DEL_5385We jumped at the chance to chat with Mirinda ‘Rinny’ Carfrae about her road to Kona this year, including the ups and downs, her return to working with her previous coach of seven years, Siri Lindley, the emotional side of racing and the entire journey. Some great insight into the decisions Carfrae has made to get her back to the top of that podium, where she was in 2010

 

The main focus is obvisouly Kona, so is the progression going well? We know you can’t be in peak condition all the time, but it’s on track for Kona?

Certainly my training is on track, I’ve done some really good work and I had a good off-season. But I haven’t been able to convert that into a race which is really frustrating. I like to see some results throughout the year. But I crashed in San Juan in February, then got that absolute rubbish red card in Oceanside for passing – he said for taking longer than 20seconds to pass – and the rule is actually 25 seconds. But anyway, it’s silly, I don’t think you should get a red card for that. It’s four minutes for trying to make your way to the front! So, anyway, I got my first red card of my career in that race.

And then I did a couple of races that were pretty good, I came fifth in St Anthony’s – the field was pretty solid. There were a lot of ITU guys there so I was happy with that. Then I did another race the following weekend, oh and then it was Quassy and I didn’t have a great race there, I came fifth.  Then topped it off with some issues at Eagleman. So I kind of feel like the start of this year has been one thing after another. If it wasn’t crashing your bike, receiving a random red card that you’d never have expected to receive in your life, or I don’t know… But, I still feel confident. With results like that, you could feel that you’re not on track, but I feel that with the training that I’ve done and the fitness that I have, I know that I’m in good form. It’s just a matter of putting it together on race day.

 

And you were going to do Vineman, but changed it to Racine 70.3, where you ended up second to Angela Naeth?

I was going to do Vineman, but in Eagleman, this weird thing happened. I’m was on a new saddle and I was doing back to back halves, so it could have been a lot of things, but 35miles in, my hips started to lock up. I’ve never had cramping issues in the past, but my glutes, hamstrings, back, everything locked up. I couldn’t even pedal the bike. I couldn’t even get off the bike! I could unclip one foot, but couldn’t unclip the other, so I had to just wait for someone to come and get me off the bike!

 

No way?

[laughing] Yeah I couldn’t bend down to undo my shoe to take my foot out. So I was just stuck upright on my bike on the side of the road until someone could help me. We are still trying to figure out the actual cause of that tightness and I’ve had a lot of work done since. You know, there was also the back to back halves, plus Eagleman is a dead flat course, so from what I’ve been told, it sounds like it was the perfect storm. The experts seem to think I may have pinched a nerve as well.

I’ve changed saddles now. I ride an ISM, but the version I was on we think was too wide and I think I was sitting on my attachment points on the wider saddle. So I’ve now got the narrower one and squeezed the front together a bit. I’m definitely loving the saddle now.

So back to the point, that’s why I chose Racine because it’s flatter. I wanted to get all this work done, change the saddle and put myself in similar race conditions to Kona – it’s hot, it’s flat-ish – Vineman is a little bit technical and quite punchy and a there’s a bit where you have to be out of the saddle.

So next will be Muskoka 70.3 on the same weekend as Vegas (Ironman 70.3 World Championships). I’m sure there will be a few women, but with Vegas the same weekend, it’s obviously not going to be that huge.

 

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It seems that now a lot of the women who are aiming for Kona, don’t want to race in Vegas. You did it last year, but, choosing not to this year?

I think the first year it was in Vegas, I was excited, and then found out how hot it could potentially be, so I chose to race Hy-Vee instead, which was a great idea because I came second!

But then I thought, no, I should put my toe on the line in the big World Championship races, so last year I went and did it , but I think always in the back of my mind I thought, this race is not worth it if it takes even just one percent away from my performance in Kona. So, I was going into that race where I was racing people who are going to be racing their hardest and putting everything on the line for that World Championship title, which is the mentality you should have, but I didn’t really have that. Plus, Vegas as a community doesn’t really get behind the race, and the venue isn’t that great. Don’t get me wrong, the course is fantastic. It’s a challenging bike, super hard, it’s hot. It’s a hard course. But there’s no excitement around the event. I don’t think Vegas locals really wanted us there. Honestly it didn’t feel like a World Championship race. For me, there is a massive emotional side to racing, and getting ‘up’ for a big race, and if I’m not excited for it, I don’t perform. I think that’s why in the past I’ve managed to get ‘up’ for Kona because there is such an emotional high going in to the race. There’s a lot of excitement! All that being said though, Mont Tremblant next year, I might content that. It might be the same weekend as what Vegas was, you know four weeks out from Kona, which is fine, but it’ll be a cooler environment. It’s in a smaller town, and I think it’ll be a really nice event. That might be on the cards for next year.

