Getting to Know T.O. - A Conversation with Ironman Champion Tim O'Donnell
November 16, 2020

Tim O'Donnell is one of the world’s most successful and experienced long-course triathletes. On this episode, Andrew Harley and Elizabeth James interview Tim about the progression of his career from new professional to the fastest American finish at the Ironman World Championship race. Tim shares stories about racing ITU events, transitioning to long-course racing, meeting his wife Mirinda Carfrae, maintaining an attitude of gratitude throughout his career, and balancing training with his growing family.


Intro: This is the TriDot podcast. TriDot uses your training data and genetic profile, combined with predictive analytics and artificial intelligence to optimize your training, giving you better results in less time with fewer injuries. Our podcast is here to educate, inspire, and entertain. We’ll talk all things triathlon with expert coaches and special guests. Join the conversation and let’s improve together.

Andrew Harley: Welcome folks to the TriDot podcast.  Big show today, it was around this time last year that we launched the podcast officially, so whether you've been listening since day one or if you've just discovered the show, happy anniversary! And I, for one, Elizabeth, can think of no better way to celebrate the one year mark of the show than by hitting "Subscribe" and leaving us a review.  That just really helps our show find its way to the ears of new athletes. Joining us for this occasion today is professional triathlete Timothy O'Donnell.  Tim is one of the world's most successful and experienced American long-course triathletes.  In 2019 Tim went on to finish second at the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, while recording the fastest American finish ever in 7 hours, 59 minutes, and 40 seconds.  As a professional he has earned 50-plus podium finishes, including over 22 wins at major events throughout the world.  Tim, welcome to the TriDot podcast!

Tim O'Donnell: Thanks for having me!

Andrew: Also with us is coach Elizabeth James.  Elizabeth is an Ironman certified and USAT Level II coach, who came to the sport from a soccer background and quickly rose through the triathlon ranks using TriDot. From a beginner, to top age grouper, to a professional triathlete, she’s a Kona and Boston Marathon qualifier who has coached triathletes with TriDot since 2014.  Elizabeth, thanks for joining us today.

Elizabeth James: I am thrilled to be here, and just so looking forward to today's episode.

Andrew: Well I'm Andrew the Average Triathlete. Voice of the People and the Captain of the Middle of the Pack.  As always we'll roll through our warmup question and then settle in for our main set conversation with Tim O'Donnell, and then we'll wrap up with a fun little cooldown learning more about the man behind the incredible Ironman finish times. Lots of good stuff, let's get to it!

Warm up theme: Time to warm up! Let’s get moving.

Andrew: With so many top brands releasing new running shoes multiple times a year, there has never been more options for what to put on your feet as a triathlete.  Tim, Elizabeth, for a little twopart warmup question today, what is your alltime favorite shoe to run in, and which current shoe on the market today do you think is the best-looking?  And guys, if it happens to be the same one, so be it.  If you end up giving us a quick shout-out to a couple different shoes, so be it.  Tim, first time on the podcast, go ahead and hit us with your shoe thoughts.

Tim: Yeah, well, I got training and racing.  Training, the Hoka Rincon 2 has been my absolute favorite training shoe.  I resisted the Hokas with more cushion for the longest time, and then this year I just blew my own mind.  So I am converted to the Rincon.  And then racing, it's absolutely the Hoka Rocket, the Rocket X.  Super fast, super light, just good stuff.

Andrew: So once you gave into the cushion you could definitely feel a difference in the Hokas from other shoes you've used?

Tim: Absolutely, yeah.  Especially as I've gotten a little older, the extra cushion allows me to recover a little bit better and get some more volume in running, which has been nice.

Andrew: So Elizabeth, I'm sure she's gonna fangirl it on Nike here for a little bit because she is a Nike Vaporfly fan.  But she did actually win at 70.3 Waco last year, she won a pair of Hokas, and Elizabeth, you really enjoyed them, right?

Elizabeth: Oh yeah, definitely.  I mean, they're still part of the rotation as well for training. Love them.

Andrew: Well Elizabeth, what are your favorite alltime shoes, and which ones, whether you wear them are not, do you feel are just the best looking?

Elizabeth: Well yes, goodness, I mean, you already kind of gave a little hint that it would be no surprise that I'd be giving a shout-out to those Nike racing shoes.  It's funny, because even a few years ago I didn't own one single pair of Nikes, and now I'd say I do probably about half of my weekly running rotating through a couple different versions of those, and then I race in Nikes as well.  In my most recent race, which was a marathon, I wore the Nike Next%s, and I'm really excited to say that I'll be racing in the Alphaflys for the next event coming up.  Thank you Charles, and thank goodness he can't keep a secret, so I already know that those are in a box waiting for me for race day.  And while I can't wait to race in them, I will admit that I don't think that they are the best-looking shoe out there, so I'm gonna take you up on your twopart question there.  The Nikes would be my favorite, but in terms of best-looking, there's a couple. One of the shoes that I do love the look of is the Jordan Zoom Trunner Ultimates.  It's kind of a black and gold bulky trainer.  I've always liked black shoes.  I don't know if I would actually wear those for any running, but man they look super cool.  And then one that I would probably run in, and I'm still liking the looks of, is the Adidas Adizero Pro, and there's a black-white-pink combination that is right up my alley, in addition to just some really solid shoe construction with the 8.5 millimeter drop, carbon plate, and then they've got the continental rubber outsole as well.  Gosh, you know me, as soon as we get talking running shoes I could go on, but I'd say those would be my favorite and then best-looking.

Andrew: Elizabeth hitting us with the exact specifications, really flashing the shoe nerd.  For me, I've recently in the last couple years fallen in love with the Skechers Razor 3, just my absolute favorite shoe.  I'm on like my fifth pair of those, and they just came out with a zebra-print edition of this shoe that my wife thinks is the worst-looking thing that I've ever put on my feet.  Tim, I'm not allowed to wear them out in public, I can only wear them for runs, so definitely not the best-looking shoes, but they're kinda wild, kinda loud, but I love running the Skechers Razor 3.  And Tim, they've actually been compared to the Hoka Rincon as that speed shoe that still has a lot of lightweight cushion, so I would probably like the Rincons if I gave them a chance from what I've heard about them.

