. We also know what makes us tick and what slows us down. In pregnancy, all this new stuff and these unfamiliar ‘niggles’ take place and we may be a little perplexed at first until we realize that, just like in sport, we need to adjust accordingly; so we do.

I think Ironman training has also helped us be able to cope properly with the highs and lows of the pregnancy process, especially the lows. In terms of the lows, we know what it is like to be in a ‘well’ of pain if you will – even if temporary – or on the brink and extremely maximised. For the highs, we are cognisant that this pain can be extreme yet tolerable and the discomfort fades away after we cross the Ironman finish line (and then the next day we want to do it all over again!) so hopefully this punts into the actual birth itself and we can manage it all!


  1. What does your current exercise routine look like through pregnancy? Do you track your workouts and/or paces/HR ETC? 


JODIE: I don’t track my workouts with heart rate – I don’t think that’s a great indicator of effort when your pregnant as lots of things will change your heart rate.  I do most things with intuition – bearing in mind I’m heavier, so the workload of my muscles and bones is more.  Everything is adapted to that so I run every other day – hard uphills then walk back down or jump off the inclined treadmill for rest – that takes about an hour. As pregnancy has gone on, I have increased the incline and lowered the speed.

A recent treadmill workout at 34 weeks pregnant went as:

14kph at 4 % incline

3 x 10 mins as 30 seconds on 30 seconds off

With 3 mins between sets to lower heart rate

I cycle the other mornings up to 2 hours on the turbo, but not more and then each afternoon I’ll swim 4km or cycle on the turbo again depending on feeling and desire. I find exercise easier in this part of pregnancy than in the first trimester when I was sick and the pregnancy not as stable.

CAROLINE: There is not really such a thing like routine at the moment. It is more like a day-to-day decision that depends on how Junior and I are going. No pace, HR or any other data, I just listen to my body and try to make smart moves. I had some days where I can do S-B-R and some days where I can’t do a thing. I am probably more on the safer side, which is perfectly fine with me. I can do crazy sh@# later in my life, now its just not the time for it.

My weekly workout roughly:

5-6x 60min swimming

3-4x bike 60-90min

3-4x run/walk 40-80min

1x preg Pilates

MBK: Since I don’t use HR in general in my job, I didn’t start using it in pregnancy either. Every day can be different too and going by perceived effort on the day works the best. Training shifted quickly to ‘heavily exercising’ and simply seeing how everything feels on the day based on where he is sitting, what aches, pains and soreness may have surfaced and certainly where the extra weight has shifted!

Typical week: 20-23 hours of movement give or take. This will likely decline more the last few weeks here of pregnancy and time will tell on that.

Swim: 40-50K per week; swimming feels best by far – all smooth, mix of toys.

Cycling: 3-4 times per week; 1.5 – 2.5 hours; nothing above Ironman watts for short pockets of time. Will also pop in SoulCycle once in awhile with friends to change it up!

Run: 3-4X per week. 20 miles/week at the MOST right now. Jogging easily. This has gradually declined the past few weeks – this kid is sitting low on my pelvis and most days, it just doesn’t feel kosher anymore. I was grateful for the running that I got to do during pregnancy, even if it was a day by day decision so if I need to end running soon these final few weeks, I will just appreciate the walking!

Strength: 2-3 marquee 60’ sessions per week compliments of Kato = key active minutes! 2X additional 30’ sessions per week of pelvis strengthening and core.

Stair-Stepper: 45-75’ 2-3 times per week. This is where I seem to get my HR up the most. This is cross-training that I never do when racing so it was fun to incorporate it during pregnancy; something new and different!


  1. How did you decide the time was right in your professional career to take time out to have a baby? 


JODIE: We just wanted to guarantee that I was able to still have kids so when I hit 35 we began planning. There is not much more I would have regretted more than leaving it too late to have James’s child just because I was racing and earning well. It was the priority for us.

CAROLINE: I thought the time was right 15 years ago but then life changed and so did my priorities. When I was young I never dreamed of becoming a pro athlete or winning such a thing like the Hawaii Ironman but I always dreamed of becoming a mum. “Follow your dreams” it said on my race bike and so I did. With the right partner on my side the time was just right.

