Australia’s Mirinda Carfrae & Germany’s Michael Raelert Win Rohto Ironman 70.3 Triathlon in California

Carfrae now owns 12 wins at the 70.3 distance and last October in Kona her Ironman debut was a rousing success, thanks to her runner-up finish behind Chrissie Wellington.

Carfrae heard the question too many times to count. The Aussie won two 70.3 races in 2006, another in ’07, four more in ’08, then four more last year before finally stepping up to the Ironman distance last October at Kona.

Why the delay?

“I just didn’t want to burn out,” said Carfrae. “I love the lifestyle. I love racing and I wanted to look after my body. I think you’re better off racing at the shorter distance and bringing your speed into Ironman. You don’t peak as a female endurance athlete until your mid-30s. If you’re racing Ironman at 24, you could do some damage. I wanted to be smart. And I wanted to make sure I was capable of racing it properly. I didn’t want to turn out to just be some number in the field. I wanted to be a competitor.”

No one can argue with her reasoning. Or her success. Carfrae now owns 12 wins at the 70.3 distance and last October in Kona her Ironman debut was a rousing success, thanks to her runner-up finish behind Chrissie Wellington. Wellington, in case you forgot, has never lost at the Ironman distance, set the course record last year at Kona and has won the event three years in a row.

Carfrae said she wanted to see if she could pick up where she left off, and that’s exactly what she did at Oceanside. She was 30 seconds behind Leanda Cave off the bike, then proceeded to run away with the victory. Carfrae clocked a 1:17:34 half marathon (5:55 per-mile pace), breaking her half-marathon course record by nearly three minutes.

Carfrae finished in 4:20:19, more than four minutes ahead of San Diego’s Lesley Paterson (4:24:31). No one was surprised by Carfrae’s 13.1-mile show.

“I’m a runner. That’s my thing,” she said. “Every race I expect to be the fastest runner. That’s just the way I roll.”

Given her results, Carfrae is understandably racing with some confidence.

“Success does breed confidence,” she said. “You get on a roll, you expect to be at the front. You kind of expect nothing less.”

At the Ironman distance, Wellington is still in a class by herself. She beat Carfrae last October by 19 minutes, 57 seconds. But if anyone can push Wellington, Carfrae is the likely candidate.

“It’s going to be Mirinda, no doubt,” said John Duke, the content director for Ironman publications. “Because of her running speed.”

You don’t have to be a tri geek to know where Carfrae must improve to close the considerable gap. It’s on the bike. Wellington’s bike split last year was 22 minutes, 11 seconds faster than Carfrae’s.

“I have to be in the same zip code as Chrissie (off the bike), and I certainly wasn’t last year,” Carfrae said.

Without opening up her training Bible for all to read, Carfrae said she plans to log more bike miles and more intense work on the Compu Trainer. Speaking of the plan she’s hatched with coach Siri Lindley, Carfrae said, “We’ve got a couple ideas. We’ll see what works.”

Importantly, Carfrae gives the impression she thinks she can push Wellington.

“Chrissie is still head and shoulders above,” Carfrae said. “She’s an amazing athlete. Truly amazing. She’s set the bar high. But having said that, she’s only human. I think anything’s possible. I’m 29. I’m going to be in the sport another 10 years. Hopefully at some point I’ll wear her down.”

Bottom line, at least now people talk about someone potentially challenging Wellington.

“Mirinda’s a scrapper,” Duke said. “And she’s just coming into her own. She’s always been the No. 2 athlete. She was behind (Samantha) McGlone at Zoot. That’s why she switched to K-Swiss. Her moment in the sun has arrived.

“After her performance at Kona, she’s the ‘it’ girl. She’s cute. She’s friendly. She’s got a nice personality. She’s somebody who’s just fun to talk to. But when the gun goes off, she’s all business.”

The World Champ

It wasn’t a bad five-week stretch last fall for the Raelert brothers. Andreas shows up at Kona and finishes third behind Craig Alexander and Chris Lieto at the Ford Ironman World Championship. Come November, Michael lines up at Clearwater, Fla., and nabs the Foster Grant Ironman World Championship 70.3 title.

But Michael had to put up with some Internet sniping after his victory. On Clearwater’s flat bike course, people talked about the cyclists getting bunched. He heard people complain that he waited for the run to exert himself. Either way, he didn’t like the barbs.

“I got cranky,” Raelert told the press after his Oceanside win. “I didn’t feel I was respected for my effort. I don’t want to the best runner. I want to be the best athlete.”

On a day when the likes of Matt Reed, Richie Cunningham and Tim DeBoom filled the field, Raelert left no doubt who was the best. He took the lead at mile 40 of the bike and virtually downshifted, leaving others to scramble for second.

“After a while I lost ’em,” Raelert said.

Raelert covered the 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike and 13.1-mile run in 3 hours, 58 minutes and 27 seconds. Reed was nearly three minutes back in 4:01:17. Denmark’s Rasmus Henning finished third in 4:02:07.

For a March race, when spring had barely sprung, Raelert took much satisfaction from his performance.

Referring to his Clearwater victory, Raelert said, “A lot of people thought maybe I was just a one-day wonder. I proved I’m the world champion.”