Tim: Yeah, give them a shot.

Andrew: Yeah, I'll have to after this conversation, for sure. And the ones I always feel are just so good-looking, but On Running.  They have the Cloud X, the Cloud Boom, a lot of different versions of the Cloud name. I always think Ons are really cool looking.  I have a pair of their casual shoes that I really like the look of.  Anytime I see a pro or a buddy rocking a pair of Ons, I just think they're the best-looking in the pack, I just really do.  Hey, we're gonna throw this question out on social media to the TriDot family.  If you're part of the I Am TriDot Facebook group, if you're following us on Instagram, this question will be out there.  We want to hear from you guys: what's your favorite shoe to wear when you run, and what is your favorite shoe to look at, which one are you most cosmetically attracted to?  You've heard from Tim, Elizabeth, and myself, so go hit us up on social media and find this question and answer it.

Main set theme: On to the main set. Going in 3…2…1…

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With multiple Ironman wins and a recent second-place finish at the World Championships in Kona, there is no doubt Tim O'Donnell is one of the superstars of our sport.  On the race course Tim is a fierce competitor, and off of it he is one of the friendliest guys in the field.  And today we're excited to talk about his start in the sport, his experiences in Kona, adventures with the family, and what the future holds for T.O. So Tim, you grew up actually a competitive swimmer, which is a sport that took you to the collegiate level, swimming at the United States Naval Academy.  What led you to switch gears from collegiate swimming to triathlon?

Tim: It was actually my older brother Thomas, who was a senior my freshman year at the academy.  He had joined the club triathlon team and gotten really into triathlon when he was at the Academy, so he actually made me try out my freshman year.  I was on the swim team.  I had NO desire to do triathlon, I hated running.  In our mile-and-a-half PT run, that was as long as I ever wanted to run and that hurt.  But if you're familiar with any of the service academies, freshmen, when you get an order from an upper-classmen you do it, right?  So he gave me an order to try out for the tri team, and I made it.  I didn't take it too seriously until the end of my sophomore year.  I was still swimming, and I did pretty well at collegiate nationals, which back then was in Wildflower.  It was the last year I think it was at Wildflower, and I finished 11th overall and first on the academy team, and I hadn't done much biking and running off the swim season.  I just got intrigued with the sport, and I figured it was something.  Like, I hit a plateau in swimming almost.  I would've gotten faster for sure, but I wasn't going to make Olympic trials or make the Olympic team, so I just got really curious with triathlon.  Junior year I went full in on it, got a tri coach, stopped swimming, and that's where it all really started.

Andrew: Yeah, well, obviously it was a great decision that's paid off, so kudos to your older brother for pushing you in a quality direction. Actually it's great, because at the time this episode first airs we'll have just observed Veteran's Day here in the United States, so as a Naval officer how encouraging is it to you to see military members and clubs like Team Red White & Blue participating in triathlon?

Tim: Oh, it's great. I mean, if anybody's familiar with the history of triathlon and particularly Ironman, you know that Commander John Collins almost gave birth to the sport, so there's a lot of history with the military in triathlon.  Actually this year is the ten-year anniversary of Team Red White & Blue as well.  I remember helping Mike Erwin, the founder, launch at 70.3 Worlds in 2010, which was in Clearwater in November, so it's pretty cool to see such a great organization flourish over the past decade.

Elizabeth: Awesome, yes.  As we're talking a little bit about your career here, every professional triathlete's career progresses a little bit differently.  Could you just walk us through some of the key moments in your progression from a brand-new pro to Ironman contender?

Tim: Yeah, it was definitely a long journey.  When I told my parents I was going to become a pro triathlete they kind of shook their heads.  I was the worst athlete in our family.  I'm the youngest of four, by far the least talented, the least coordinated. But through my work ethic, and I was always a distance swimmer, so I think I developed a really good engine and I love to work, so that was a great foundation for triathlon.  I excelled collegially because it was nondrafting, and obviously I had a great swim background, and riding I had that big engine, so I could translate that quickly, but my running was okay but it was never great. Fortunately, my coach when I was at the Academy was involved with USA Triathlon.  He was part of their development team, and he actually got me into the collegiate camp and subsequently some under23 development programs.  So I somehow got thrown into this USA Triathlon pipeline, and I really got to start to work on my running.  But still, compared to a lot of the other guys they were recruiting, I didn't have that leg speed.  So I never really had the full confidence of some of the staff at USAT, but I was good enough to still make the national team and kind of hang in there.  So here I was just hanging in there, and I went to Olympic trials in 2008 and missed the team.  I think I finished fifth or sixth.

Andrew: So just outside of the spot.

Tim: Just outside.  I actually got stuck.  I was in a swim break with like Hunter, Kemper, Andy Potts, maybe Matt Reed, and I got stuck in my wetsuit.

Andrew: It's like the worst time ever.

Tim: Yeah, I know, I was like, "Oh, c'mon!" And my whole ITU career was kind of like that.  I don't want to call it bad luck, but I just made a lot of stupid mistakes.  I never had great results.  I think my best World Cup finish was 11th.

Andrew: Maybe if you were the most coordinated person in your family and not the least coordinated person in your family, some wetsuit issues might not have happened, huh?

