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Two-time Olympian Daniela Ryf was well-known on the ITU circuit, but a relative unknown in long-course triathlon until she set the professional circuit abuzz this season with a slew of standout successes. Ryf won her debut Ironman in Switzerland, one day after claiming victory at the 5150 European Championship in Zurich. She was equally successful in her second iron-distance, conquering Ironman Copenhagen. She also racked up two Ironman 70.3 wins (Switzerland and Wiesbaden) before earning the Ironman 70.3 World Championship title in Mont-Tremblant. And in her first Kona appearance, Ryf gave none other than now three-time Ironman world champion Mirinda Carfrae a run for her money, holding off the hard-charging Aussie until the final miles of the marathon and ultimately finishing second, just two minutes back. Following the race I had a chance to catch up with Ryf to talk about her rookie Kona experience and learn more about this up-and-coming long-course talent.
Triathlete.com: I’m sure you received many, many messages of congratulations following your race in Kona. Which one was the most meaningful to you, and why?
Ryf: The one from my coach Brett Sutton. He was one of the only ones who knew what I was capable of and to make him proud was a great achievement. We put out there our race plan before the start and I was very happy to be able to perform it almost like we planned it.
Triathlete.com: What’s something that surprised you about your first Kona experience?
Ryf: I really didn’t know there were that many hills in Kona. I always thought it was totally flat. So for me, it was a great surprise on the bike, but then when I bonked at kilometer 30 on the run, the little hill out of the Energy Lab was one of the not so fun surprises!
Triathlete.com: You said that you were confident coming into Kona–in a way that did not at all sound arrogant, but rather just as an honest confidence in yourself and your ability. Where do you think you get that confidence, and have you always been that self-assured?
Ryf: Brett Sutton helped me a lot this year to get my confidence back. I had good confidence in my good years of racing ITU, but after my biggest win at World Triathlon Championship Seoul in 2010, I had a few really hard years where I lost the trust in my body and my abilities. As an emotional person, lows like this can really give you some doubts. So I had to find a balance between these highs and lows again. For sure next to my highs I also had lows, like every athlete goes through.
Brett helped me get back to basics and just do what I like–train hard and not think too far ahead. In the beginning of the year I was just focusing on training and not thinking about racing too much. The way Brett believed in me was very motivating. He almost had to force me to race Kona, as I didn’t want to race in the beginning. Then I realized how great this opportunity was and I knew he would not send me to Kona if I wasn’t ready. Having raced quite a lot in July and August definitely gave me a lot of confidence, too.
Coming into Kona I knew I had done everything possible in training with the time I had before the race. I had a lot of respect for the race, but mainly just wanted to go out there and go as hard as I could. The bike split of Chrissie Wellington–4:52–was my target. That’s all I thought about when I thought about the bike. I knew if I could ride somewhere around there, I could have a chance to win. And that was my goal–to give it a try and put everything out there.
Triathlete.com: Do you feel that you’ve truly found your calling with half and full Ironman distance racing?
Ryf: Yes, I definitely have. I love the 70.3 races, as you can go all out from start until end. I still have to build for the Ironman races, as I’m not fit enough yet to go hard from the start. By this time next year I hope I’ll be able to race all out from the start. I see it as a challenge–testing your body how long it holds it together. This year in Kona it was a great experience and I came to my limit on the run, where I have not been before in the other two Ironman races I did this year.
Triathlete.com: What do you love and what do you hate about Ironman racing?
Ryf: To see how fast I can go is what drives me to push hard. I love pushing hard on the bike in Ironman and then seeing if I can hold it together in the run. I don’t have a hate moment yet in Ironman, but the early wake-up definitely isn’t my favorite part of the day!
Triathlete.com: As a newcomer to Kona and in general to long-course racing, people are curious to know more about you. What were you like as a little girl?
Ryf: I always liked sports. We went hiking or skiing with the family. I started swimming when I was eight and athletics when I was 10. Already then I liked competing, although my mam had to sometimes give me a little push to go out there. I did lots of running races, which I loved.
Triathlete.com: Your mother was in Kona to support you. In what ways does she help you and in what ways does she inspire you? Who else is in your key inner circle?
Ryf: Yes, it meant a lot to me that my mam was there to support me, as I know how much she hates flying. It was great to have her there with me. We shared an apartment and some nice wine two days before the race! Thanks to her I started with sports when I was very little. She always supported me with what I wanted to achieve and also taught me how be strong.
Jim Felt was there, too, which meant a lot to me, as he has become a good friend over the last few years. His support was amazing, as my bike arrived one day too late. Also Robbie and Susie Haywood, who helped me find my way around the race site. I met them last year through Brett in training camp. Robbie was the reason why I ended up doing my first Ironman in Zurich, as Brett was fed up with always telling me that I am made to race long distance. They were a huge help to me for this race.
There are also my girls at home, who I haven’t seen for ages. We all met at school around eight years ago and still keep close contact. They are the reason why I always love to come home.
Triathlete.com: Imagine your life 10 years down the road. What does it look like?
Ryf: Hmm, that’s a long time to go. I have no idea. I hope I have finished my masters in Food Science and Management and have a job somewhere in the food industry for product development or marketing. I hope to still be active, but most likely not racing anymore. I may have a family and hopefully a very big house. The big house in Switzerland might be the biggest challenge–it’s very, very expensive!
Triathlete.com: Do you have any unusual personal quirks?
Ryf: Oh I guess I have plenty of this. I’m not quite normal, even I wish I was!