“Everything in moderation”, Mirinda “Rinny” Carfrae and Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

I don’t use any specific tactics, but over the years I’ve learned how to prepare myself for high stakes, high pressure kinds of situations. First, my perspective plays a role. I don’t look at situations as high pressure, I reframe and position them as an opportunity. I think the way you approach situations is really […]

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I don’t use any specific tactics, but over the years I’ve learned how to prepare myself for high stakes, high pressure kinds of situations. First, my perspective plays a role. I don’t look at situations as high pressure, I reframe and position them as an opportunity. I think the way you approach situations is really important.

As a part of our series about “How Athletes Optimize Their Mind & Body For Peak Performance”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mirinda “Rinny” Carfrae.

Originally from Australia, and now residing in Boulder, Colo., Mirinda “Rinny” Carfrae is one of the world’s most successful triathletes. In 2007, she won the 70.3 World Championships, securing her ticket to the Ironman World Championships in Kona. Since then, she has won three Ironman World Championships in 2010, 2013, and 2014 and her run course record from 2014 still stands today (2:50:26). With over 50 wins at major events throughout the world and seven podium performances at Kona in the span of a decade, Rinny is recognized as one of the greatest triathletes of all time.

In August 2020, Rinny joined Aqua Sphere, the premier swimming and triathlon equipment brand, as a global brand ambassador. As part of the Aqua Sphere team of athletes, which also includes Rinny’s husband and World Champion triathlete Timothy O’Donnell, Rinny is training and competing utilizing the industry-leading range of products, including eye protection, swimwear, triathlon wetsuits and speedsuits, and swim fitness and training accessories. She will also contribute her unique perspective and insight to future product innovations.

Rinny and Tim are expecting their second child in December 2020. Next year, Rinny will gear up to compete at Ironman World Championships — Kona in October at the age of 40.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! It is a great honor. Our readers would love to learn more about your personal background. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I grew up in Brisbane, Australia on a small crop farm. I was one of six kids, three girls and three boys. We had a pretty outdoorsy childhood, chasing each other around and we were always competitive kids growing up. I didn’t start playing sports until age 7 or 8 and I ended up playing basketball and loved it. We spent all weekend at the basketball courts. By the time I was about 13, I was starting to get really good and playing in the state league. My life revolved around basketball and school. The only problem is I’m only 5’3’’ so once I started at University, I realized I needed to find another sport. That is when I discovered triathlon.

I met a couple of triathletes in the gym as I was trying to train for basketball. I didn’t know a whole lot about it at the time and I was intrigued by this crazy three discipline sport. My new friends talked me into doing my first triathlon in 1999. I finished third overall and during the race I was miserable, but when I crossed the finish line, I realized I could be good at this and my competitive nature took over. From there, it was game on. By 2001 I was on the Australia Junior team. I was representing my country after only a few years of competing, so I knew I was on the right track

What or who inspired you to pursue your career as a high level professional athlete? We’d love to hear the story.

Around the time I started competing in triathlon, one of the best female triathletes in the world, Loretta Harrop, trained at the same facilities as me when she was in Brisbane. She won the 1999 World Championships and came in second in the Athens Olympics. She was my early inspiration, mostly because of how tough she was. She would kill herself in training and got results because of that. To this day, she is the toughest athlete I’ve ever met, but she was always approachable. She gave us advice and let us observe her training, which was pretty cool.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

My coach, Siri Lindley, who coached me from 2005 until 2019 is the most inspirational, encouraging person I know. Now, she is public speaker and goes on tour with Tony Robbins. She contacted me in 2005 after I left my former coach and when I met with her, the first thing I noticed is that her energy is palpable. She is one of a kind. I’m so glad I started working with her. I don’t think I would be able to achieve what I have in the sport without her belief in me and her encouragement.

The first email she sent me was so positive and encouraging. Coming from a team sport, you’re used to having motivating people around you, but in individual sports the coaches seem to be more reserved. There was never much praise or excitement, but when I met Siri she was bouncing off the walls and so excited for me and my career. That was enough for me to say yes to working with her. Fast forward to 2014 in Kona where I was the defending champion. When I got off the bike, I was in 8th place and 14 minutes behind the lead so I was starting the run in a little bit of a negative state of mind. Like a crouching tiger, she looks at me and says, “you’re in the PERFECT position”. I thought to myself, is she watching the same race I am? But because of her belief in my running abilities, she knew what was possible. I thought she was crazy, but I got my head back into the game and ended up winning the race and running my fastest marathon ever. Everyone else was writing me off, but she knew more than anyone about the work we had done and what I was capable of.

What advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your career?

The best advice I can give is to find a really supportive team. I look at the people I’ve surrounded myself with throughout my career — my coach, my management team — and I have only had people in my group who are positive and uplifting. I never had time for anyone who was negative or lower energy in any way. It’s vital to find a coach who you work well with and who you trust 100%.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

I’m pregnant right now, so the most exciting project in our life right now is creating our second baby.

It’s business as usual with my career, but looking ahead, my husband (who is also a World Champion triathlete) and I would love to set up coaching and wellness programs. We are just starting to talk about it and what that looks like.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. As an athlete, you often face high stakes situations that involve a lot of pressure. Most of us tend to wither in the face of such pressure and stress. Can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to optimize your mind for peak performance before high pressure, high stress situations?