Tim: Right, exactly.  I had another breakaway at a World Cup in Australia, in Mooloolaba, and I got in this breakaway of four or five guys.  I'm like, "Yes, this is it, I'm gonna have an amazing race!" then I crashed in a roundabout right out of transition.  So I did not have an illustrious ITU career by any means, but I got out of the Navy at the end of '08 and moved to Boulder, and I said, "Alright, I've got this much money.  I don't have any sponsors, I haven't really made prize money racing before, but I'm gonna take a stab at this.  I can probably survive a year and a half before I have to figure out what I'm actually gonna go do in life."  My coach at the time, Cliff English, just really started stepping it up.  We were working on my running so much the winter of '09 and the winter of 2010.  I was running 95mile weeks while still swimming and biking, just really trying to become a better runner, and it paid off.  That first 70.3 in New Orleans in '09, once again crazy mishap: I lose all my nutrition coming out of T1.  So I get crushed on the bike and I'm about to give up and be like, "This isn't for you, you should go do something else."  And then I made this decision, "Alright, just stop feeling sorry for yourself.  You have an opportunity here to have a really great run, so just focus on that.  Who cares about the race, just show your run fitness that you've been working on."  And I did just that, I had the fastest run of the day. I ran onto the podium.  I think it was Brent McMahon and Macca [Chris McCormack] were the other two on the podium, but I outran those guys, and it gave me a lot of confidence, and a couple months later I won my first 70.3 at Saint Croix, and it was off and running.

Elizabeth: Literally.

Andrew: No pun intended.

Tim: Literally, yeah.  But it was weird, because I'm in this transition time, right, where my foot's still half in the door with USAT, because it wasn't until 2009 when my running started to click.  I was running 30s off the bike in IT races, on the podium at U.S. Nationals, and on the podium at the Pan Am Champs in IT racing, and also winning the 70.3s.  So I'm like, "I could probably make the Olympic team right now.  I'm not gonna win a medal, but my dream was to be an Olympian, I could probably be an Olympian."  But at the same time I'm having this success and a possible career in Ironman racing with 70.3s, and I'm making money, and I'm getting the attention of sponsors. So it was a tough call in '09 and '10, until I met Rinny [Mirinda Carfrae] and I went to Hawaii and watched her do Hawaii.  Up to that point I had no desire to do Ironman racing, but I just go into the finish line at midnight watching her finish second that first year.  I'm like, "This is amazing, this is where I want to be."  And it was then that I really made the transition.  In 2010, after she won, I went to a World Cup in Tongyeong South Korea, it was in this little fishing village.  I'm at the start line and it just smells like dead fish.

Andrew: That's what you want.

Tim: Yeah, right?  There's, like, 20 people watching, and I'd just come off of this incredible high of watching Rinny win the Ironman World Championship, and I'm standing on the start line and I'm like, "This is it, I'm done.  I wanna go do Kona.  I think I have a shot at winning that race. I think I could be really good at that.  I don't want to do this anymore."  So that was my last IT race, October 2010.  And then 2011 I did my first Ironman.

Andrew:  Yeah, so to move your career forward a little bit, you actually DNFed your first attempt at the Ironman World Championships in 2011.  So you were inspired to do it watching Rinny win, and then you go and in your first crack at it you DNF.  Since then, though, you've gone on to place 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 8th…just about every spot in the top ten, right?

Tim: There's one I need, there's one important one I need.

Andrew:  One very crucial one that we would love to see you get.  You've been a top American finisher four times, and there's obviously some great American peers every single year there with you.  So talk to us about what you've learned about racing Kona over the years that has helped you have such consistent success on the Big Island.

Tim:  Kona is such a different animal, and I'll tell you right away I was overconfident in 2011.  I had a great debut at Ironman Texas, finished second behind Eneko Llanos.  He was second in Kona somewhere around that time and I caught him on the run, and then he dropped me the last couple miles. But I think it was 8:09, and at the time breaking eight hours wasn't as common as it was now, so it was a great performance.  So I think I was a little overconfident, and I was too skinny in 2011, so I ended up getting sick before the race and just having a horrible day.  I remember my nowcoach, Julie Dibens, actually passed me going up to Hawi, which is a little humbling, and she still gives me some heat about that. But I really learned that patience and being humble are very important, particularly with that race, and you can't go in there all full of fire like it's an IT race.  You have to be calm, very much like Mark Allen.  You have to be at peace within yourself, and be ready to go somewhere that most people don't want to go internally.  So yeah, it was a huge learning curve for me, and after that DNF it really was a good reset button for me.  I actually tore my MCL the next year in 2012, and I didn't run three weeks going into Kona, but I was just so pigheaded, super stubborn that I'm gonna finish this race because I'm not dropping out twice, and it got me my first top ten, which is pretty cool.

Elizabeth:  Well that's not the only time that you've ventured into Kona with some injuries.  Goodness, headed into 2019 you had a few bumps along the way there, too.  Some broken ribs in March impacted your season early on, and then just seven weeks before Kona you had broken your foot.  How did that impact your training and your mindset leading into that event?

Tim:  Yeah, as I look back over the last nine races there, the years that I was in the best shape were my worst performances.  2017, 2014 I was in amazing shape, and when you're in really good shape I think you get this confidence, like, "Okay, I am going to do well, I'm in such good shape" But whatever the training you do, the fitness that you get going into a race, it does not guarantee a good result.  It gives you the opportunity, it opens the door for a good result, but you sure as heck gotta do it on race day.  I think it shows it's not just a physical game, it's a mental game, and being in the right head space to hurt yourself and be fresh on race day.  So last year I was at peace after having a great race in '18.It wasn't my best finish, but it was my fastest performance and just a really great performance all around, and the winner always comes from the top four guys historically from the year before in Kona.  So I'm like, "Alright, I'm in a really good spot." When I broke my foot and thought I was not going to be able to start, I was crushed.  That night I went and got an MRI, and the tech wasn't supposed to say anything, but he's like, "Oh yeah, that foot is super broken."  And I'm like, "Dude, you're not the doctor, you're not supposed to tell me that!"

Andrew:  "I see a lot of feet, and that foot is no good!"

Elizabeth:  That is not okay, yeah!

Tim:  It does not take an M.D. degree to figure this one out.  It is broken.  So I went home, and I got a really nice bottle of wine, I drank it by myself on the couch, and I'm like, "Okay, you got one night of a pity party, and then tomorrow you're gonna figure out your best path forward, and you're not gonna focus on things that are out of your control."  The fact that I couldn't run at that point was out of my control, so I focused on swimming and keeping my body loose with body work and things like that.  And then when I could, I focused on riding and becoming the best rider I could, especially since I couldn't run.  I could focus more on that.  It just took some pressure off me to be honest, and when I got to Kona, I was just filled with so much gratitude that I was able to participate in this race. I'd only run outside maybe four times before the race that couple days leading in, and the longest run was maybe seven miles.  So I was hesitant, but I was happy and full of gratitude that I could be there.

