Daniela Ryf’s Secret Weapon

No one can beat Daniela Ryf, Switzerland’s long distance triathlon queen.

Once again, many tried on Sunday in Kona, Hawaii. The race consists of three legs, a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run. Or for my metric friends—4k, 180k, 42k.

Ryf, winner of the 2015, 2016, and 2017 editions of the championship, was the indisputable favorite. Last year’s runner up, 25 year old Lucy Charles from Britain, was promising to hang with Ryf.

Never mind the 5-6 months of dedicated training for race day, a few minutes after dawn and minutes before the race start, Ryf was stung by jelly fish in both arms while warming up near Kailua Pier. Which brings to mind Mike Tyson’s quote, “Everyone has a plan until they’re punched in the mouth.” Ryf had a plan until stung in both arms.

In considerable pain, Ryf decided to try swimming. An athletic marvel, in the following interview, at the 2+ minute mark, Ryf reveals her true secret power—extreme mental toughness. “Maybe in five hours,” she says, “I’ll be feeling fine.” Most of us are doing well when we walk for 30 minutes, run for 45, swim for 60, or cycle for 90. Imagine thinking, “Maybe in five hours I’ll be fine.”

Although a few male pros were hospitalized after being stung pre-race, Ryf knew there was a chance the pain would dissipate. Her mental toughness coupled with her confidence in her training was more than enough.

Long story short, she finished the swim 9 minutes behind Charles, which many thought was an insurmountable gap. Four hours later, and five into the race, she passed Charles near the end of the bike and crossed the finish line 10 minutes ahead of her in a course record 8:26:16, 20 minutes faster than her 2016 course record.

Like Ryf, when we’re in pain—whether physical, mental, or emotional, how can we envision a brighter future? How can we learn to think that “Maybe in five days, weeks, months, or years, we’ll be fine?”