Benefield: Returning Ironman champion riding string of success
When asked about the extraordinary move last summer by race officials to cancel the swim portion of the Ironman 70.3 Santa Rosa event, eventual women’s winner Mirinda “Rinny” Carfrae recalls that she was not devastated. Not at all.
“It was a small internal cheer,” she said. “Swimming is my weakest (discipline).”
But when Carfrae, 38, says weakest, it’s a good idea to give that statement context and remember that all things are relative. Carfrae will swim 1.2 miles in Lake Sonoma Saturday morning faster than your average bear, then she’ll ride 56 miles on her bike remarkably fast — and if all things go the way they usually go for Carfrae in a race, she’ll kill the 13.1-mile run.
In an event like triathlon, where terrain and course setup can differ dramatically, it seems almost pointless to compare what Carfrae did in the Ironman 70.3 in Coeur d’Alene on June 30 with what she may do in Sonoma County on Saturday. But I’ll do it anyway: She finished the swim in 27:50, finished the bike in 2:23.06 and the run in 1:20.09 in Idaho. On a slightly different course than that which will be run in Sonoma County, Carfrae’s bike time was 2:35.48 and her run was 1:39.44. Only one pro in the field ran faster.
Although she’s a veteran Ironman racer and did this event (and won) way back when it was called the Vineman, she hasn’t done the complete course as currently configured. This year features a new full-loop run on the Prince Memorial Greenway — and, of course, a swim.
But her Coeur d’Alene times do bode well for her chances Saturday, because her second-place finish came on the heels of winning both the Ironman 70.3 Mont-Tremblant and the Ironman 70.3 Victoria last month.
“It was a really successful June. I’m pretty happy with those results,” she said. “I’m ahead of where I thought I was, which was really encouraging.”
Where Carfrae — who now lives and trains in Boulder, Colorado — wants to be is priming for the Ironman world championships in Kona, Hawaii, in October. After Santa Rosa, she’ll take some time off before gearing up for the Ironman 70.3 Santa Cruz in September and then the biggie the following month.
“The timing for this race is perfect,” she said.
Mont-Tremblant, Victoria, Couer d’Alene and now Santa Rosa are all pieces of her progression toward the full-distance triathlon championships that she has owned in years past.
Carfrae set the Ironman world championship course record in Kona in 2013 and owned multiple marathon-leg records in that race over the years.
In all, Carfrae has stood on the podium seven times at Kona — winning three times, coming in second three times and finishing third once.
She’s been the Ironman 70.3 world champ. She is one of the biggest names in the sport.
But Carfrae hit a point a few years ago where she described her attitude toward triathlon as increasingly “stale.”
Enter Isabelle, the daughter that Carfrae and her husband Tim O’Donnell welcomed to the world nearly 2 years ago. Did we mention that O’Donnell, too, is a professional triathlete who is also racing in Santa Rosa?