I don’t use any specific tactics, but over the years I’ve learned how to prepare myself for high stakes, high pressure kinds of situations. First, my perspective plays a role. I don’t look at situations as high pressure, I reframe and position them as an opportunity. I think the way you approach situations is really important.

For me, the highest stakes situation is Kona every year. Instead of worrying about it, I look forward to it and resolve to get the most out of the experience that I can. All the pain from training and during the race is worth it because the event means so much.

I also work to create a positive mindset and set my intention to push hard and not give up. I make a promise to myself. I know I’m blessed to have the opportunity to compete at such a high level and it’s a privileged position to be in. So, I can very easily feel sorry for myself and the pain I’m going through or I can try to see how good I can be and how far I can push myself. I always choose to see the positive opportunity.

Do you use any special or particular breathing techniques to help optimize yourself?

I definitely focus on my breathing when I’m racing. I calm myself by listening to my breathing and consciously slowing down my breathing rate.

Do you have a special technique to develop a strong focus, and clear away distractions?

Through years of racing and learning how to get into the right mindset, it begins to come naturally. I spend a lot of time visualizing. Visualizing how I want things to go and all the different possible outcomes. Then, when I’m in the moment, it feels like it’s already happened.

How about your body? Can you share a few strategies that you use to optimize your body for peak performance?

I make it a priority to get weekly massages and when my training increases, I increase those sessions to twice a week. It gives me time to let go, relax and just be in the moment. There are other ways to take time for yourself, but massage helps me a lot.

I make sure I am eating well. My motto is, “everything in moderation” so I try to eat a balanced diet including high-quality, organic meat and vegetables. Considering the amount of training we do, I’m fine with treats like chocolate and wine. I think it’s healthy to have those things in moderation.

Sleep is also very important for mind and body. I try to get eight hours per night. It varies, especially with a toddler and now with the new baby on the way, but I try to nap in the daytime when my 2-year-old sleeps. I believe in naps.

These ideas are excellent, but for most of us in order for them to become integrated into our lives and really put them to use, we have to turn them into habits and make them become ‘second nature’. Has this been true in your life? How have habits played a role in your success?

When I started in triathlon, it was a big shift from basketball, and I wasn’t used to training in the mornings so getting up early to ride wasn’t natural. But in order to improve and be ready to race, I knew I had to adjust my schedule, so I committed to the changes and now it’s more of a habit for me.

It’s important to identify your priorities and what you want to accomplish. At some point it’s no longer a choice, you do what it takes to be great. Your goal needs to be strong enough to set habits in a way that helps you achieve the end game.

Can you share some of the strategies you have used to turn the ideas above into habits? What is the best way to develop great habits for optimal performance? How can one stop bad habits?

If you’re struggling with bad habits that are detrimental to your success, take time to figure out what you want in life. Hopefully your goal is strong enough to help you walk away from anything that’s not serving you well. If you’re really honest with yourself, and you know your behavior isn’t good for you, having a clear goal gives you a reason to stop doing it.

It really comes down to having a goal that moves you toward whatever life you want. Figuring out what you want is so important. When you don’t know, you tend to flounder and get stuck. It’s key to really think about what drives you. Once you find that thing, it’s much easier to get rid of bad habits and create good ones.

As a high performance athlete, you likely experience times when things are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a mind state of Flow more often in our lives?

I’ve definitely experienced a state of Flow many times. I think it comes from having a goal and taking the necessary steps toward it. When you are working toward achieving that goal you can find yourself in a state of Flow. Again, it comes back to identifying what you want in your life and getting to work. You have to check yourself, yearly or every six months. For shorter term goals, you might need to check in every month. You’ll find over time you’re doing more of what you need to do to make progress and seeing that progress helps motivate you even more to keep going.

Many of us are limited by our self talk, or by negative mind chatter, such as regrets, and feelings of inferiority. Do you have any suggestions about how to “change the channel” of our thoughts? What is the best way to change our thoughts?

First of all, recognize that everyone deals with negative thoughts. It’s okay to have them but take some time to figure out why and where they are coming from. Then, try to spend more of your energy on positivity and being grateful. Move on from there and ask yourself, what do you love and appreciate and want more of in your life? What do you not love and want to do away with? Identify each item, seek more of what you want and move away from what you don’t.

For me, it’s important to flip the switch and focus on the positives, to look for the opportunities. Sometimes you need to take the pressure off the big goal and focus on smaller steps. Instead of looking at big picture, just focus on what can you achieve right now.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are by all accounts a very successful person. How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

In my sport, it can certainly feel like a selfish endeavor and I have sometimes struggled with what I am doing to help others. But over the years, I’ve received many messages of support and appreciation about what I’ve achieved. It could be from someone struggling with their weight who was inspired to get healthy. Sometimes, just witnessing my career has inspired others, even when I don’t know it. I try to always be myself, work hard and never give up and I know that message is shown around the world through my sport.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

If it’s meant to be, it’s up to me. This was one of my coach’s mottos when I was 13 years old. This statement really resonated well with me because there are times when I felt like people should help me or that I needed assistance and once I realized that no one is going to care more about something in my life than I do, I’ve been able to accomplish way more than I thought possible.

You have to figure it out yourself. If I want something in life, then I need to figure out a way to get there. From putting a great team in place around me to doing the work and training, this mindset has always benefitted me.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

I’m a big fan of Michael Jordan. Since I was 12 years old, he’s been my sporting idol. He’s amazing and I would love to meet him.

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