Elizabeth:  I want to go back and touch on two things there, with just controlling what you can control, and then that attitude of gratitude, and being appreciative for the opportunity to race and show up.  Those are things that we've talked about before, and you just said that so well, so I'm really glad that you shared that.  Thank you, Tim.

Tim:  Yeah, I mean I think it's such a mental burden, and it's so emotionally draining when you focus on the negatives, right?  So you move forward and just keep everything in perspective at the same time, too.

Andrew:  I think we also assume, when you look at the pros, and you look at the coverage, you look at the times and results, and as your average triathlete you have this notion that you guys always roll into the big races just top of your fitness, ready to rock and roll, ready to crush it.  You've got your training down to a science, you've got your coaching staff, you've got everything figured out.  So to hear you talk about, "Hey, there's been years where I wasn't in tip-top shape that I did really well, and there's years that I was in top shape and I didn't do as well."  For your average athlete, just to be reminded, when you roll into race day you've got the fitness that you've got.  You can't change that.  Do the best you can with what you've got and don't worry about the rest.  Don't worry about whether it's a PR or not, just do the best you can, and see what the results come out as.

Tim:  Right, and I think it follows you into your racing as well, if you already have that mindset.  Because inevitably, particularly in an Ironman, things will go wrong, and you need to be ready to say, "Okay, well that sucks, I just lost my water bottle or whatever it is with all my nutrition, but how am I gonna fix it, what's my solution?"

Andrew:  So I just want to take a minute, Tim, and just walk through that 2019 where you got second.  Because here's the thing: I watch the Kona coverage every year, like wire-to-wire, from the time it starts.  Whatever I'm doing during the day, if I’m on a trainer ride, if I'm doing chores around the house, it's just on in the background.  We're glued to it.  So watching the coverage you can see Tim's in second on the bike, he's got Jan [Frodeno] in front of him, he's got this person behind him, and we can see the story lines playing out in real time.  I've always just wondered what are you guys aware of out there on course while you're racing?  What's the strategy, what are you trying to do, what are the gamesmanship between competitors at different moments of the race?  I think most of your age groupers are just kind of going aid station to aid station, and you're just trying to hit your paces, stay within your wattage, finish the race.  I'm never actively racing anybody at a triathlon event, except maybe a local sprint or something.  So I just want to walk through the different splits of your race there in 2019, and just kind of get in your head and hear: what was your strategy, what was going on around you, what were you aware of?  Let's start with race morning.  Talk to us about how you felt preparing for the start, and you talked about being grateful to be there.  In that moment of gratitude, did you have this sense that it could be a special day for you?

Tim:  I did, actually.  I don't know why, but even when I was training with the broken foot there in Lawrence, Kansas I had this weird feeling, like just a good feeling.  Most of my family came out.  Like I said, I'm the youngest of four.  My brother Thomas, who had gotten me into triathlon, and my sister came out, and my parents came out.  It's significant my parents came out.  They only came once; they came in 2011 when I DNFed, and they didn't come back. I don't know if they thought they were bad luck or just didn't want to go through a hardship like that again, but I got them back.  So it was just kind of this good feeling like I was supported.  I had said to everybody, "I don't even know if I'm gonna finish, so if you guys want to come, you're just coming to be supportive and be part of this."

Andrew:  And hang out in Hawaii afterwards.

Tim:  Yeah, and we had an awesome week of vacation afterwards, so everybody wins.  You know, we always hang out by the pool at the King Kam before the race and have your team around you, and it was actually a similar prep as every year.  I get in my little routine and it makes it easy, keeps the stress low, and you just do everything you normally do.  I've always said that one year there's going to be a swim break in Kona that never gets caught, and it never came to fruition in the years past.  We got out of the water, I was in a great position. I felt super comfortable all day swimming.  There was maybe seven or eight of us.  Patrick Lange was there too, and I'm like, "Okay, it's drizzling right now, it's not normal Kona.  Patrick has made this group of eight or nine guys, this is going to be a super interesting race.  Ali [Alistair Brownlee] is here, he loves the rain.  And then it cleared up.  I think Patrick maybe swam a little bit hard and he got disconnected along with some other great athletes like Braden Currie, so I kind of scratched my head, "What's going on?"  But by the time we get to the Queen K, there's only five of us and we're all really, really strong cyclists.  And I just got super excited.

Andrew:  Because at that point it was you, Jan, Alistair Brownlee…

Tim:  Josh Amberger.

Andrew:  Josh Amberger, because he's a fantastic swimmer obviously, known for that.

Tim:  And biker, yeah.  And then I think it was another European, I think it might have been Maurice Clavel.

Andrew:  Yeah, that feels right.

Tim:  So I'm like, "This is awesome.  Alright, don't screw this up T.O.!  You're where you need to be.  Who cares how you run, this is where you're supposed to be."  I felt great going up to Hawi too, on the climb.  And I think because we had a small group and we all had the same goal, we were almost allies at this point, like, "Okay, there's five of us here, we're great riders, let's all be smart, let's all do some work, and let's keep the other guys behind us."  Because you know you have Sebby [Sebastian Kienle] and I don't know if Lionel [Sanders] raced last year, did he race?

Andrew:  Yeah, he did.

Tim:  He did, okay. And then Cam Wurf as well; Ben Hoffman, great cyclist; Joe Skipper.  You know you have all this firepower behind you.  We were getting splits and we were almost holding even around that three-minute mark, and by the time we got down to the bottom of Hawi and went through Kawaihae back onto the Queen K, there was only me, Ali, and Jan, and we were still holding our gap.

Andrew:  That's pretty good company!

Tim:  Yeah, that's what I said after the race, I'm like, "There are three Olympic gold medals in this group, and none of them are mine."

