Mirinda Carfrae’s Training Tips

Inside the mind and training habits of the fastest woman in Kona history

2013 Championship Day IRONMAN Kona Race World

    Photo: Nils Nilsen

Australia's Mirinda Carfrae won the Ironman championship in 2010, placed second in 2011, third in 2012, and this year regained her place at first.

This year, for the first time, the fastest woman (Carfrae) raced a faster marathon than the men's winner (Frederik Van Lierde). Carfrae finished at 2:50:38, Van Lierde at 2:51:18.

On October 12, Mirinda Carfrae won the Ironman World Championship. Not only did she win, the 32-year old Aussie also beat the course record, set in 2009 by Chrissie Wellington, by just under two minutes. It now stands at 8:52:14.
 
To achieve that top time, Carfrae did something previously considered impossible: she raced a faster marathon than the men’s winner, Frederik Van Lierde. After swimming 2.4 miles, and biking 112 miles, Carfrae averaged a 6:30 minute-per-mile pace for a final run split of 2:50:38. (Van Lierde ran a 2:51:18.)
 
“This year the stars aligned for me,” Carfrae says. “I knew that performance was in me. But believing that you’re capable of something, then actually having it come together on the one day of the year that matters—that’s like a dream.”
 
It wasn’t an easy victory. After winning the race in 2010 in only her second attempt, Carfrae struggled to reclaim the throne, placing second in 2011, and third in 2012. But what she learned during those few years in between wins ultimately made her a stronger, faster competitor.
 
Below, Carfrae shares her hard-earned tips and tricks for getting the most out of training and competing.
 
Turn negatives into positives
Going into the race in 2012, I was fit enough to contend for the title. To make mistakes in nutrition and fall short, I was disappointed because of the lost opportunity. But I was also quite surprised and proud of my performance because I was running on fumes and held it together for third place.
 
I went into medical after and had lost 10 pounds. That’s a lot for someone my size. (Carfrae is 5-foot-2, 118 pounds.) For my body to still be able to function on an OK level after basically depleting itself, I took a bout of confidence from that. I know that f I get the nutrition right, and even if things go a little bit south, I should still be able to perform.
 
Keep a training log
I take a lot of confidence from my training. This past year in particular, I had a pretty rough year. I really didn’t have any great results until July and I started racing in March. But I didn’t panic because I could see the numbers in my training log. I could always go back and look to see what sessions I was able to hold, how I felt through the sessions, and that really helped me stay calm. It would’ve been very easy to panic and worry that I wasn’t fit enough or that I was gonna have a disastrous Kona. But when I can just go back and look at the numbers, it takes the emotion out of it, and I could take a lot of confidence from those good sessions.
 
Schedule benchmark workouts
I have a few key workouts. About eight weeks out from Kona, I’ll do a 5.5-hour ride with the last hour flat out, as hard as I can go. Then I’ll hop off and do 10 by 1-mile on a road that’s slightly uphill on the way out, slightly downhill on the way back. If I’ve held a certain amount of watts on the bike and a certain pace on the run, then I know that I’m on track.
 
Date around (with coaches)
Siri [Lindley] and I started working together in ’05. Then in the beginning of 2012, I left her because after 6.5 years of working together, I wanted to seek some different opinions, work with some different coaches. For a year, I was with a guy who just wrote my cycling program, and I did everything else, and I didn’t enjoy that. Siri’s a really hands-on coach, and I realized that that’s really what I need to function at my best level. [The two reunited in July 2013.] Siri’s basically like family and it was awesome to share the win in Kona with her. I don’t think I would’ve been able to perform to the level that I did without her support.
 
Try plyometrics
I don’t believe in weight training for my body type. I’m naturally muscular, so putting me in a gym bulks me up and slows me down. I do functional movement to optimize the strength that I have and making sure everything’s firing in the correct pattern so that I have access to all of my muscles when I’m out there exercising. A lot of it is making sure everything is open and free, so I do a lot of ankle and hip mobilizers to start, then some plyometrics and more explosive exercises. [Check out this full-body plyometrics regimen.]
 
Crank the tunes
I can’t live without my iPod on those long runs and long solo rides. I listen to all sorts of music from Dave Matthews Band to Pink to David Guetta. I love David Guetta, he’s my go-to guy for key sessions. I probably wouldn’t go country. That’s where I draw the line.
 
Eat the ice cream
I’m pretty relaxed with my diet. Obviously, I’m not eating fast food all of the time. I try to fill my body with good food for the most part. But I enjoy a lot of wine and for most of the year I eat ice cream every night. That’s more to keep the weight on throughout the season, because you don’t want to be too lean. That leads you to being susceptible to sickness and being run down. So I try to keep a couple extra pounds on throughout the season.
 
Zen out on course
For the most part, you want to just shut your brain down and focus on being in the moment. When you’re able to have a quiet mind and focus on what you’re doing in every moment, that’s when you’ll have your best race.
 
Race yourself
After I won in 2010, a lot of people asked me why I’m continuing to do Ironman—it’s a tough sport, it’s grueling. Why are you continuing to put your body through this when you’ve already won the world title? My answer to that is: my goal is always to see what my capabilities are. It’s always been how fast can I race Kona? I still believe I can improve my swim, bike, and run. Until I believe I can’t get any better, I’ll keep racing. That’s what drives me.

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