 

So, back to the emotional side of racing and you talk about being ‘up’ and excited for a race. I’ve seen a lot of footage of you at races with your headphones on in transition pre-race, is that then your time? You’re in your own zone as opposed to being hyped up by the crowd?

Yeah, it’s more leading into the race that I take on the vibe of the crowds. So it’s the days leading into Kona – every day more and more people come into town, it’s the press conferences, all the interviews you do, it’s just a lot of energy leading in. Then the morning of the race I like to be relaxed and in my own space. Certainly you want the people who are close to you around you, whether it be your managers, or your coach or whoever has been working close with you.  But yeah, I like to chose a few songs, whatever gets me going at that point in time, but you’re not really listening, you’re really focused on the process, what you have to do that day and the enormity of it all, all the while just trying to stay relaxed.

 

DEL_0638When you plan your calendar, obviously you discuss with your coach, but do you also sit down with your managers to take a look at what will be good for you and your sponsors? Do you also sit down with Tim (fiancé) to see what will work in well for you both?

Shannon and Wendy don’t come into it that much in terms of the race schedule, unless they’ve been contacted by an event that have an appearance fee or something along those lines. Then they will bring it to my attention and I’ll look at it in the grand scheme of things. But I definitely talk to Tim a lot about our race schedules. I think it’s super important to nail the right plan. In the past Siri (Lindley – coach) have always sat down in December before I would head back home to Australia. We’d sit down in Boulder, or in LA, you know I’d fly in on my way home and stay the night to lay it all out there and come up with a great plan. I’ve kind of stuck to a similar plan even in the past 18 months when I haven’t been working with her, it’s always been a plan that works really well.

 

So when did you decide to go back to Siri? Was it something you’d been thinking about for a while? Was it a surprise for her?

No, I don’t think she expected it all. This might sound weird, but I really believe that you make your own luck, and things for me this year, as I said, just didn’t seem to be clicking. It was just one thing after another. While I was working with Joel, and he has been fantastic and I 100 percent believe in him as a coach, I think for me, personally, coming from a basketball background, and having a pretty close relationship with my first triathlon coach, and then being with Siri for seven years, I’ve found that the coach/athlete relationship for me is really important. Going on that journey, you’re not just racing for yourself, you’re racing for your team. Obviously I’m racing for Tim and my family, but, it’s good to have someone sort of go through every day with you. She’s writing the program for me, and knows exactly what I’m doing. She’s not physically at every session obviously, but, to take the journey with someone is important for me.

So after the issues at Eagleman, I just started thinking about it, and I spoke to Tim and he agreed that I should speak to Siri. Then I spoke to my managers as well, and Bella, my best friend and others who have known me for so long and know the situation and they all thought I should go back to talk to Siri. So I did.

For me, I don’t want to say she’s a security blanket, because she’s way more than that, but the comfort level that I have with the plan that we put together far outweighs any program that someone could write… For me that is…

There’s so many different ways to get to the top, but for me, her program is great, we mesh really well and we have a fantastic relationship, and we always have, even through the massive ‘break-up’ [laughing]. Which honestly, was a really hard time for both of us.

So, she had moved back to Boulder, but whether she was here or not I still would have contacted her, and I sent her a text asking if we could meet up, to which she replied, “is everything ok?” and I said, “yeah… but we need to meet up.” So we talked through everything and any issues we may have had towards the end of  us working together, and all of that stuff, so now we’re pretty excited to move forward together.

You mentioned ‘the break-up,’ and I’m curious, was the break up kind of what you needed to re-group and then realize what you really wanted?

You know Siri and I worked together for seven years, and now I have to step up my game again. The girls are getting faster and I really need to ride faster. I’d been doing a similar program for seven years, well close to seven years as I wasn’t doing Ironman the whole time. I kind of wanted to go out on my own for a bit. The first year I pretty much coached myself with a lot of help from Matt Steinmatz, who was great, but he was a different style of coach than Siri. He wrote my bike program, and I wrote my run and swim. At the end of that year I realised that it worked out ok. I had everything I needed in Kona to do well, but, I didn’t enjoy it as much because I had to stress all the details – writing my own swim and run program. So then I figured that I needed more of a full time coach who could oversee the whole swim, bike, run and that’s why I went to Joel because I have a lot of respect for what he does. I’d watched his career over the last 5-6 years and his athletes are some of the best in the world, and I liked his approach. Also, Lauren Groves and Sarah Groff who used to train with Siri when I first started and who are good friends of mine were there as well, so I could get a gauge of what he was like coaching wise from them. I started talking to him and he was fantastic, but, he just wasn’t my coach, you know? Not right for me.

