Mirinda Carfrae’s Relentless Pursuit Of Another Ironman World Title

We chat with Mirinda Carfrae ahead of Ironman 70.3 California about her 2013 season plans and her pursuit of another world title.

Photo: Paul Phillips

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Triathlete Editor-in-Chief Julia Polloreno caught up with Ironman world champion Mirinda Carfrae in lead up to this Saturday’s Ironman 70.3 Oceanside. After a bike crash at Ironman 70.3 San Juan a couple weeks ago, Oceanside will be her true test of early-season fitness. Rinny talks about her relentless pursuit of another world title—and a new face that could pose a major threat.

Julia Polloreno: So, how are you feeling mentally and physically for Saturday?

Mirinda Carfrae: I feel like my summer of training in Australia went well. It’s always nerve-racking going into the first race of the season after you come off a big race like Kona, have your down time and then build up again and try different things. You never really know what shape you’re going to be in. San Juan [70.3] was supposed to be my first race of the season, but after crashing out there I basically just went through the motions. I really have no idea where I am or what I have in the tank for the race.

JP: Is that a good thing or a bad thing—the uncertainty?

MC: Usually it’s a good thing—when there’s more pressure I tend to perform better, but it’s just the first race of the season nerves leading up to the race that suck. A couple of days before you’re like, ‘Do I still have it?’ After trying different things in the off-season you have second thoughts—you just want to know whether you’re ready to compete with everybody again.

JP: Did you do anything in the off-season or make any changes that you’re going to be putting to the test at Oceanside?

MC: I used power a lot more this off-season but I still won’t use it in the race—I prefer to race off feel, it’s how I’ve raced for so long. With that being said, I’ve worked really hard on the bike and put in some quality miles in the run, too. There’s nothing new that I’ll be implementing, I’ll still be going out there and trying to put together a good swim, bike and run and from there just analyze how the race went. I’m with a new coach [Joel Filliol] so my program is slightly different. I’m just more interested in getting the race done and looking back to see how I performed.

JP: How’s it going with Joel?

MC: Really well. I started a program with him in December and it’s worked really well for me so far. I feel like I’ve got some great sessions in, and the progression over January and February moved along right as it should have. It’s been refreshing having a different program with different sessions. I’m really happy with where I’m at. You’re still doing the same amount of work, it just looks different. I think that mentally it’s nice to change things up.

JP: How was training in Australia over the summer?

MC: There’s always a great group in Noosa—Belinda and Justin Granger, the Bennetts. They came over a lot for burgers and beers. Also Jan Frodeno and Emma Snowsill were there so they did some training here and there. The group in Noosa is always very positive, fun and different—and entertaining. Belinda Granger makes it fun every day.

JP: In terms of Kona as your main focus, do you think that will continue to be your focus in the long term?

MC: I could keep racing for…how old is Natascha? I do want to have kids at some point, but I just want to keep chipping away and see how fast I can go on that course. Maybe one year I’ll mix it up and go do Roth just for something different. I’m here to stay in terms of Ironman and Kona and trying to pick up another title.

JP: What is the draw to the Oceanside course? I know you’ve raced it multiple times.

MC: This will be my fifth time racing Oceanside. The first couple of times I did it, it was kind of like the season opener for triathlon, especially in the U.S. I just always found it good to come to California, check in with my sponsors here, and my management is based here. There’s a good start list every year—there are some fast women on the start list, which is always a good way to test yourself in the early season. The course is tough. The bike is really tough. I think I’ve only ridden 2:30 or 2:35 on that bike course. I like the tougher courses because you can really showcase what you’ve done in the off-season—your fitness level. If you haven’t done enough in the off-season, it shows up so you can go home and work on any weaknesses.

JP: How is it having Tim [O’Donnell, her fiancé and fellow pro] here racing with you?

MC: He raced with me here three years ago—he got fifth and didn’t have a very good day. He didn’t really love it and wasn’t going to race this year—he doesn’t like cold races—but I think it worked well in his schedule. He’ll do St. Croix and then Ironman Brazil.

JP: Does it change or affect your race experience having him at the same event?

MC: When we go race by ourselves we’re 100% focused on ourselves and getting to the start line and getting the most out of yourself on the day. For me, when he’s around I find myself worrying and making sure he has what he needs and wanting him to have a great race, sometimes even more than wanting to have a great race for myself. To race well you need to have laser focus on yourself and getting the most out of yourself. That’s something we’re working on because every year we’re going to be in Kona together. It’s a team situation.

JP: You raced Ironman Melbourne last year—what do you make of Corinne Abraham’s incredible performance there last weekend? Some people are even likening her to Chrissie Wellington already.  

