The fun chal­lenges of be­ing an Iron­man par­ent

Penticton Herald - - HOMES - By DAVE SKRETTA


LAWRENCE, Kan. — Two of the world’s most ac­com­plished en­durance ath­letes, three-time Iron­man world cham­pion Mirinda Car­frae and her hus­band, Tim O’Don­nell, are re­lax­ing on a plush white couch in an oth­er­wise quiet house on a tree-lined street near the Uni­ver­sity of Kan­sas cam­pus.

Against one wall are their time-trial bikes, await­ing their next ses­sion. A plas­tic bin full of Hoka One One run­ning shoes sits nearby. Wa­ter bot­tles and en­ergy drinks are scat­tered about the kitchen.

In the next room? A moun­tain of baby toys piled in the cor­ner.

This is hardly the typ­i­cal train­ing-camp setup for elite ath­letes, but lit­tle about Car­frae and O’Don­nell is typ­i­cal. The fact that they’re mar­ried is novel enough, but the fact that they’re jug­gling the train­ing for the Iron­man World Cham­pi­onship in Kona, Hawaii, with chang­ing di­a­pers, feed­ing and en­ter­tain­ing their 1-year-old daugh­ter, Is­abelle, makes them quite pos­si­bly one-of-a-kind.

“Be­ing two pro­fes­sion­als in a very time-de­mand­ing sport like triathlon, we’re kind of used to be­ing loose and go­ing with the flow and not be­ing too stressed about the lit­tle stuff, like who is mak­ing din­ner and stuff like that,” O’Don­nell says. “A lot of our com­peti­tors have a spouse that’s ded­i­cated to mak­ing sure they can per­form -- do dishes, the laun­dry, make a hot meal. We were used to hav­ing to jug­gle that.

“Then when Izzy came along,” O’Don­nell says with a smile, “it just made it more of a cir­cus.”

This is a well-tuned cir­cus, though. It has to be.

The Iron­man, held Oct. 13 this year, con­sists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike and a 26.2-mile run -- a full marathon -- and that alone takes pre­cise nu­tri­tion, train­ing and re­cov­ery plans. When you add a ram­bunc­tious lit­tle girl to the mix, keep­ing all the balls in the air at once be­comes that much more dif­fi­cult.

“I mean, it’s just non­stop,” Car­frae says. “There’s no break. The days just fly by and it’s amaz­ing -- peo­ple say as you get older, the days fly by. I think as you have chil­dren the days fly by. There’s not a mo­ment we’re not train­ing or en­ter­tain­ing Is­abelle, or feed­ing her or do­ing what she needs. There’s not re­ally any down time.”

Es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing Car­frae chose to breast­feed. Those long, six-hour train­ing blocks on the bike? They had to be split into two-hour win­dows based on Izzy’s feed­ing sched­ule.

But it’s not as if O’Don­nell and Car­frae didn’t know what they were get­ting into.

The cou­ple first met in 2008, when they were both get­ting IV flu­ids to treat de­hy­dra­tion af­ter a half-Iron­man race in Texas. Their first date came when they re­turned to Colorado, where both lived and trained, and when they mar­ried in 2013 they in­stantly be­came the first fam­ily of Iron­man triathlons.

O’Don­nell is a long-dis­tance world cham­pion who fin­ished third at Kona in 2015, while Car­frae has ap­peared on the Kona podium seven times . She held the course record of a hair over 8 hours, 52 min­utes un­til 2016, when it was bro­ken by three-time and reign­ing world cham­pion Daniela Ryf.

All along, O’Don­nell and Car­frae knew they wanted chil­dren. But they also were at the top of their game, with per­sonal goals and spon­sor­ship obli­ga­tions. And with O’Don­nell’s fam­ily on the East Coast and Car­frae’s fam­ily in her na­tive Aus­tralia, it wasn’t as if grandma and grandpa could help out.

Car­frae be­gan to think se­ri­ously about hav­ing chil­dren in 2015, when she ar­rived in Kona to de­fend her most re­cent ti­tle. She was sideswiped by a car dur­ing one of her fi­nal train­ing rides on the big is­land of Hawaii, and the in­juries forced her to drop out on race day. That bit­ter taste lured her back the next year. She fin­ished sec­ond and that was good enough.

