By James Lo
With her daughter Izzy, on her lap, beaming with a large smile, three-time Ironman World Champion Mirinda Carfrae and her equally talented husband, 2009 ITU Long Distance Triathlon World Championships winner and third placed athlete in the 2015 Ironman World Championship, Tim O’Donnell sat down with Taiwan Scene in Waypoint Santé. While the couple complimented the power foods that were served by the local restaurant that was tailored for professional endurance athletes and casual enthusiasts alike, no signs of fatigue were visible on the powerhouse couple. Their young daughter, although not yet able to walk, was already showing immense potential as an endurance athlete with her abundant amount of energy. The couple arrived in Taiwan to participate in the Triathlon Middle Distance Championship Asia Pacific, an event that was known more commonly among the triathlon community as the 2018 Challenge Family Asia Pacific Championship.
However, this visit was not O’Donnell’s first time to Taiwan, “I was here alone last time so I didn’t get to see much,” O’Donnell said. “But I remember the hospitality of the Taiwanese people. People I meet give me the biggest impression of the countries I visit, and I can say that I am happy to be back.”
The 2018 Challenge Family Asia Pacific Championship was the first Asian triathlon championship event in Taiwan to be held by Challenge Family, one of the world’s most renowned triathlon organizers. The event was scheduled to kick off on November 18, 2018 in Taitung, and attracted the participation of close to a thousand endurance athletes from fifteen different countries. Consisting of a 1.9km swim, followed by a 90km bicycle ride and then a 21.1km marathon as the concluding leg of the event, the athletes competed for a US$40,000 prize purse, with the winner projected to come from the pro-triathlete roaster.
Among the seasoned pros, the spotlight was shone on none other than O’Donnell and Carfrae, who both continue to set athletic record even as parents to a baby. The persistence and achievements of both triathletes have the world of endurance sport in awe, with most of the couple’s admi111rers often wondering how the couple could stay at the top of their game while balancing family life. According to the couple, aside from getting babysitting help from their parents, the couple’s key to a successfully partnership is mutual respect for their shared craft and keeping the other person entertained. As O’Donnell and Carfrae have different coaches, the couple would make sure that one spouse would pick up family responsibilities when the other one was in the middle of a key training session. “We joke about who brings home the dough,” O’Donnell said, “but we are both very self-motivated. We do indirectly challenge each other and we watch each other to see how we can improve as athletes.” As a family, the couple values their time at home together in Boulder Colorado, as the jobs of both parents require the family to spend long weeks abroad away from home.
Triathlon Beginnings and Philosophy
“I was a swimmer growing up, and then my older brother convinced me to start the sport when he was doing triathlon in our university (The United States Naval Academy).” O’Donnell answered when asked about his first foray into the world of triathlon. “So, I was always drawn to working hard, and I felt like triathlon was really a sport where hard work trumps talent more so than any other sport, and I think that was what hooked me.”
Both endurance athletes have individually accumulated accolades from the biggest competition in the triathlon world, Ironman World Championship, better known by its namesake location: Kona. When they are not training for the next big competition, O’Donnell and Carfrae are constantly on the road participating in other triathlon challenges to qualify for the annual Kona. And after years in the sport as well as starting a family, neither of the triathletes show signs of slowing down, and are arguably at the peak of their game. “We will keep racing for a couple more years,” O’Donnell said confidently. “At 37 and 38, we had our best races this year! Mirinda made a personal best in her riding this year, proving that age is just a number.”
To the couple, the challenge in Taiwan was only four to five weeks after the 2018 Ironman World Championship held on October 13, 2018. As such, the couple was still at the height of their performance upon their arrival to Taiwan, and had strategized to apply all of their fitness gains acquired from October to Taitung. Both triathletes also designed their training routine for the Taiwan challenge around recovery, as their accumulative experiences have taught them a valuable lesson in working in sync with their bodies. “My workout philosophy is quality over quantity, especially as we get older,” Carfrae said. “We feel that we’ve done so many years of the sport, and now we understand burning out. We know the longer sessions are important, but, at this point, we try to nail the quality sessions. To nail those sessions, we need to be fresh enough to do so, so we don’t go into hard sessions really fatigued. There was a long time in our career where we’d just train a lot, long and hard, all the time. I think that was important at that time. But now that we are a little older, we value the breaks. If we feel exhausted we might take a day off or a half day, and listen to our body a lot more than we used to, now that we know what we need to do.”
Finally, the three-time Kona champ had the following advice to say to all of her Taiwanese fans and amateur triathletes: “The best part about being triathlon athletes is that we can eat whatever we want,” Carfrae said smiling. “And to anyone who is interested in getting into triathlon, the best way to start is to find a group; a community. Having a community makes it more doable. Also, start short because it might end in a disaster. We stated with sprinting and 40 mins races, and after that, it is all about persistency.”