Andrew:  And so with Alistair being right there, because it was his first year in Kona, did you guys have any idea of what he might be capable of?  I mean you know what Jan was capable of.  What was it like being right there between a defending champion and the new kid on the block?

Tim:  Yeah with Jan, he was Joe Cool all day, and you could tell he was going to have an amazing race, and like we said, some stuff you can't control.  If Jan does what he did, then heck, right?  And Ali actually was getting pretty fiery coming up at Kawaihae, yelling and swearing, and he was fired up.  I just started laughing because I've been there before, and that's not where you want to be.  When Jan got away, I think it was around the cemetery on the way back, around 90 miles or so, Jan got a little gap.  Ali went.  Ali sprinted to try to catch him, and I just said, "Nope.  This is my race right now, I'll go let Jan do what he's gonna do, I'm super comfortable riding within myself these last 20 miles and setting myself up for a strong day."  Eventually, around a little over a hundred miles I rode back by Ali, and then I think I put maybe 90 seconds, two minutes into him.  So a lot of it comes down to experience, and I knew once I get back onto the Queen K, I always feel good about the fact that I know how to race this part of the race, and I just stayed calm and did my thing.

Andrew:  Yeah, and the run was almost just anticlimactic in the sense that you started with Jan in front of you, you had Sebastien Kienle, Alistair Brownlee shortly behind you, and that's kind of how it stayed.  What was going through your mind during those miles?  Was there ever a point you were tempted to try to catch Jan, did you feel pressure from the guys behind you, or were you just kinda comfortable within yourself and cruise to second?

Tim:  Yeah, at some point if you want to win, you gotta' make a move like that on Jan.  But with the position I was coming into with the little running I had, I couldn't make that bet and take that risk, because I already didn't know how the back half of that marathon was going to go. So I made a decision.  Well it really wasn't even a decision.  I'm like, "No, be smart, run your race, and if Jan screws something up right now, you will be there to pick up the pieces. But this is not your day to try to go play superhero."  And I would've had to run sub2:40 to catch him anyways, right?  As the guy that in Hawaii hadn't broken 2:50 at that point, you gotta' have a little bit of realism.  So I remember actually hitting T2, and I got off my bike and those first steps when I hit the pier, my legs actually felt really good.  I was like, "Wow, that's a bonus."  Usually I get off, I'm tight, your back's all tight, and you're like, "This is gonna be a long day."  But I kinda sprang through transition and saw the race clock as I was starting the run, and I think it said 5:10-something, and I'm like, "Wow, I can break 8 hours today if I run under 2:50."Then I'm like, "Okay, well get to work," and I just put that out of my head and just focused on what I needed to do, and I didn't worry too much.  I was getting splits at Sebby.  We were holding about a 2:30 gap the entire run, and I didn't worry about that. I just did my thing.  Then I saw him coming out of the Energy Lab and I'm like, "He doesn't look that great, just be smart and you'll hold onto this position."  I didn't realize Ben was running so fast either behind him.

Andrew:  Yeah, he was.

Tim:  Yeah, he was flying, and he crossed the finish line fourth, and I'm like…

Andrew:  "Where did you come from?"

Elizabeth:  "Yeah, hang on!"  He was moving, that's for sure.  I just love, there's a picture of you approaching the finish line where you are midstride, mouth open with joy, both arms overhead, proudly carrying the American flag to that sub-8:00 second-place finish at Kona.  I mean, take us into your head there.  What's in your mind coming down the red carpet, what emotions are you feeling at that point?

Tim:  Yeah, it was crazy.  I feel like that was the first year I really enjoyed the finish line.  Either I had a bad race so it wasn't that fun, or I had a good race but I was just so far gone, like I just had gone so deep that I couldn't even muster up the energy to soak it up.  It was more just get to the finish line, don't fall over, get to the finish line.

Elizabeth:  Stay upright.

Andrew:  I relate to that, yeah.

Tim:  So to know my family was gonna be there, and obviously Rinny had a tough day, she DNFed. She actually was biking back on the Queen K, she saw me running out.  She saw Jan, and she's like, "I hope Tim's next, I hope Tim's next," and then she saw me.  She just threw her bike in the lava rock and just like, "No, I'm here for him right now."

Andrew:  Wow, that's really cool.

Tim:  That was pretty cool.  And as I was running back in, she was like, "You got this, relax, enjoy the race, I'll see you at the finish line."  And then somebody randomly was like, "Hey, if you run this pace on your last K, you'll break eight hours," and I'm like, "Ooh, I want to do that!"

Andrew:  That sounds nice!

Tim:  Yeah, I'm like, "Rinny's trying to slow me down so I don't get her family run course record."

Andrew:  That's funny.

Tim:  So yeah, I’m running down the chute, it was just awesome.  Then I saw the clock, I'm like, "Aw man, I can do it!" and then just was trying to be smart, you know, get the flag around me and still get under 8 hours, and it was amazing.

Andrew:  So you shared the podium with Jan Frodeno, Sebastian Kienle, two guys that along with yourself have been contenders for a good minute now.  And over your career you've raced closely with Patrick Lange, Cam Wurf, Lionel Sanders, Andy Potts, Matt Russell, Ben Hoffman, Joe Skipper, several of the guys that you mentioned.  I still vividly remember in 2018 just you running stride-for-stride with Braden Currie before you finally pulled away to a fourth-place finish that you joked sent you to the med tent just to get fourth.  So what is it like being a part of this stellar group of pro men that are in the sport right now, and what's the vibe like between you guys on race weekends?

Tim:  It's a great group of guys, right?  There's not a lot of jerks in triathlon.  There are few.

Andrew: We won't make you name them, we won't do that.

Tim:  But yeah, everybody is very respectful of each other.  We all know what it takes to do what we do.  You know some guys are different than others, particularly race week. Everybody's usually cordial, but you're not hanging out and having dinner with a lot of people.  But then after the race, however the race went, you're still friends and you go grab a drink at the post-race party together.

Elizabeth:  Awesome. Well, Andrew and I were joking a little bit ahead of this recording here that while we maybe don't have a lot of things that we can say are in common about our triathlon racing –

Andrew:  Particularly me.