MBK: As we have always heard ‘there is never a PERFECTLY RIGHT TIME to have children’ for most people. Life can easily pass you by. AK and I thought we would have kids nearly a decade ago and of course blinked and well, here we are and we are grateful.


  1. Do you think your feelings about returning to racing will change once the little one arrives? 


JODIE: I don’t think so. I’m pretty adamant I’ll race to the top again.  I don’t feel done in my career and that is unlikely to change.

CAROLINE: That is a thing that I really don’t know yet. I have a plan A and that is to return to racing but I am open for plan B and being a full-time mum if necessary.

MBK: These “AMA” (advanced maternal age = doctors nice way of saying you are older to be having a kid!) legs/mind/spirit aren’t close to being done with racing. I’m already VERY MUCH looking forward to having BBK (baby boy Kessler) in tow with AK on the courses for that extra motivation.


  1. Are your sponsors supporting you while you are on ‘maternity leave’ from the racing side of the sport?


JODIE: Yes,100% record there. I am privileged to have supporting sponsors and together we have really tried to focus on my ability to understand and write and report to fellow competitors and the public about high performance.  My writing opportunities have just escalated once I have had more of my stuff published and that ties in really well with how I can offer my sponsors coverage and stay relevant whilst been off the field.

I also think it important to reiterate that lifetime athletes are also human – we have to have families and we have needs in and outside of our careers. I like connecting with women who have been through and are going through issues – whether domestic violence, eating disorders or pregnancy woes. I have now been through all three and it is some feat to be able to come out the other side with a great career and a perfect husband. I am proof to many people that you can change your life.

CAROLINE: Some promised me straight away to keep supporting me during pregnancy and once I am back racing. Other sponsors got very quiet and I am not sure yet if they are still on board once I am back from my baby break. There is not such a thing like “maternity leave” as a pro athlete. It is a short time of glory that is for sure.

MBK: While our job/sport do not have a concrete ‘maternity leave’ where we get paid our potential race winnings or ‘vacation’ time if you will, it is absolute GOLD if our sponsors continue to pay us our annual salaries even without the bonus structure potential that we have set up when racing. As when you don’t race (same goes if we were sidelined with injury), you obviously don’t get paid the bonus structures set in place in your contract.

I feel grateful that my standing sponsors have continued their support during this time off of the race circuit. That said, most of my contracts are up at the end of the year so we are hopeful they will have enough faith in us, post BBK, to deliver in races in 2018 and thus keep me on board as a sponsored athlete going forward.


  1. What do you miss the most about not being on the racecourse during this time? In particular, what will you miss most about not competing in Kona 2017?


JODIE: I miss the preparation, I miss the progress, I miss the goal of achieving and the euphoria of winning something that no one else could. I still believe I can podium at Kona and this year I will miss the chance to get that right.  It is every year though and I’m not going far! At this moment in time I miss not being there for my James as he prepares for what could present a real milestone in his career.

CAROLINE: All the free swag you get … hahaha :-) Need some new sunnies and t-shirts. Definitely don’t miss the hype and the completely overloaded busy week before the race.

MBK: Of course we miss doing what we LOVE to do – what we GET to do, our passion for racing triathlon. We miss the driven dedication, hard work, fortitude and stamina that go into it all. We miss all of the waves of getting to that peak, to the brink and the hard, yet rewarding, training sessions that you rise above even when you think it isn’t possible; those workouts where the magic actually happens. This dedication is currently (and positively) shifted and the magical outcome now is focused on growing a human life! There is always another race, even a Kona, around the corner.

As for Kona, what I will miss the most is the annual time there with our family and friends. It will make Kona 2018 that much more special.


  1. What are you looking forward to in your job after you have settled into motherhood? 


JODIE: I look forward to crossing a finish line with my son waiting to give me a cuddle.  Good, bad or mediocre – he won’t care what I do and that’s pretty much what I have searched for my whole life and what has kind of eluded me before James came along – unadulterated approval – I have always just wanted to be loved.

CAROLINE: I will miss the daily exercise and the happy feeling you get once you managed hard good training sessions. Also, all the people in the sport: sponsors media and other pro’s you became friends with over the years.

MBK: Just like we visualise having that epic race where everything comes together, I now equally visualise seeing AK with BBK strapped to his chest – cheering along the race course and I dream of hugging them both at the finish line.


About The Author

Rob Sheeley is the Race Editor for WITSUP

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