With three Ironman World Championship titles and six podium finishes under her belt, Mirinda Carfrae is the ultimate triathlete

By Karla Bruning
July 02, 2015
Corbis Images

Coming off of the bike leg at the 2014 Ironman World Championship in Kona, HI, Mirinda "Rinny" Carfrae sat 14 minutes and 30 seconds behind the leader. But the Australian powerhouse chased down the seven women in front of her, ending with a record-setting 2:50:27 marathon time to win her third Ironman World Championship title.

Widely regarded as the best runner in the sport, the 5'3'', 34-year-old Carfrae also owns the overall record on Kona's famously wind-swept course through scorching black lava fields with a time of 8:52:14. She's competed in Kona six times, reaching the podium every single time.

Carfrae trains 30 hours a week-and sometimes more during her peak season-running 60 miles per week over six days. That's in addition to swimming six days a week and biking five. We're exhausted just thinking about it.

What keeps Carfrae going on the roads, other than her effervescent personality and serious competitive streak? Shape caught up with her at a Mile High Run Club workout in New York City to find out.

Shape: What keeps you motivated?

Mirinda Carfrae (MC): Kona in itself is motivating enough for me. I stumbled across that race when I was first introduced to the sport. There's just something special about the event. I'm always striving to see what my potential is on the Big Island in that race. That's what drives me. That's my motivation.

Shape: What's your favorite thing about running?

MC: My favorite thing about running it's just so relaxing. I find it therapeutic. I do a lot of afternoon easy runs before dusk, and it's like going for a walk. When you're really fit, it's really like just going out for a nice, relaxing walk. It's part therapy, but it also has taken me so many places.

Shape: What's your best speed tip for running fast?

MC: Treadmill is key for speed. Cadence is super important. And doing 30-second or 20-second pickups. I do those before every hard session just to get my body going. Some days, I'll just hop off the bike, hop on the treadmill, and do pickups. I'll do 20 seconds on, 30 seconds off. That just gets your nervous system firing. (Treadmill workouts are one of the 7 Running Tricks to Help You Speed Up in Hot Weather.)

Shape: What do you think about while you're training?

MC: There's definitely a lot of random, I need to do chores type stuff just running through your mind because a lot of your training is not super focused. You do a lot of miles where you're out there on the bike for five hours and you're not doing hard efforts. So there's a lot of random "off with the fairies" I like to call it. When there are more focused sessions-maybe a quality bike ride, time trialing, goal runs-then I certainly become more focused.

Shape: Do you have any go-to mantras?

MC: Not really. I just kind of get it done? No, I don't really repeat anything over in my mind. I just get it done.

Shape: With three Ironman World titles and six podium finishes, I bet you have a favorite Ironman moment.

MC: My favorite Ironman moment was at the 2013 Ironman World Championships when I crossed the finish line and my husband [Ironman American record holder Timothy O'Donnell] was waiting at the finish line for me. He'd finished fifth n the pro men's race. We were getting married a month and a half later, so it was a special moment for both of us. (Speaking of races, check out these 12 Amazing Finish Line Moments.)

Shape: What's your favorite part of the race?

MC: The finish line! But seriously, I love the run. That's my favorite leg of the race.

Shape: Do you have any "can't live without" items that you train with?

MC: I can't live without my iPhone and Pandora radio!

Shape: What kind of music do you listen to?

MC: Sometimes I like chill music, but David Guetta is an artist I like for harder, more up-tempo stuff. It depends on my mood. If I'm in a bubbly, happy mood, then David Guetta. If I'm tired, probably more like Linkin Park or Metallica or Foo Fighters or something like that. But then when I'm doing an easier ride, I'll listen to Pink or Madonna radio or Michael Jackson Radio-just fun, pop music.

Shape: Do you have something you like to treat yourself when you have a big win?

MC: I'm pretty good at treating myself in general. Especially in terms of food. We eat ice cream most days, which is probably not great. But after a big race, my husband and I have a rule: if you have a good race, then you pick out something that you really want. I won Kona last year and I bought myself a watch. So we have little bonuses or prizes that we give ourselves that are kind of expensive, that you wouldn't just buy any other time. In terms of food, we go straight for burgers, fries and milkshakes after a race.

Shape: Ironman, along with Life Time Fitness, recently launched "Women for Tri," an initiative to bring more women to the sport since females still make up just 36.5 percent of triathletes in America. What do you say to women who are thinking about doing their first triathlon?

MC: Absolutely give it a try! The sport of triathlon is all-inclusive. If you're intimidated by the dudes, then there are all-women triathlons, shorter distance races that you can give a go. I think anyone who starts training for a triathlon, they get the bug right away-just because the sport is so full of friendly, positive people and people of all abilities trying to better themselves. I think it's infectious. I'd encourage anyone to just sign up for your local short race. You don't have to do a half-Ironman or Ironman to call yourself a triathlete. There are sprints, Iron Girl, and so many options out there. If dong a half Ironman is your goal, that's fantastic. But I encourage people to start short, and enjoy the process up to those longer distance races.


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