Elizabeth:  – and our finish times, we can say that we all have our use of UCAN in common, so I did want to take the moment and talk about that a little bit, because I know that all three of us use that pretty regularly.  What is it that you would say was important for you using UCAN on race day that was pivotal and a big part of that Kona success last year?

Tim:  Yeah, for me, I was kind of open in the nutrition category going into '19, and I knew my biggest failure in Kona was the back half of the marathon.  Usually I'm running great for 10, 11, 12 miles, but once I'm on that Queen K, I just start to lose gas.  My heart rate's not going, it's not a crazy heart rate or anything, it's just running low on fuel.

Elizabeth:  Out of energy.

Tim:  Yeah, you peter out.  So in '19 I had this clean slate here, I can do whatever I want for nutrition. I'm not tied to a brand because they're paying me, so let's just not worry about a sponsor, and let's just find something that works, and that's when I started chatting with Matt Bach at UCAN.

Andrew:  Good guy, Matt Bach!

Tim:  Yeah, great guy.  I mean, the whole family, it's a family over there, they're so great.  Shoba [Murali], the CEO and one of the founders, came out and chatted with me, and once I really learned the process behind it, it made a lot more sense for me, how to use it and how to try it.  Because usually someone will try UCAN once and be like, "I don't get it."

Andrew:  Yeah.

Tim:  But once you start using it routinely you understand, and you realize that you're getting that constant slow drip of energy from that SuperStarch, and that was a huge part of my run.  I don't think I faltered on that run that day, even with legs that didn't have much fitness in them.  The last couple miles, Sebby was running faster because Ben was catching Sebby.  I thought Sebby was catching me, I didn't realize he was just running from Ben.  So I saw Julie and I'm like, "Is he really only whatever-this-is down? Did he just put a minute into me? "She's like, "Yep," and I'm like, "Okay, I guess I gotta run faster," and then I was able to pick it up again those last couple miles.  Usually that last 10K is the absolute death march.  So I'm obviously super excited to be part of the UCAN team and to have something that I trust as a product and not just as a sponsor as part of my routine.

Andrew:  Yeah, I started trying it.  So Tim, I have not done a full Ironman yet, I've done a bunch of halves.  My first Ironman was supposed to be Ironman Texas this past year, and then obviously got pushed a year.  But just like you described, once I started hitting those longer training sessions, where you're riding multiple, three, four hours and then running off the bike, I mean those used to just absolutely destroy me.  I would get to the run and just feel exhausted, and a couple times using UCAN, taking a serving per hour, I would get off the bike and be like, "I feel great."  I had my legs under me, I had energy, and I wasn't hungry.  So yeah, when I hit those –

Elizabeth:  I'm pretty sure I distinctly remember you texting me, being like, "I think this is magic!"

Andrew:  Yeah, I bought in so quick.  So Tim, I use the unflavored UCAN and then I add the hydrate for the flavor, and I actually prefer that to any of the flavors they have.  Not that they're bad, but it's just really refreshing to me that way. Elizabeth is a massive fan of the lemon UCAN.  What are your goto products that you like to use for them?

Tim:  So if I'm doing aerobic training I'll usually do lemon or orange, and that's it.  Racing, I'll mix plain with a high-glycemic carb just because I burn so much energy, and then honestly I eat a lot of the bars.

Andrew:  Yep, the almond butter bars.

Tim:  Yep, and then I'll do the cookies and cream usually with almond milk or Oatly or oat milk in between hard sessions.  So like Tuesday morning hard run: literally I get a bar and coffee, hard run, and then cookies and cream in my shaker with almond milk or oat milk and then a hard swim. And then sometimes I'll have another bar before gym, then I'll come home and have lunch.  So it's a sizeable part of my training regimen for sure.

Elizabeth:  Well you're making me feel a little bit better about how many of the bars that I eat too.  I go through these pretty quickly.  My husband's like, "Again, another shipment?"

Tim:  So I usually put almond butter or peanut butter on the chocolate bars, and it's an amazing snack, and then UCAN just came out with almond butter, have you seen that?

Elizabeth:  Yes!

Andrew:  Saw that, haven't tried it yet. So it's good?

Elizabeth:  Oh yeah.

Tim:  It's amazing, it's super, the texture's great.  And that's what I always tell people when they're trying UCAN.  It's a different texture, you have to make an adjustment to it.  But just like me in Kona: if you're trying something that's the same as all the other stuff, it's going to give you the same result, right?  So if you want a different result, you have to try something different, and that was a major driver for me to start incorporating it into my routine.  Once it's in your routine and you see the benefits and you see how you feel and how well you're training, then it's a nobrainer.  But you have to be patient. Much like an Ironman, you have to be patient.

Andrew:  So we've referenced a couple times on the episode your wife Mirinda Carfrae, which the tri world knows her as "Rinny".  So how did you two meet, how did you two fall in love, give us the love story of Tim and Rinny!

Tim:  So I had moved to Boulder at the beginning of '09.  I had gotten out of the Navy, I was single, and Rinny and I had met in passing at a couple races.  We met at the med tent at Buffalo Lake Springs in '08.

Andrew:  Everyone goes to the med tent at Buffalo Springs.

Tim:  Yeah, because that race is brutal!  And then we met in passing as well at Clearwater at 70.3 Worlds at the end of '08, but it wasn't until St. Anthony's in '09, I was chatting with a mutual friend of ours.  Rinny would always come to Boulder to train from end of May to Kona or whatever she was doing: Clearwater.  And she's like, "Tim, when we get home, I have somebody I have to introduce you to."  And I'm like, "Okay, sounds good."  And then the next weekend I go to Saint Croix and I meet Rinny, who our friend was talking about, obviously meeting Rinny.  We met at a prerace pasta party, and we were sitting at a table together, and I had this big fudge brownie, and everybody else was eating salad and being skinny triathletes or whatever.

Andrew:  Good for you, Tim.  Good for you.

