KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii -- Mirinda Carfrae's 8:58:36 winning time last year made her only the third woman to break the 9-hour mark at Kona - and only 4 minutes back of the absent Chrissie Wellington's race record. While Mirinda's dazzling 2:53:32 marathon stands alone, her improved 5:04:59 bike remained her weak point, surrendering 9 minutes to Julie Dibens, 16-minutes to Karin Thuerig and who knows what to a fully healthy Wellington.
Even with the vastly improved and deeper women's fields, Carfrae seems to be keeping pace - and more -- after some rather flat early season performances that can be laid to a focus diverted to the responsibilities and opportunities that a Kona win brings with it.
Once Carfrae suffered the shock of a 3rd place to newcomer Melissa Rollison and to veteran champion Leanda Cave at Vineman 70.3, she dug in and under coach Siri Lindley's tutelage, shocked the short course world with her speed on the bike and run and close second place finish at the million dollar Hy-Vee Triathlon.
With the uncertainty arising from Wellington's injuries suffered in a Boulder bike crash two weeks ago, Carfrae won't be distracted from her laser focus on the task of racing to win her second Kona title.
Slowtwitch: Dave Scott thought that your 2nd place showing at the Olympic distance race at Hy-Vee gives you an added dose of confidence here at Kona.
Mirinda Carfrae: Yes absolutely that's a huge confidence builder for me. At the first of the year things were tough and I wondered if I'd taken on a little too much. I took on all the opportunities that were made available to me being a World Champion. But I wouldn't change a thing. You never know what's around the corner. Hopefully I will win this race again. But I thought it was important to take every opportunity that was available to me while it was there.
ST: You were not the Ironman 70.3 world beater at the start of the year. And you had a not so sharp outing at New Zealand Ironman.
Mirinda: I was a little bit disappointed with my performance through July. Still as an athlete you don’t really have a rational mind when you are training really hard. You need to draw confidence from your training and from your racing. You never rest on your laurels. Yes I was in great shape and won Kona last year. But I didn’t see any of that until I had downtime after Vineman. [Where she finished 3rd behind sensational Australian newcomer Melissa Rollison and Leanda Cave] Then I got in a solid block of training and Des Moines was my only race before Kona.
ST: Was it a thrill to duel for the win with the best short course triathletes in the world after forsaking Olympic distance competition for several years? What did that performance mean to you?
Mirinda: Absolutely. It was exciting to go out there and race against short course athletes and compete with them. I def would like to race more 5150 races in the future. Hopefully I will be able to get more of those. For me it gave me a lot of feedback that I was on track and I was strong. You race an Olympic distance it is obviously a hell of a lot different than racing an Ironman. I think for me it is a sign of my progression in the sport. I think I've become a better athlete every year. I am still racing [a few] Olympic distance races. I am still learning. I'm still improving. I'm only five years into being a triathlete. And I'm still fresh into being an individual athlete after starting off as a team athlete playing basketball. I'm going to continue improving for the next few years whether it is Ironman, 70.3 or Olympic distance.
ST: Was doing Olympic distance at Hy-Vee different - and a better choice - than doing Ironman 70.3 Worlds as your last pre Kona tuneup?
Mirinda Yeah usually I do a 70.3 four weeks out from Kona. And that's a good indication. But I think this was very similar. Because I raced one of my best ever Olympic distance races on training for an Ironman. So my training has been very similar to my lead into to Kona last year. I've done a lot of similar sessions and my fitness is the same but I'm coming in with more lessons learned.
ST: Do you think antibiotics will seriously affect Chrissie in this race?
Mirinda: Craig Alexander was on antibiotics for six months of this year. And still has been racing fantastically well. As Chrissie said, we should keep in mind that the human body can do amazing things. And you never know what can happen. This race is very special and special things happen.
ST: So you won’t subconsciously let off the gas thinking she is not at her best?
Mirinda: Absolutely not. She won’t start the race if she is not 100 percent healthy. If she starts the race, she will be ready to go. And I assume she will be at the start and I think she will have great performance this year. I assume if she steps on the start line she is ready to go for her best performance.
ST: Can you run faster than your women' race record marathon last year?
Mirinda: I definitely think I am capable of running faster than 2:53. f course the elements will play a big part in that. Last year we had a cool day. We had cloud cover. It seems like most days here lately we've had a cloud cover in the afternoon. Maybe we will have similar conditions, but you never know.
ST: You believe you can run faster here. But perhaps you need to bike faster. You biked very hard and passed a lot of tough competitors at Hy-Vee?
Mirinda: I want to push harder on the bike as well. And yes, absolutely I need to. Every year I work on my bike which is potentially my weakness. Chrissie and Julie are among the strongest riders in the sport. So for me it's always been about improving my bike without compromising my run. And I think we've been able to do that the past couple of years. I think we've been able to build on that here.
ST: After an busy year where your performances were largely not up to your 2010 season, can you go faster here?
Mirinda I don’t know. My last real Ironman race was 12 month ago here at Kona and I am hoping I am a better athlete.
ST: You were not counting Ironman New Zealand?
Mirinda: I definitely think it is a beautiful race and the race organizers were amazing. So I was disappointed I was not in better shape to race that race a little better. But I went into that race just thinking about getting it done [validating her Kona qualification by finishing a required WTC Ironman], getting that qualification and going home.