Australian Mirinda Carfrae Explains What It's Like To Be An Ironman Champion

Mirinda CarfraeREUTERSCarfrae set a new course record at the most recent World Ironman Championship in Kona, Hawaii

Mirinda Carfrae has made a career out of balancing swimming, biking, and running — and an incredibly successful one at that.

The 33-year-old Australian won gold at the World Ironman Championship in 2010, and again this past October.

But the road to gold isn’t an easy journey. We spoke to Carfrae about her gruelling training, diet, and the business side of being a gold medal-winning triathlete.

This feature is a part of our Most Dominant Athletes series.

Carfrae didn't even get into triathlons until she was 19, but quickly proved herself a force to be reckoned with. 'It sort of showed me that I was on to something,' she says, 'And that perhaps I was doing something that I could be quite good at.'

Carfrae won silver at the Cancun ITU Triathlon U/23 World Championships in 2002.

A full Ironman consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run, totaling an overall distance of 140.6 miles. Carfrae found that she took to the running part pretty quickly, and has to train even harder for the swim and bike legs of the race.

Carfrae at the Cancun ITU Triathlon U/23 World Championships in 2002.

For Carfrae, her training alone -- about 30 hours a week -- is a full-time job. She usually has three training sessions a day, divided up in the morning, afternoon, and evening.

'On a typical day I might get up and swim for an hour and a half and then have some breakfast,' she says. 'Then (I'd) go out and ride three to five hours, and then typically run off the bike as well for 30 minutes to an hour, depending. Every day is different.'

'I don't cycle every day, I don't run every day,' she says. 'Typically I run six days a week, I bike probably around five days a week, and swim six days a week, so everything kind of overlaps in different ways. The timing for the optimal plan is kind of difficult when you've got three sports to try to master.'

A trainer writes Carfrae's plan for her, and Carfrae has never missed a training session without good reason. 'I stick to a plan and get the work done,' she says. 'Unless I'm coming down with a cold or (something)... then I'll make adjustments, but for the most part I'm very strict with my training plan.'

Carfrae (left) and members of the gold medal-winning Australian team at the Women's World Triathlon Team Championship in Tiszaujvaros, Hungary, in 2003.

Working her body so hard requires Carfrae to keep it fuelled, and she tries to eat 'as much real food' as she can. She eats a lot of eggs for protein, and drinks a lot of chocolate milk for easy carbs.

Carfrae is helped off the finish line by medics after coming in third at the 2012 Ironman World Championship.

Carfrae usually has one or two big meals a day, and grazes on power bars or other snacks, like crackers and hummus, between training sessions; with three a day, 'you have to plan your meals around them, because you can't go into a session with a full stomach.'

Carfrae runs with her bicycle to begin the 112-mile ride at the 2013 Ironman World Championship.

While Carfrae says she does drink alcohol ('we love our wine'), she cuts out eight weeks from the World Championship to lighten up for the event. But otherwise, she says that 'it's good to enjoy a glass of wine and try to be a normal person where possible.'

Carfrae on the run leg during the 2011 Taupo Ironman in 2011.

Carfrae tries to go to bed between 10 and 11pm and wake up around 7 or 8am. Anywhere between seven and 10 hours of sleep a night is a good night's rest, she says, but she'll take a nap to help her with her afternoon session if she gets fewer than that.

Mirinda Carfrae of Australia rides during the Asia Pacific Championships Ironman race on March 25, 2012 in Melbourne, Australia.

Carfrae seems to work around the clock. 'There's not a lot of rest time, as we're kind of running our own small businesses,' she says. 'We spend our down time with our laptops in our laps, answering emails, sorting out our next trips, or travel plans for our next race... (Even) if you're not training, you're working.'

After 14 years of competing, Carfrae says she doesn't really get sore muscles anymore. 'You certainly want to avoid getting sore as much as possible, because any time you have muscle soreness that sort of takes away from your training.'

Carfrae celebrates her win at the 2013 World Ironman Championship with her fiance (now husband) Tim O'Donnell, a fellow Ironman competitor.

Many professional athletes tend to peak in their mid- to late 30s, Carfrae says, and she plans to continue competing for as long as possible. She says she'd like to have kids someday, 'so I think that would be the reason I'd retire.'

After that, Carfrae says she sees herself doing some coaching, or possibly working with her sponsors, but until then will continue racing for at least another four or five years.

Now see who else made our list of athletic dominance.

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