When Team NB's Mirinda Carfrae hopped off her bike last year at the World Ironman Championship in Kona, she was more than 14 minutes behind the female leaders, which is kind of like being down five runs in the bottom of the ninth inning—the odds of eking out a win are almost zero. “I didn’t think that kind of deficit had ever been overcome,” says the 34-year-old Australian. “But I was the defending champion, and I felt like anything other than a victory would be a failure.”
Carfrae’s optimism in the face of impossible odds is why the 5'3" former basketball player, who grew up with five siblings on a farm in Queensland, Australia, is a three-time World Ironman Champion. In 2010, just one year after Carfrae started racing Kona, she won triathlon’s most coveted event. Turns out she was just getting warmed up. In 2013, Carfrae posted a 2:50:38 marathon, the third-fastest time ever, male or female, at Kona. Then came last year’s remarkable comeback, by far the largest in the history of the sport.
“I’ve realized that it takes those big, important races to get the best out of myself,” says Carfrae. “I still have nerves, but to have the opportunity to race against the best in the world is what excites me and gets me going. I think about Kona most of the year during my training.
As the race, which is held annually in early October, draws nearer, her focus intensifies. By the beginning of August, Carfrae will have tapered from all other responsibilities. “I call it my Kona training block,” says Carfrae, who lives in Boulder, Colorado. “I lock myself into training and don’t make any more commitments.” She’ll swim three to four times per week, between four and five kilometers each session. Armed with her arsenal of New Balance running shoes, including the lightweight Vazee Pace and the 1600V2 Spikeless racing flats, she’ll run varying distances six days a week, sometimes twice per day, and she’ll bike roughly 250 miles a week, always visualizing the lava fields of Kona. Outside of her strict swim, bike, and run routine, Carfrae will also do two or three core sessions per week. Every detail of her program, including what she wears, has been meticulously orchestrated, allowing her to focus less on sweating and more on hitting her training goals.