Tough Love: Making The Two-Triathlete Relationship Work

Some couples meet through friends, at a bar, on Mirinda Carfrae and Tim “T.O.” O’Donnell met in the med tent.

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Endurance power couple Mirinda Carfrae and Tim O’Donnell give advice on making the two-triathlete household work.

Some couples meet through friends, at a bar, on Mirinda Carfrae and Tim “T.O.” O’Donnell met in the med tent.

The professional triathletes were racing Ironman 70.3 Buffalo Springs in 2008 and both wound up seeking medical help after the race. O’Donnell says, “Rinny wasn’t coherent,” and she admits barely remembering the encounter. But once they properly met at Ironman 70.3 St. Croix in 2009 (at the pasta party, of course), they clicked and the rest is history—last summer they got engaged on the beach in Big Sur, Calif.

The pair shares insight on how they make a sometimes long-distance, same-career lifestyle work.

Weigh goals equally. “We both have careers, and my goals are no more important than his goals,” Carfrae says. “It’s hard at points, but we have to go our separate ways—if that means I have to go train in California for three weeks, then that’s the way it has to be.”

Be an unselfish supporter. “The reason why we work so well is because I only want the best for him,” Carfrae says. “I don’t want him to be a cheerleader; I want him to be a successful athlete in his own right, and he wants the exact same for me.”

Consider sickness and health. “Even now we’re learning we have to worry about health things,” O’Donnell says. “If one of us gets sick, the other one’s probably going to sick right before their race. So now we need a plan.”

Tackle races as a team. “At this point we look at everything like, ‘OK, I need to get my bike ready and then make sure T.O.’s OK,’” Carfrae says. “Because it’s us as a team. We race completely separate and we have separate race plans, but if something needs to get done—if my bike is broken, it’s his problem as well.”

Work out together only when it makes sense. The duo regularly goes to the pool together and swims in separate lanes. Or they’ll start rides at the same time or do aerobic runs together. “But we’re never compromising, like, ‘What’s on your schedule today? OK, I’ll go with you,’” Carfrae says.

Plan to break at the same time. Although they can’t always race the same exact schedule, they plan their events so they share an off-season break. “We take the sport as a lifestyle so we enjoy a glass of wine, we enjoy good food, we enjoy ice cream—we’re not 100 percent strict all the time; there’s a time and place for that,” Carfrae says. “For us it’s about longevity in the sport and enjoying the sport for the long run.”

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