It’s weird, my only regret is that with Joel I definitely think we could have gotten some great results, and done some great things together, but I don’t think I would have enjoyed the journey with him as much as I would with Siri.  Does that make sense?

 

DEL_5379Absolutely, like you said before, you really enjoy the journey aspect of this sport, so that’s obviously important to you. So it must be exciting for both you and Siri to come back together with all that you’ve learnt about yourself in the past 18months, in particular with the bike, and then bring that knowledge back to her and give her some fresh eyes on it too?

Absolutely! I mean throughout our whole athlete/coach relationship, especially when I stepped up to Ironman, it’s been a two way street. You know I was out there talking to Crowie and anyone who would give advice. She was doing the same with Paula (Newby-Fraser) and Mark (Allen) etc. So she ultimately wrote the program but certainly had a lot of ideas and things to say and it’s the same now. We sit down, she’s planned the program and we discuss.  I’ll ask questions, offer alternatives, and then at the end we come out with the master plan.

 

Ok, so how weird is it to be training with some of the top women in the sport who are also coached by Siri as well? Current World Champion, Leanda Cave, springs to mind. Is it weird?

Yeah, I think it’ll get weirder getting closer to Kona, but I think for the most part Siri has become very good at giving each athlete the attention they need and figuring out who to put with who. In saying that, we will always swim together, no problem, whatever, but we would rarely ever run the same hard session together. We’d roll out together on the bike, but end up in completely different areas to hard repeats. So I don’t know what she’s doing, or Bek (Keat) or Yvonne (Van Vlerken) are doing, so Siri has gotten a lot better at strategically placing athletes. I might train with the boys more than girls, or she will pair you off with different partners. And also, I’m here in Boulder so I train with Tim, with Crowie, with Julie (Dibens) so there’s plenty of people to train with outside of the group too.

 

Alright, so let’s look at the women’s race in Kona. At the moment there’s no clear leader to take the title. There’s a plethora of athletes, and on paper there’s quite a few women who could take the title. But after watching Ironman Cairns in particular where Liz Blatchford played are far more tactical race than Gina Crawford to take the win. It was her first Ironman and she was almost shadowing Crawford and learning on the day. It’s fair to say that it’s not so much about the fittest athlete on the day, it’s about the fittest and the smartest? 

Oh yeah, I remember my first year in Kona [2009], and that was my first Ironman, and I was scared of the distance. You hear so many horror stories of people collapsing, or not even making it off the bike, I just didn’t want to be another one of those statistics. I actually had a terrible swim, I was thinking “meh, it’s an Ironman, it’s not super fast,” and it was way faster than I thought, and then it took me 50km to catch up with BG [Belinda Granger], Bek [Keat], MJ [Michellie Jones] and Jo Lawn, and I thought well these are the veterans of the sport, so I’ll ride with them. We ended up shelling a few of them so there were only a couple left, I think BG and someone else, with 50km to go. So yeah, I just sat in with them because I thought, well they knew what they were doing, and if this how fast we have to ride, then I will. But anyways, yeah, you definitely have to be smart.

 

So can you see things starting to change? Can you see that there’s more and more women stepping up to that next level to be a real contender on the main stage?

I definitely think we’ll see that in Kona this year. It definitely seems to be heading that way, but I thought we’d see that last year as well. Although Kona is a weird race – weird things happen.

There are so many women who are filling in the gaps. There’s got to be a solid front pack this year. But again, I thought that would happen last year. You know Meredith was that person, but she ended up crashing last year. There was obviously Leanda and Caroline up there, but Rachel Joyce who would have been up there was sick. So this year is going to be interesting. It’s going to take a special performance to win on the day, and it’s not easy to get it all right on the day.

 

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How’d did you end up pulling up after last year? You really cained yourself out there. You had nothing at the end.

Yeah, I was fine the days after but certainly immediately after I spent a bit of time on the IV’s in the medical tent. I think I was 10lb lighter after the race, which is a lot when normally I’m 2lb. I remember stepping on the scale the year before and it being 2lb. I just didn’t drink enough fluids last year, and with it being windy out there, I underestimated how the wind really dries you out, whereas when it’s humid you’re sweating a lot so you just reminded to drink, drink, drink. My calories are set by the hour, but the water I drink to feel and I don’t know, I just didn’t take in enough and I paid for it.

I work with Greg Cox at the institute of sport, and I first met him when I got into the AIS in 2002, or 2001, and when I stepped up to halves he planned out the nutrition plan and has helped me ever since. It’s worked really well.

 

 Well, we’ve kept you for far too long, so we’ll leave it there and chat to you again soon, hopefully.

Yeah, no worries at all. Thanks Stef!

 

Photos by Delly Carr

 

Follow Rinny on twitter and check out her website

 

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