MC: I had never heard of her, either—very impressive. To ride a 4:42 and then back it up with a 2:56 into a headwind? Caroline Steffen’s performance in Melbourne last year was very impressive, and I think Corinne’s this year is on par with what Caroline did last year. I don’t think it’s fair to compare her to Chrissie just yet. Chrissie did some things that are out of this world. That single performance of Corrine’s definitely was Chrissie-esque but Chrissie was consistent—she won 13 Ironmans and never lost one. She’s definitely going to be one to watch leading into Kona. She’s put her hand up and said “I’m here and I’m not going away and I can ride a bike and run damn fast.” I’m excited to have another girl step in and basically say, “If you want to win Kona you need to go past me.” It will give me motivation throughout the year.

PHOTOS: 2013 Ironman 70.3 San Juan

JP: Now that you’ve had more time to reflect on Kona, what’s the biggest takeaway lesson from last year’s race?

MC: Last year’s Kona really came down to nutrition. Going into the race I had everything I needed to perform well and I made the mistake of not hydrating enough on the bike and I paid the price and finished third. Defeat can sometimes be a blessing because you’re forced to look within yourself and figure out where you went wrong and what you can do differently and make changes to get it right. Hopefully I can go back and nail it next time.

JP: One of the most iconic images to emerge from last year’s Kona was that shot of you collapsing at the finish. I read that you lost 10 pounds in that race.

MC: Yeah, I was shocked. I knew I was in trouble and thought it was lack of calories—I dropped my water bottle off the bike. But 10 pounds is fluids. Because it was so windy I didn’t feel hot, and I drink by feel in Ironman races in terms of water, not calories. I wasn’t diligent in drinking water throughout the day and didn’t know it was dehydration until I got on the scale. I usually lose two pounds in Kona, and I was 108 pounds. In the morning I was 118.

JP: Had you ever suffered that much in a race before?

MC: The year before last in Kona I suffered, but it was a different kind of suffering. Trying to chase down Chrissie, I was racing well and I had the energy to get there but when you’re fighting so hard to catch up it’s a different kind of suffering. I put everything I had into trying to catch her. In 2012 I didn’t have the ability to push. I could mentally push, but the legs wouldn’t go. It’s a little bit demoralizing because you’re telling your body to do something and it refuses. It doesn’t have the fuel to respond. It was a little bit scary, actually. I nearly fell over coming down Ali’i drive. How can you collapse 200 meters from the finish line? I was in that position. My legs were going to jelly. Your mind has no more control over the body. It was a good experience to go there and know what it feels like but I don’t ever want to feel it again.

JP: When most people reach that point, they just stop. How did you push through and integrate that level of suffering to just keep going?

MC: I think it’s because it’s Kona. That’s the only race I would do that. After Kona, I can take six months off and recover and let my body recover from whatever damage I’ve done to it in Kona—hopefully I haven’t done anything too bad. In that race you put it all on the line. To me, it’s worth it.  I just switch the demons off and get to the finish line as fast as possible.

JP: Do you have any psychological tools or affirmations you use in those moments when things get ugly to motivate you to keep going?

MC: A word that I’ve used in the past is one that my [former coach] Siri told me: Be relentless. That word is very powerful because it means no matter what just keep pushing. Certainly that’s a word that comes to mind when I’m out there suffering: relentless. Everyone else is suffering, just get to work and get it done.

JP: Where will we see you racing this season?

MC: After Oceanside I’m going to do St. Anthony’s in St. Petersburg, Florida. It’s a 5150. After that I’ll either do St. Croix or Rev 3 Knoxville. Mid-June looks like maybe Quassy and Eagleman Double. Then I might go back to Vineman in mid-July. I probably won’t do Vegas, but the Hy-Vee/Muskoka double and then get ready for Kona.

JP: Why no Vegas—a world championship race?

MC: I really want to put it all on the line for Kona. That’s the race I really want to win. Yes, Vegas is a world championship race, but it doesn’t excite me like Kona does. I just want to stay away from all the hype of a championship race until I get to Kona. Kona is what gets me out of bed in the morning, not Vegas. Maybe that will change in a few years, but for now Kona is all I care about.

Checking In: Mirinda Carfrae
Tough Love: Making The Two-Triathlete Relationship Work
Mirinda Carfrae’s Decision To Race Ironman Florida
Video: Mirinda Carfrae Recaps Her Kona Race
Julie Dibens’ Role In Mirinda Carfrae’s Kona Prep
Kona Pro Bike: Mirinda Carfrae’s Felt DA

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