After three victories, two runners-up and a 3rd place in seven tries at the Ironman World Championship, Mirinda Carfrae stands fourth among women winners at Kona. Paula Newby-Fraser stands above the rest with 8 victories and Natascha Badmann is next with 6 wins. Chrissie Wellington is third in line with 4 Kona titles – just in reach of the 35-year-old Australian who has been the most reliable performer at Kona since 2009.
Carfrae seems fully recovered after getting hit by a car three days before the 2015 Ironman World championship, which led to her dropping out during the bike leg. This June Carfrae won Ironman Austria in 8:41:17 with PRs on the bike leg (4:47:38) and marathon (2:49:06) –indicating she is ready to battle defending Kona champion Daniela Ryf for the 2016 crown.
Carfrae spoke to Slowtwitch after a swim workout at RallySport in Boulder.
Slowtwitch: What happened to you last year at Kona – your only DNF in 7 tries?
Mirinda Carfrae: I was heading out on Alii Drive for a ride out of town and the car was coming in and kind of shot between two cars into a driveway. I had no time to react and found myself on the top of the car’s bonnet. Three days before the biggest race of the year is not really ideal. But all in all it could have been a lot worse. I was beat up a little bit but nothing was broken.
ST: You were hurt but started the race. Why did you withdraw on the bike?
Mirinda: Honestly I thought the swim would be the biggest issue. My shoulder was swollen from the impact. I didn’t think too much about anything else because that was the main thing that was hurting me. I got through the swim and hopped on the bike. Pretty early on, even before I got out of town, I didn’t really have power to my pedals. Especially on my left side. I was hit on my left side and I think my left glute and my left quad just basically tightened up.
ST: You felt you were disconnected from your power?
Mirinda: Exactly. When you are racing the best in the world you can't have your system shut down like that. Especially when I am on the bike, I need all systems firing. People were just riding past me and I was going nowhere. I knew I was in great shape but I just couldn’t produce [any power].
ST: Bad things happen right before the biggest race in the world. Greg Welch hit by a car on his last pre-race ride in San Diego in 1993. Chrissie’s last minute Kona withdrawal due to West Nile Virus in 2010. Mary Beth Ellis pre-Kona bike crash injury in September 2012. Mel Hauschildt’s massage injury in 2014. Did your accident leave you a bit spooked?
Mirinda: I think I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. I am certainly more hesitant when I am riding and I see cars pulling out. Certainly in Kona I am always very careful because race week in Kona is always totally crazy. There are cars everywhere. People everywhere. There are people from different countries who aren’t used to riding – or driving - on the right side of the road. Having said that. For all of my rides this year, Siri was always with me. She watches her athletes like a hawk. Absolutely. She or [Carfare’s agent] Wendy Ingraham will come out and be in front of me on the bike before the race in Kona. Because that is where I went wrong.
ST: How did you put together your fitness this year? The high point so far was your 8:41:17 to win Ironman Austria.
Mirinda: I am really happy with how this year is going. Siri and I always sit down at the end of the year and map out a plan. We’ve realized an early season Ironman didn’t really work for me. I certainly don’t want to be in peak shape early in the year. And to do an Ironman when you are not in great shape and go through the motions doesn’t fit my personality either. So a mid-season Ironman was the best bet and Austria turned out to be perfect timing.
ST: What leg – swim, bike or run - were you happiest with at Austria?
Mirinda: I felt strong throughout all three and that was the key. I was very happy with the bike. Looking at the power numbers afterward, I had a really solid bike [4:47:39] and was able to run well [2:49:06] after that. So, I think overall it was a very solid performance given that I hadn’t done my real Ironman training yet.
ST: Can you consciously back off during a race? Or is our performance ruled by your level of fitness?
Mirinda: Because the whole year is mapped out and I get fairly out of shape in the off season, in June I am not really in Ironman shape. I need a couple more months after that to really get in shape. I didn't expect to be in fantastic shape – but I didn’t want to be in fantastic shape. I wanted to save a performance that good until the end of the year.
ST: Fans anticipate you will have a great battle with Daniela Ryf. She has a better swim than you and better bike. How close is your bike level to hers now? [Carfrae at Ironman Austria 4:47:39, Ryf at Roth 4:31:29]
Mirinda: It is hard to tell. I feel like I am in really good bike shape. Time will tell. I don’t know how fast Daniela will ride on the day. [Ryf’s best bike split at Kona 4:50:46 in 2015; Carfrae’s best bike split at Kona was 4:58:20 in 2013] I will have a good bike performance if I can ride as well as I have before - just under 5 hours. If I can go around 5 hours or just below, that will put me in a very good place. Hopefully I can execute a faster run.
ST: Do you think you can ride faster at Kona taking into account your performance in Austria?
Mirinda: Yeah. But you have to know that Austria’s bike is a little bit short. And it is completely different. You can’t compare Roth. You can't compare Austria. Or any of the European races - they are absolute BS compared to Kona. In Kona you have to pedal the whole way by yourself. All of the European races, there is drafting.
ST: Do pro women draft on purpose?
Mirinda: Because everyone starts together and there are very many very good age group men, they end up being this terrible presence around you. In Kona the pro men are not there. The age group men who are really good start 25 minutes behind you. So it is a completely different game. It is fair. I think for pro women especially - Kona is our one saving grace throughout the year. We can talk all day about how fast people go in Europe. It was the same for me. I go faster in Europe. That is not really an indicator of what I will do in Kona.
ST: What do you think happened to Daniela Ryf when she finished 4th at Ironman 703 Worlds?
Mirinda: I think that Daniela bit off a little more than she could chew. To do two Ironmans back to back is crazy. [After dropping out at Frankfurt due to hypothermia, Ryf won Challenge Roth and then won Ironman Switzerland] It is not something I would ever, ever consider doing. And then to go back and try to do the 70.3 World Championship? I think if you want to win the big races at the end of the year you have to be smart throughout the year. For whatever reason, Daniela wanted to do Roth. I can’t blame her. It is fantastic race, one of my favorite ever race experiences. And then she had to validate for Kona and she did Switzerland as well. That is not what I would have chosen to do. But that is what she chose to so. Honestly I was impressed with how well she did, considering the fatigue she was bringing into that race. That is not to say she won’t be great in Kona. Because Kona is still another 5 weeks after 70.3 Worlds. Kona is a whole different beast.
ST: Any special anticipation coming up against Daniela Ryf at Kona? How alluring is that possibility?
Mirinda: Honestly, I am excited to race Daniela again. And there will be some other girls. I think Mel Hauschildt is will be a factor this year - if she can get to the start line in one piece. She has never raced in Kona because she has been injured at those times. And there are another couple young one coming up. Heather Jackson, and some other girls too. I can't just focus 100 percent on Daniela.
ST: Has your coach Siri Lindley changed things up this year?
Mirinda: I think Siri just tries to keep it fresh. This is my 8th Kona preparation. I know 6 of those were very successful – 3 wins, 2 runners-up, s 3rd place]. It is very hard to sway from a program that has been very successful. At the same time, that plan can sometimes be old. Boring. Same sessions. It is important to repeat similar sessions. But it is also important to keep things fresh.
ST: What is different this year?
Mirinda: Some of our key sessions, instead of doing mile repeats, we will do 2ks. Racing in Europe was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed it. Putting in a mid-season Ironman to give me a mid-season focus was good. The early part of the year we really just focused on Olympic distance racing. Short course. Which is completely different to the Ironman preparation. Since Austria we are focusing 100 percent on Kona.
Siri Lindley: It’s time to go!