There will be a familiar name missing from this year’s Ironman World Championship start list. Three-time Ironman world champion Mirinda “Rinny” Carfrae has made the start in every Kona race since 2009, finishing on the podium in seven of those attempts—but this year represents a season of change for Carfrae and her husband, fellow professional triathlete Timothy O’Donnell, as she is expecting their first child this August. Though she is enjoying her time away from structured training, the 36-year-old hopes to come back to Kona stronger than ever and “be able to stand on top of the podium being a mom as well as a triathlete.” We chatted with Carfrae about the news, her plans for a return to racing and who she thinks is capable of competing with Daniela Ryf at the big race in October.
Triathlete.com: It’s been an eventful year! Talk to me about how it’s gone so far.
Carfrae: The year has been completely different for me. Obviously we fell pregnant pretty quickly. Post-Kona, knowing we wanted to try to start a family but not knowing how long it would take, we decided to have a plan A and a plan B. Plan A would be we’d fall pregnant and I’d take the year off and we’d have a baby, and plan B was the normal year if it didn’t happen quickly. It was a bit of an adjustment—a very welcome one. After 15 years of having a strict schedule starting on January 1 and doing hard training and preparing for a hard season of racing—not having that to think about was an adjustment at first, but it’s been a really nice change for me. I’m excited for this next chapter in our lives.
Triathlete.com: How have your sponsors received the news that you’d take the year off?
Carfrae: Everyone has been great. That was nerve-wracking—I’m sure for any woman—having to go to a boss, or in my case sponsors, and say “I’m not going to be racing this year.” In the past few years I’ve been quite open and honest about the fact that at some point we would start a family and that would be a year out of racing for me. It wasn’t completely out of the blue. The majority of my sponsors have continued to sponsor me to the full capacity that they did before. A couple of them maybe decreased my base salary by 20 or 30 percent but then added an extra year on my contract, so it’s gone as well as I could have hoped.
Triathlete.com: I’m curious as a two-triathlete household, how has that dynamic been different with Tim still training heavily and less of a focus on your racing right now?
Carfrae: That’s been really fun for me actually. We both are always focusing on Kona and trying to support each other with whatever we have left at the end of the day, but really realizing that we need to focus all of our attention to get the best out of ourselves. For me to be able to step back and pick up the slack a little bit around the house and then also being able to come and support him and be on the sidelines on his races. I would never come and just watch him race if I was racing myself. I was either competing or was back home training.
Triathlete.com: Has taking a break from competitive racing given you any kind of different perspective on the sport?
Carfrae: Not really a different perspective. More that you start to appreciate what you’ve done in the sport, and I think while you’re racing and while you’re in it, it’s hard to have perspective on your own career and your accomplishments. But the hunger is still there. I’m following the competitive races. I’m watching the trends and seeing how the girls are racing. I’m hungry to get back out there and compete again. Sometimes it’s nice to take a step back to appreciate where you’ve come from and what you’ve been able to accomplish.
Triathlete.com: If everything goes to plan, what do the next 18 months look like for you?
Carfrae: If everything goes to plan, I would like to be back racing in probably March or April next year. The baby will hopefully come on time, which would be early August so that will hopefully give me six or seven months before I would start racing. I hope to be ready to race an Ironman by June in 2018 and then prepare for Kona. The goal is to get back to Kona at full strength. Hopefully by June I can race pretty well over the Ironman distance. That’s the dream plan anyway, we’ll see.
Triathlete.com: Is there anything in your career that you want to do before you retire?
Carfrae: There are things I still want to do. I’d love to go back to Kona and go faster than I’ve gone before, but looking back at my career I’ve won Kona three times and that’s always been my goal in the sport. To be at the top of my game and be able to win that world title multiple times. I can’t really complain about my career and what I’ve done. If it were all to end tomorrow, I would be pretty happy with how it’s all gone and what I’ve accomplished. I definitely want more. I want to be able to win another world title. I want to be able to stand on top of the podium being a mom as well as a triathlete.
Triathlete.com: You mentioned you still follow the pro women and what’s going on with the sport. Going into Kona, there’s going to be an interesting conversation because everyone looked at you versus Daniela [Ryf, the defending two-time champion]. Is there anyone on your radar that you think is going to be capable of making a run for the title?
Carfrae: Obviously Daniela has just set herself apart, especially with her performances last year in Roth, Switzerland and Kona. That triple was kind of unprecedented in our sport. I think she will definitely be the overwhelming favorite going into the race. I think Kaisa Lehtonen. She started training with Siri [Lindley, Carfrae’s coach] this year. She raced pretty well against Daniela in South Africa earlier this year. I believe she’ll be on the podium in Kona. Heather Jackson is another one that will be right up amongst in the running for another podium. If Rachel [Joyce] can get enough points, which kind of sucks that she has to chase points because she’s such a phenomenal athlete in Kona and would be one of the podium getters. She’s going to struggle to get enough points to get back to Kona, but if she can get there she’ll be back on the podium. Watching her over the past month or so she just looks phenomenal. I’m really enjoying watching her come back to race after having Archie.
Triathlete.com: The Kona feature from A&E networks’ digital platforms was recently released. How did the A&E/Lifetime partnership come to be?
Carfrae: Basically a couple of weeks before Kona last year my manager asked if we would be open to have someone filming us race week. That A&E would be capturing some footage and figuring out a way to help promote the sport and help myself and Tim. Kona week is always a real touchy time for us. We worked with a videographer [Jianca Lazarus] who was phenomenal. She was a local who lived in Oahu and came in and really was a fly on the wall and really didn’t interrupt any of our preparation. It was a no-brainer to be involved with A&E—that’s one of the requests that you seriously consider when they knock on the door. It’s been really good. It was quite easy for us to get the footage on race week and we’re planning to push forward and do a couple of projects with our story evolving and the baby joining the family. I think it will be a cool story to follow. Hopefully we can keep it interesting enough for the viewers.
Watch the feature from A&E Network’s’ Digital platforms and Lifetime here or below.