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How Athletes Train: Triathlete Timothy O'Donnell

The Ironman champ on cooking, coaching, and married life.

For years, Aqua Sphere-sponsored pro triathlete Timothy O’Donnell dominated the Ironman 70.3 as a 10-time champion before eyeing the full Ironman (a race distance of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run) in 2012. Since then, he’s won the 2013 Ironman Brazil, tying the American record with 8:01:32, and finished 5th as the highest-placing American male at the 2013 Ironman World Championships. O’Donnell looks to up the ante this year, taking the top spot and becoming the first American to win Kona since Tim DeBoom in 2002.

Unlike most athletes, he’s got a confidant in 2013 Ironman World Champ wife Mirinda Carfrae. In fact, earlier this season, the pair shared the top spot on the podium at the Challenge St. Andrews triathlon. We asked O’Donnell to share some of his best training (and relationship!) advice.

(1) Isolate your weaknesses. “I focus on heart rate for my training and have been working on improving aerobic efficiency and fat burning. Ironman is about being efficient; Rinny (Mirinda, his wife) is tiny and naturally efficient and I need to work on it!”

(2) Get guidance from the best. “I recently made the decision to switch coaches. It’s never an easy thing, as you form personal relationships with a coach. Mirinda was right there by my side helping me work through the pros and cons of switching. I wanted a coach with extensive Kona experience who could help me solve the challenges that are unique to that race. So I decided to work with Mark Allen, who won Kona six times, after not winning on six attempts.”

(3) Cook (when you can). “We are pretty bad in the kitchen so when we cook it is pretty basic. Our favorite meal after those long days would be a nice filet mignon on the grill, grilled asparagus and homemade sweet potato fries. Pair that with a nice bottle of cabernet and we are two happy triathletes!”

(4) Be selfish, occasionally. “We have learned to work well together before races and luckily, we both have great support teams around us since it is sometimes hard to support each other leading into big races like Kona. When we are in Hawaii, that is the only time where we tend to take a little more alone time and find our own space.”

(5) Draw the line between racing and the rest of life. “We definitely have to turn off triathlon every now and then, or it would absolutely consume our lives. The problem is we both really love the sport and it is much more than just our profession. Still, when we open a bottle of wine, the swim, bike and run talk has to stop! But we definitely talk about life after racing, especially when it comes to having a family. If we couldn’t see our life together after racing, there would be a big problem down the road.”

(6) Gain a gluten-free advantage. O’Donnell’s former tradition was eating a huge chocolate fudge brownie every night, but then he learned he has gluten problems. “Since changing my diet, I am no longer bloated (Rinny called it my gluten baby!), my acid reflux problem has dramatically improved and I have better energy and a clearer head. In terms of gluten-free snacks, the CLIF Mojo bars are awesome! Udi's gluten free chocolate chip cookies and Glutino brownies are staples, too.”

Prepping for SBR? Get more training intel from triathlon superstar Linsey Corbin