The three-time Ironman World Champion discusses her journey back to elite racing after having a second child
Mirinda “Rinny” Carfrae and Tim O’Donnell had been planning to have a second child after the 2020 triathlon season. When the global pandemic set in last March and put racing on hiatus, they moved up their timeline.
“It was pretty evident that there wasn’t much of a season,” Rinny says. “Kona I think was canceled at that point. And so we kind of looked at each other and went, ‘Well, if I can’t race, then I may as well start trying.'”
Their timing could not have been much better. Rinny fell pregnant quickly, and their baby’s due date — New Year’s Eve — served as a good reminder that better days lay ahead; like everyone, they just had to get through 2020.
Now with the calendar page turned — and she and Baby Finn both happy and healthy — Rinny is getting ready to return to triathlon racing this year as the newest Trek athlete. Watch her receive her new Speed Concept in the very adorable video below.
Rinny had been looking forward to racing last year. It was going to be her first season competing under her new coach, and longtime friend, Julie Dibens. Her focus was, as always, the Ironman World Championship in Kona. Rinny has won the race three times, in 2010, 2013 and 2014.
Unfortunately, baby or not, those plans had to be waylaid. So instead of fretting, Rinny adapted to the situation.
“I turned a pretty dire, negative year with no races into a really positive year for our family,” Rinny says. “I was due to have Finn on the 31st, and he ended up arriving on the fourth of January, so it was time really well spent for me.”
I turned a pretty dire, negative year with no races into a really positive year for our family.
- Mirinda "Rinny" Carfrae
Now, a little more than five months after having Finn, Rinny is training full time again. Her plan is to be ready for her first race by August — either Ironman 70.3 Boulder or Ironman 70.3 Timberman. Her long term target is Kona in October, 2022, roughly 18 months away.
Returning to elite-level performance after having a child is a gradual and individual process. Rinny feels about the same at this point in her training as she did after she had her first child, Izzy. That is to say, her biking and swimming are improving steadily, but she’s working hard to find her former snappiness as a runner.
“The run is always a little different in that you just kind of feel awful, feel awful, feel awful, and then all of a sudden you’re like, ‘Oh I can run again,'” Rinny laughs. “I’m looking back at notes from when I had Izzy, and it seems really similar. But when you’re in the moment, man it feels hard.”
Rinny’s first pregnancy is a good reference point for her. Knowing that she has already come back strong from giving birth gives her confidence that she will again, especially after difficult training sessions. She has learned to embrace the process, especially the quick progress she makes on a weekly basis. The upside of falling out of triathlon shape is that improvement comes fast, especially compared to the marginal gains of training at peak condition.
“You’re certainly not pushing any panic buttons when you put in a session that’s less than what you expect from yourself. I give myself a break,” Rinny says. “It’s fun, too. You’re basically working with a different body after you have a baby, because you have a little extra weight. It’s like carrying 10 pounds around everywhere I’m running. And that weight does come off. In fact, after Izzy I ended up being lighter than I’ve ever been in my career. It’s kind of wild to see how amazing the human body can be.”
Between Tim and Julie, Rinny has an excellent support structure for her climb back up to full speed.
To take care of the kids, Rinny and Tim stagger training when they can. Neither have family nearby to help — they live in Boulder, Colo., and Tim’s family is on the East Coast while Rinny’s lives in Australia — so they have a nanny as well. Having had to juggle their time with a newborn once before, they haven’t struggled to find a parenting rhythm, though Rinny has noticed that Izzy is “getting a little over mum being so busy.”
In Julie, Rinny has a close confidant as well as a coach. The two became friends around 2007. Julie is a decorated triathlete herself — she won the 2009 Ironman 70.3 World Championship — and she and Rinny hit it off by talking before and after races. They both lived in Boulder at the time, and eventually became training partners, despite the fact that they were trying to beat each other on race days. They found that their skillsets complemented each other well: “On the bike, she would smack me around, and when we went running, I was boss.”
I just have such a high appreciation and respect for a coach that really puts their heart and soul into their athletes, and Julie [Dibens] is definitely that person.
- Mirinda "Rinny" Carfrae
In 2019, Rinny’s former trainer, Siri Lindley, was no longer able to invest the time she’d like into coaching. Julie happened to be working with Tim at the time, so the switch was easy for Rinny. It was important for her to work with someone she knew on a personal level.
“I think there’s a huge trust component when you are working with a coach. And the last coach I had, I worked with her for almost 15 years, so we had a very tight relationship, too. I don’t really know any other way, honestly,” Rinny says. “Then once I started working with Julie, her attention to detail is second to none. I just have such a high appreciation and respect for a coach that really puts their heart and soul into their athletes, and Julie is definitely that person.”
With experience and good people on her side, Rinny can feel certain that her journey back to racing will be a success. She has anxieties, of course. As rewarding as her training can be, she’s ready to feel in shape again. More than taking a start line, Rinny can’t wait to perform like her old self.
“That’s probably the best feeling, when you are preparing for a race and you’re coming down in your taper and you’re just in fantastic shape,” Rinny says. “I mean obviously there’s a lot of excitement that goes around the actual races itself — going out to the venue, and getting ready to race, and the pre-race nerves — but just feeling in shape again is probably what I’m most looking forward to.”
Admittedly, being pregnant takes a toll on the body, and that can be difficult to reckon with, especially for elite athletes. But Rinny has been here before. And if there’s a piece of advice she’d give mothers who are worried they won’t be able to achieve former levels of fitness, it’s this: Trust your hard work.
“Especially the first five, six months after having a baby, they can be really tough, and it just feels like you’re not getting anywhere some days,” Rinny says. “But just keep showing up. It will get better.”
The trick is adapting to the situation. Rinny knows that for a fact.