“She hugged me,” O’Don­nell re­calls, “and the first thing she said was, ‘Can we have a baby now?’ Lit­er­ally the first thing. I was like, ‘Heck yeah!’ I was wait­ing. We both wanted to start a fam­ily, but since it was Rinny that had to hit the pause but­ton her ca­reer, it was a de­ci­sion in her court.”

Preg­nancy fol­lowed quickly, and there were no com­pli­ca­tions when Izzy ar­rived two months be­fore last year’s world cham­pi­onships. O’Don­nell com­peted in the race, fin­ish­ing in the top 20, and Car­frae was there with their daugh­ter to greet him at the fin­ish line.

Fast-for­ward a year and Izzy has al­ready seen the world.

She vis­ited her fam­ily in Aus­tralia for the first time and ac­com­pa­nied O’Don­nell and Car­frae to a race in Europe. She’s been all over the U.S., in­clud­ing a re­cent tuneup in Ge­or­gia, where O’Don­nell and Car­frae made it a fam­ily sweep of a half-Iron­man race to show their Kona train­ing was on point.

O’Don­nell and Car­frae doc­u­ment many of their trav­els, races and fam­ily ex­pe­ri­ences on so­cial me­dia and their Youtube chan­nel, which they’ve dubbed “The Tim and Rinny + Izzy Show.”

In some ways, trav­el­ling is more stress­ful than even the most gru­el­ing train­ing ses­sion.

“We were go­ing to Aus­tralia in June,” O’Don­nell says, “and we rolled into the air­port hot and heavy, bags ev­ery­where -- Izzy is there and every­one’s car­ry­ing bags. We have bike boxes and all this lug­gage, and every­one is car­ry­ing two or three bags.”

Then, across the ter­mi­nal, they spot­ted Olympic triath­lete Flora Duffy.

“Her jaw just dropped,” O’Don­nell says, laugh­ing. “We were like, ‘This could be you, Flora!”

Car­frae al­ways planned to re­turn to Kona, and she be­gan train­ing se­ri­ously ear­lier this year. But the first few days and weeks were tough. She was quite nat­u­rally a bit heav­ier than nor­mal, and some of the fit­ness she had built up over a decade of rac­ing had dis­ap­peared.

Her coach, Siri Lind­ley, de­vised a train­ing plan that put her on course to com­pete Oct. 13, and Car­frae kept hit­ting ev­ery bench­mark. And af­ter ev­ery tough train­ing ses­sion, good or bad, Car­frae knew that Izzy would be wait­ing for her when she got home.

“The end of the day,” O’Don­nell says, “when you’re just re­ally tired, and you want ev­ery­thing to be a lit­tle calm, she comes buzzing by and just starts rip­ping stuff apart.”

“But it’s so fun,” Car­frae adds, “you can’t be up­set. She’s so healthy and happy.”

Those quiet nights at home might be where things have changed the most.

“Pre-Izzy, you look at it, ‘What did I do with all my spare time be­fore?”’ Car­frae says. “TV is gone. We used to fin­ish train­ing, turn on what­ever show and go to bed. Now we fin­ish train­ing, we have din­ner, Izzy time and then it’s time to put her to bed. Then it’s kind of like, ‘Time to go to sleep!’

“If I’m lucky,” she says, “I have a few min­utes to write a cou­ple emails, get back to a spon­sor, but there’s re­ally no ex­tra time. I think re­cov­ery has suf­fered a lit­tle bit, but I feel fine.”

Most cou­ples in such an un­usual sit­u­a­tion would be happy just to qual­ify for Kona, but O’Don­nell and Car­frae have high ex­pec­ta­tions.

Yes, there are more ob­sta­cles in the way of their train­ing, and the re­cov­ery that is so cru­cial to their sport may have suf­fered. But both of them in­sist they’ve never been hap­pier, and that has been re­flected in their per­for­mances.

O’Don­nell won the 70.3 race in Ge­or­gia last week­end by more than two min­utes, and Car­frae fin­ished the fam­ily dou­ble when she held off Jeanni Sey­mour by more than a minute.

Now, they’re off to Kona where two years ago they em­braced at the fin­ish line and de­cided to start a fam­ily. And you can bet Izzy will be wait­ing for them at the fin­ish this year.

“It’s so fun,” Car­frae says. “She’s at all the fin­ish lines, and I mean, most of the race I’m think­ing about get­ting to the fin­ish line so we can see Izzy and hug Izzy, and her face just lights up. She thinks every­one is cheer­ing for her. We’re ex­cited for that mo­ment.”

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