Tim:  Here I am just downing this chocolate brownie.  And Rinny bonked.  She was winning that race and she bonked and someone passed her on the run, which Rinny getting passed on the run doesn't happen very often, right?  And I ended up winning the race.  It was my first win as a professional.  So at the post-race party I joked to her that if she had had one of those brownies, she wouldn't have bonked.  And we came back to Boulder and just started dating.

Elizabeth:  Aw, that's awesome.  It's fun to hear some of those stories, because truly your wife is also triathlon royalty.  Three-time Kona champ, and so many Ironman title and podiums on her résumé.  I'd be interested to hear, what is one thing that you've learned as an athlete from watching Rinny navigate her own championship-caliber career?

Tim:  We could probably be here all day.  She's a consummate professional, absolutely.  Her focus – she gets very focused, and she doesn't doubt.  She doesn't doubt her process, her team.  She just shuts her brain off, does the work, gets ready, and then races, which is hard for a lot of us to do.  So I definitely learned a lot about that, and a lot about having the right people around you.  I mean, we have very different racing styles: you know I'm racing from the front out of the swim, and she is playing catchup, and there's nothing harder than racing from the back.  Mentally, you know every time you race that you have to catch up, that you're at a deficit, so just the tenacity I know that that takes has always been inspiring for me.

Andrew:  So Tim, April 4, 2020, the trip heard round the triathlon world, earned you and Rinny some widespread well-deserved media attention.  She was riding in second place during one of Ironman's virtual races until you accidentally tripped over the power cord and unplugged her smart trainer.  Tim, what happened?

Tim:  I saved her is what happened.  Those races were so painful!  No, I think I had her trophies, and I was just going behind her to give her some motivation and maybe to give the other ladies a little hard time, let them know what they're up against, and yeah, I just kicked the cord out of the wall by accident.  But honestly, we got so much attention for that, it was insane.  I mean, we were in Jimmy Fallon's dialog, which Rinny's like, "How come this got more press than when I won Kona?"

Andrew:  Than anything else I've ever done, yeah.

Tim:  We were on NPR, and it was crazy.

Andrew:  So for folks who want to see more of Tim and Rinny in training, they're in luck, because you guys have the Tim & Rinny Show.  And as a media guy, Tim, who's just a fan of you both, it is just must-watch content on y'all's YouTube channel.  You guys do a great job.

Tim:  Thank you.

Andrew:  What kind of sparked the idea for the show, and what's it been like opening up your life for your fans?

Tim:  We knew that it's a changing scene, right?  Rinny and I joked that we signed up to be professional athletes and now we're just social influencers, but hey, gotta go with the times, right?  We kinda saw the writing on the wall a couple years ago that we needed to have a bigger presence, another way to connect with our audience.  So we knew we wanted to do something with a YouTube show, and then Talbot Cox, who was a friend of ours, reached out and was like, "Why don't I come do it for you? I'm doing Lionel and Gwen [Jorgensen] at the time, I'm doing their shows, so why don't I come out and make it happen?"  Yeah, we kinda went from there.

Andrew:  Nice, natural fit.  Yeah, he does great work.  I've watched his stuff, I follow him on Instagram as well.  He's an Oklahoma boy, so just a state away from us, but I always enjoy seeing his shenanigans and what he's up to shooting with you guys. Keep the content coming there, Tim.

Tim:  Oh, thanks. You know, the Tim & Rinny show, our focus really is not just sport, but the lifestyle and our family around the sport.  But we did a fun little almost miniseries about Kona, so if you wanna hop on and check that out, it's just Rinny and I telling stories that don't come up very often, so there's a little different spin on the Hawaii experience.

Elizabeth:  I like what you said too, that there's a lot of different things that you guys talk about and cover, and it's not just training.  You incorporate a lot of things with family in there as well, and your daughter Izzy is quite a highlight of the show.  And you and Rinny have announced that Baby No. 2 is on the way as well, so first off congratulations there!

Andrew:  Thank you very much, yeah, we're excited!

Elizabeth:  What is it like for both of you balancing parenting and training?

Tim:  It's been great.  I think it's going to get a lot harder with No. 2, that's for sure.  Luckily, up until last month, we had full-time live-in help, so that definitely made it a lot easier, but you know honestly it almost reinvigorated our careers.  We've both been racing professionally for over 15 years, Rinny probably even a little bit longer, so your motivation kind of always evolves.  When you're young you're like, "I just wanna win races, I wanna show everybody I can do this," and then you're like, "I want to get sponsor contracts, I wanna make this a career," and then all of a sudden you're like, "I gotta pay bills," you know?  So you race like that, and you get to a point you're like, "Why am I doing this?  What's my motivation?"  Then Izzy comes along, and all of a sudden we have this amazing traveling circus that gets to go around the world and share this journey together as a family, and particularly in 2018 we had so much fun traveling, going to different places and just enjoying the experience together, and it just really gave us a bump in our career.

Andrew:  So Tim, everyone in triathlon just totally missed out on most of the races this year. We've all missed the race experience. Training's great, the daily grind of staying fit is great, but race day is just something different that we've all been missing this year, so it's great to see at the time we're recording this, and at the time this episode is coming out, racing is starting to come back. Athletes are starting to get out on course again, and you actually just raced the Grand Floridian triathlon and had a fun little experience there.  Why don't you tell us about that?

Tim:  Yeah, so I'm actually the copresident of the PTO, which is the Professional Triathletes Organization, and we're focused on using the professional field, elevating that platform, and growing the sport from that larger platform.  So we've got great backers with Mike Moritz with Sequoia Capital, and we've got some big events like the PTO championship at Daytona, $1.1 million prize purse; the Collins Cup, which unfortunately got postponed, but we'll be doing that in May.  So we've got these great events, but we're like, "We need to get our athletes racing," right?  We just have to do something, because some of these other organizations are having age group races and not pro races.  So we kind of took it in our own hands, and the PTO sponsored some prize purses at events like the Great Floridian.  So I was excited to go out there and race.  Unfortunately, I got lost.  That's why I did not go Marines when I got out of the Academy, because my land navigation is not great.  So I went off course early and got five extra miles of riding in.

