How Bad Do You Want It: Paula Newby-Fraser

Having reached the pinnacle, Paula built a throne there. She won her third Ironman title in 1989, finished second to arch-nemesis Erin Baker in 1990, and then went on a tear. In 1991, Paula beat Baker by 17 minutes. The following October, she lowered her course record to 8:55:28 and won the race by 26 minutes. In 1993, she put in another sub-nine-hour performance, and in 1994 she won her fourth consecutive Ironman title, her seventh overall.

The more Paula achieved, however, the less satisfied she became. The burning amazement that her dominating victories had once inspired in triathlon fans and journalists had given way to coolly admiring nods of reconfirmed expectations. They called her the Queen of Kona, a title that, although appreciative in spirit, made Paula feel somewhat taken for granted, as though her winning Ironman were not an achievement anymore but a birthright. Even the people close to her looked at Paula as some kind of invincible Cyborg.

"Friends said, 'I don't even need to wish you good luck,'" Paula recalled in a 2010 interview. "'It won't be any trouble for you to go and win.'"

They thought it was easy. But it wasn't. In 1993, an ankle injury severely restricted Paula's run training. It took everything she had to win that year's Ironman, but her grit attracted little praise; the credit went instead to her matchless talent--to the dumb luck of having won the genetic lottery at conception.

After the 1994 Ironman, Paula decided to make a change. She yearned to blow people's minds as she had six years earlier. She wanted to break her Ironman course record--demolish it, actually--and once again challenge the top men in the sport, who had gotten a lot faster since 1988. But to achieve these goals, Paula decided, she could not just train the way she always had. She would have to try something different.

Before she'd left Africa to start her career as a professional triathlete in the United States, Paula had come under the influence of Tim Noakes, a renowned exercise scientist at the University of Cape Town. Noakes had advised her to take a minimalist approach to training, doing the least amount of work necessary to win. Paula had heeded that advice throughout her career, and it had served her well.

Her less-is-more training regimen put her out of step with most professional triathletes of her era, who were locked in an arms race of ever-increasing training loads. In 1984, two-time Ironman champion Scott Tinley told Triathlete, "It seems every year the ante goes up. A few years ago, we did 300 miles [a week] on the bike and that was plenty. Last year it was 400. Now it seems like 500 is the magic mark.

Each of us feels we have to do more than the next guy. I'm not so sure that's the right way to train, to improve. No one really knows." When she started training for the 1995 season, Paula abandoned the methods that had worked for her in the past and joined the arms race. "I thought if I wanted to race like the men, I was going to train like the men," she told Inside Triathlon. She had also decided that her next Ironman World Championship would be her last, so why not pour everything she had left into it?

Paula's winning formula in previous years had consisted of 11,000 to 13,000 yards of swimming, 200 to 250 miles of cycling, and 50 to 55 miles of running per week. In 1995, she increased her cycling volume to 375 to 425 miles per week and bumped up her running volume by 20 percent. She completed individual rides as long as 150 miles, not alone or with athletes of equal ability but with Mark Allen, who had won Ironman five times himself and whose men's course record of 8:07:45 was a full 48 minutes faster than Paula's best time. Although she rode in Allen's slipstream, these rides were still far more challenging for her than they were for him.

  • 2
  • of
  • 9

Discuss This Article