Categorized | Multi-sport, Sports

Ironman: Catching up with Carfrae

(Kevin Mackinnon interviews the defending Ford Ironman World Champion)

As the women’s field at last year’s Ironman World Championship were digesting the news that Chrissie Wellington wouldn’t be starting the race, the woman who immediately became the race favorite in the three-time defending champ’s absence looked at her coach, Siri Lindley, and said “I better not screw it up now.”

Mirinda Carfrae needn’t have worried. Her sub-nine hour performance included a blazing 2:53:22 marathon.

While the 30-year-old Australian is all-too-aware that people might wonder what might have happened had Wellington competed in Kona last October, she is justifiably proud of her own performance.

“People are going to speculate,” Carfrae said in an interview a couple of days before Ironman New Zealand last month. “Chrissie is a phenomenal athlete – she’s a freak of nature, actually. So, when she pulled out people are going to say it was Chrissie’s race to lose. I was really proud of myself for putting in such a good performance and for going under nine hours. There are other women who are going the speeds she’s going. She’s not doing anything that can’t be replicated or beaten. I’m excited and really looking forward to Kona this year because Chrissie is going to want that title back more than anything and I’m hoping to keep improving and to take another step on last year. I think I can go a little bit faster.”

While Wellington’s initial success in Kona took the triathlon world by surprise, Carfrae’s arrival at the top of the Ironman world has been a long, calculated process, one that seems to have been helped by a series of perfectly timed developments in the triathlon world.

After representing Australia at the world championships as a junior in 2001 in Edmonton, Canada, Carfrae was trying to figure out how she would be able to compete on the elite level when it was announced that the U23 division would be added to the ITU schedule.

Then, in 2006, as she was wrestling with her future as an ITU Olympic distance athlete, the new Ironman 70.3 series was announced, providing the diminutive Aussie with the perfect venue to continue her triathlon career.

By 2007, Carfrae had become the Ironman 70.3 world champion, and was one of the dominant forces on the 70.3 scene.

“When you’re on the right path, doors will open,” Carfrae said of her triathlon career.

While many might have jumped into the more lucrative Ironman world, Carfrae was patient about moving up to the longer distance.

“It was a calculated move,” she said. “I didn’t want to race Ironman until I was 28. When I was 25 or 26, I probably could have done an Ironman. I wanted to make sure my body was strong enough to handle Ironman before I moved up, though.”

All the calculations have obviously paid off. Carfrae’s Ironman debut saw her finish second to Wellington in Kona in 2009. Then came the win last year.

Her third Ironman race in New Zealand, last March, saw her come oh-so-close to taking the win – a flat tire sidelined her and put her 22-minutes back of race-winner Samantha Warriner starting the marathon.

While Carfrae would eventually run to within a few minutes of the win, the effort was by far the toughest she’s experienced in an Ironman.

“That was agony,” she said after the race. “I was not in shape to run that fast. I’ve never felt that bad. But, second place was there for the taking and I had to have a crack it. Those red-heads, they don’t give up. Jo (Lawn) was gritting her teeth. It took me a couple of kilometers to catch her and I was only a minute behind. I was fading badly and I could hear for people cheering for her – it seemed like she was right on my shoulder all the way back.

“When I got the flat tire, I thought ‘I don’t need to win this race, I just need to tick it off and get that qualification.’ So I was racing kind of half-heartedly for the last part of the bike. Then, when I was transitioning onto the run, I thought I would see how my legs felt for the first 10 km, and my legs felt pretty good. Then I thought I’d see how I felt for the second 10 km. By then I was in about fourth place and in striking distance to second, my legs were starting to not feel so great. The last 15 km, I was spent.”

After her star-studded Ironman career, it’s almost refreshing to hear Carfrae experience what the rest of us mortals go through in an Ironman.

As easy as it all appears to have been for Carfrae, though, the journey has had challenges.

“There were definitely years early on when I questioned my ability, but I always had a desire to compete at the Ironman and some belief that I would be able to succeed at the Ironman distance,” she said. “You have those beliefs, but then to go and get a second and a first and get the win so early in my career … it is amazing. Sometimes I wonder how I pulled if off.”

Having just turned 30 last month, Carfrae appears to be on her way to even more success in the future.

“I don’t believe I’m near my peak,” she said. “I’ve got my best years ahead of me. I want to see how fast I can do the Ironman. It’s about winning world championships, but it’s also about maximizing your potential as an athlete. That’s how I look at racing, and that’s how I look at Ironman. I want to see how fast we can go and how close to the guys we can get.”

To do that, Carfrae will continue to train and race hard. Her biggest training weeks can included about 32-33 hours of training and, less than a month after her tough day in Taupo she was back to racing, running her way to a win at Rohto Ironman 70.3 California last weekend.

Those doors seem to keep opening for Carfrae, and she continues to “not screw things up,” but there’s good reason for that: Mirinda Carfrae certainly appears be on the right path and, in her case, it is a winning one.

(Reach Kevin Mackinnon at kevin@ironman.com)

— Find out more:
www.ironman.com

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