Andrew:  Perfect, yeah.

Tim:  Yeah, just a little extra fitness.

Elizabeth:  Yeah, extra training.

Tim:  But I can tell you it was so great just being at a race.  The whole community, everybody was so excited to be out there, and everybody was very respectful of the rules and spacing and things like that in interactions.  Kinda like me in Kona last year, I think everyone was just full of gratitude for having an event to go to.

Andrew:  Yeah, absolutely, and so your next race is Challenge Daytona which you mentioned, a big PTO race.  I'm gonna be there, there's definitely gonna be some TriDot athletes that are racing the sprint and the half there that weekend, so we'll be excited to come and cheer you on.  What's the future for Tim O'Donnell from Challenge Daytona forward, what's your 2021 goals?

Tim:  Yeah, we're gonna kick off the year with a baby, so that'll take up the first part of the year.

Andrew:  A different accomplishment, but a big accomplishment, yeah!

Tim:  So yeah, my focus next year is just going to be a couple events.  Obviously the Ironman World Championships: I've already qualified, so my qualification has been pushed to 2021.  Then Challenge Roth.  I'm so excited to do Challenge Roth, it's gonna be an amazing field.

Andrew:  That's my bucket list race.

Tim:  Oh yeah. Rinny did it, I don't know why I didn't. For some reason I didn't go with her, I did Racine instead.  I should've just went and watched.  But she says it's the best race, so I'm really excited to do that.  And then the Collins Cup in May as well, which is, if you're familiar with golf, it's like the Ryder Cup.  It's triathlon's version of the Ryder Cup, so that'll be a great event as well.

Andrew:  Very cool. Yeah, we'll be excited to cheer you on at Challenge Daytona.  Tim, where can I pick up some sweet Tim & Rinny merch?

Tim:  Yeah, head to the timandrinnyshow.com, and we got our YouTube link up there and our merch lineup.  Yeah, support the fam!  We gotta get Izzy to college!  It's a college fund!

Andrew:  Perfect, I can rock a hat while you're racing Challenge Daytona, and I can also send Izzy to college all at the same time!  I love it!

Tim:  Yep, it's a win-win, right?

Cool down theme: Great set everyone! Let’s cool down.

Andrew:  Well, we've covered a lot of ground today with T.O., and so to cool down from our main set conversation, we have ten quick rapid-fire questions that Elizabeth and I will be shooting Tim's way.  These are more or less all the interesting tri nuggets that we didn't get to in the main set, but have to hit before we shut down this episode.  So Tim, are you ready and willing to answer some super-random questions about yourself?

Tim:  I am ready. I may plead the Fifth.

Andrew:  That's perfectly acceptable, we'll allow it.  Elizabeth, you want to kick us off with Number 1?

Elizabeth:  Yes, let's do this.  What is your favorite thing to eat after finishing an Ironman?

Tim:  If it's Kona, lava flows.  Normally, milkshakes.

Elizabeth:  I can get on board with that!  That's my goto, ice cream.

Andrew:  Of all the fast and sleek Trek bikes that you have raced on so far in your career, which paint scheme has been your favorite?

Tim:  My 2016 American flag bike.  It's awesome.

Elizabeth:  What is an Ironman or 70.3 event that you've always wanted to race but haven't gotten to yet?  I know you just had mentioned Challenge Roth, any other big ones that you've always wanted to do?

Tim:  I would love to do Ironman Austria and South Africa.

Andrew:  Which UCAN product is your goto fuel before a workout?

Tim:  Chocolate bar.

Andrew:  I was about to say, and why isn't it the almond butter bar that we talked about.

Elizabeth:  Which band or singer appears the most on your workout playlist?

Tim:  Oh, Foo Fighters, Dave Grohl.

Andrew:  Nice, I like it Tim!

Tim:  If I could meet one dude, it would be that guy.

Andrew:  What is a lesson you learned from your time as a Naval officer that you apply to your tri training today?

Tim:  I think discipline and structure and accountability too.  When you go off course, it's your fault.

Elizabeth:  What is your favorite course on the pro triathlon circuit?

Tim:  Kona. And Saint Croix perhaps.

Andrew:  For a triathlete looking to take on their first Ironman, what is your top Ironman race day tip?

Tim:  Patience. It's a long day, so be patient and fuel properly.

Elizabeth:  If professional triathlon hadn't worked out so well, what profession might you have entered after graduating from the Naval Academy?

Tim:  I think I would have went on to business school.  I was actually looking at MBA programs.

Andrew:  Many, many lifetimes ago for Tim O'Donnell, looking into MBA programs.

Tim:  Yeah, I didn't know I'd be 40 and still doing this silly thing.

Andrew:  And last but not least, how would you feel if Izzy grew up to become a professional triathlete?

Tim:  I would be okay with it, but I'm gonna definitely teach her how to golf.

Andrew:  Well that's it for today, folks!  I want to thank pro triathletes Tim O'Donnell and Elizabeth James for coming on, talking triathlon, and celebrating one year of the TriDot podcast.  Shout out to UCAN for partnering with us on today's episode. Head to UCAN.co to stock up on all the SuperStarch-powered products you need to fuel your training and racing. Our friends at UCAN have a new UCAN Intro Bundle. It's the perfect way to try a variety of their products and flavors and it's a great deal too, to be honest at 15% off. Look at the show notes for that link or go to the UCAN website and find that bundle. If you are already a UCAN fan, don't forget to use your code TRIDOT for 15% off anything anytime at UCAN.co.  Enjoying the podcast? Have any triathlon questions or topics you want to hear us talk about? Head to tridot.com/podcast and click on “Submit Feedback” to let us know what you’re thinking. We’ll have a new show coming your way soon. Until then, happy training.

Outro: Thanks for joining us. Make sure to subscribe and share the TriDot podcast with your triathlon crew. For more great tri content and community, connect with us on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. Ready to optimize your training? Head to TriDot.com and start your free trial today! TriDot – the obvious and automatic choice for triathlon training.

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