Triathlon training and performance for elite and age-group athletes with Barb Lindquist | EP#168
Barb Lindquist is a US Olympian and the World #1 ranked triathlete from 2003-2004. After retiring from professional racing, she turned to coaching, and also started working for USA Triathlon on the Collegiate Recruitment Program. We discuss training and overall performance in triathlon from both an elite and age-group perspective.
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In this Episode you'll learn about:
- Setting up the world-renowned collegiate recruitment program and the reasons for its success.
- High performance triathlon now and then - what has changed in the last 15-20 years in training and racing?
- Long-term athletic development for elite athletes and for age-group athletes.
- Things that age-groupers tend to underestimate, and on the flipside, over-value.
- Fitting triathlon into life, and not life around triathlon for age-group triathletes.
About Barb Lindquist
- Barb has 33 professional triathlon victories to her name, from Sprint to Ironman distance.
- She was the number 1 ranked female athlete in the world from 2003-2004.
- Barb represented the United States in the 2004 Olympics in Athens, where she came 9th.
- In 2010 she was inducted into the USAT hall of fame.
- She retired from racing in 2005, and began to coach athletes and work for USA triathlon.
She set up the collegiate recruitment programme which is how athletes like Gwen Jorgensen were brought into triathlon.
USA Collegiate recruitment programme
- The collegiate recruitment programme was started in 2009.
- After I retired from racing in 2005 I started working for USA triathlon as the elite development coach.
One of my yearly goals was if someone wanted to methodically recruit collegiate runners and swimmers into triathlon, how would you do it?
- My boss at the time liked the idea and made it my job!
- I look for collegiate runners and swimmers so when they are done with their NC20 careers they can come over to triathlon, and we transfer that single sport talent into multi sport.
- At the time, all of our US olympians either swan or ran in college, and all except Hunter Kemper came over to triathlon after college.
- Interestingly the women had swimming backgrounds and the men had running backgrounds, except Andy Potts, who swam at the University of Michigan.
- The key parts to starting the programme was getting the word out and marketing the programme.
We also had to come up with standardised testing and time standards.
The third factor was what to do with the athletes when we found them and how are we going to support them?
- The programme has morphed so for example when Gwen Jorgensen came in in 2010 we didn't have a resident programme. I set her up with a local coach and then mentored them as she went along in her career.
She did most of that training in her home base, not with a squad.
- In 2013 we realised we needed a place for athletes to go, so we started a resident programme in Colorado Springs at the Olympic training centre, we had a coach and all athletes came to that coach.
We realised that being at altitude was too hard, so it then moved down to Scottsdale Arizona, and then to San Diego.
- Now, we don't have a resident programme but we support athletes with the collegiate recruitment scholarship.
The athletes that we identify, we give them a scholarship and they can go to any approved programme with a coach, and we support them.
They get to choose the coach from the approved selection so they can be sure they'll work for them.
- In terms of testing, we test them in their primary sport, but predominantly their opposite - so runners we test their swim, and vice versa.
- We have a simple swimming test: 100 yards free, then rest, then 500 yards.
- For the run test we do 1600m on the track.
- We video tape both tests as there can sometimes be easy technique changes that may improve their score.
- At the start of the programme our A standard for a runner was 15:15 for a 5K, and now it's 14 minutes. We've really tightened it up, which is partly the demands of competition, but also realising we need to invest in medallists who need to run fast.
- For the swim a (running) athlete may do a cold turkey test, then send me the video and I offer some technique changes, then they test again in a month or two.
For a male if they can do 58 seconds for the 100 yards, and 5:45 for the 500 yards, then we start to invest more resources into them.
To obtain the scholarship, to train as a full time triathlete, for the male they need 56seconds for the 100 yards, and 5:25 seconds for the 500 yards.
This is roughly 1:07/1:08 for 100m, and 6:15-6:25 for 500m.
- The athletes have to have swum before. Swimming is a sport where if you don't do it as a kid it's really hard to do it as an adult.
All of these athletes will likely use the pool for cross training even though they are runners, or swam as a child.
- If they've never done any swimming, it would likely be a lot longer journey than we are able to invest in. This is the world class level though.
- In the US, the women we've found who have gone onto running in college, generally have a deeper depth of swimming background than the guys do.
Results from the collegiate recruitment programme
- I think Gwen Jorgensen is our most famous collegiate recruitment grab!
She swam first at the University of Wisconsin, and then transferred to running during college.
She won gold in Rio.
- Katie Zaferes was also on the team in Rio, and she ended up ranked 2nd in the WTS series this year.
She ran steeple chase at Syracuse University but grew up as a swimmer as well. Katie is a strength athlete so she's transferred to triathlon really well.
- Renee Tomlin and Kirstin Casper both ran at George Town. Kirsten was ranked 4th in the WTS series in the last two years as well.
- On the male side we haven't had as much success, but Morgan Pierson had his first racing year last year and he had a great year.
He ran at the University of Colorado and was a 13:35 5K runner. He grew up on the shore in New Jersey and did some surf life saving so was comfortable with the water.
- We have a couple of theories for why we've been more successful on the female side so far:
The women in the US seem to have more depth of swimming time. If you look at USA swimming, men/boys start to drop off in their teen years and there are so many other sports available. The runners that we do have seem to have less of a swim background that females.
The depth of men on the WTS field is deeper too so it's harder for new people to break through.
I also think it's harder for a guy to break into a sport where they may be beaten all the time, compared to when they were running and being at the front a lot. I think it's harder for anybody to have that longer path, but more so for males.
How has the sport changed since Barb was racing
- Triathlon has become more Eurocentric - when I was racing it was the Australian's to beat. This is why I went for 8 winters to Australia to race their formula 1 series.
- I only raced 5 times in Europe during my career and one of them was Athens, but now athletes can race this many times in Europe in one season.
- I think the federations are supporting athletes better. What we can provide for elites now versus what I received is very different.
In the US we have more support from the Olympic committee and the high performance centre has more resources available to help athletes. I imagine this is true across the major countries too.
- When I raced, I came from a swimming background and I came into the sport at the same time as 2-3 other women who were great swimmers.
We could get out of the swim together with a lead of 20 seconds, and turn this into a lead of 3 minutes by the start of the run.
I sometimes hypothesise if this would be the same if we were racing now, or has the level of the swim improved for everyone across the world so that small gap might not be there.
- I wasn't a big numbers and science person when I trained. My husband was my coach and he didn't have a sports science background.
I think it's a lot more science oriented now - more science than art.
Lessons learnt as a coach
- I love this sport, and there aren't egos in the sport, it's just a lot of normal people doing this crazy lifestyle. This feels the same in the athletes I work with now which is great.
- I've ben surprised that there hasn't been more team tactics - setting one athlete up for success. This hasn't happened in any countries really, it's still a very individual athlete sport.
- It's exciting that the mixed relays will debut in Tokyo, which could change the type of athletes that will be racing.
It's such a power speed component needed for the mixed relays, which usually comes from younger athletes (early 20's versus late 20's/early 30's).
I think we might see younger athletes have more success over the international stage.
- ITU has had more Sprint triathlons at the WTS level over the past few years.
Last summer I did a Sprint triathlon, and I think that might have been my first! I never really did them as an elite.
- For developing athletes, it's great to have Sprint races at the highest level.
Long term athletic development
- I've always heard that after 7 years in the sport you've reached your peak, but I don't know how true it is!
- In my career I do think I was running my best at around 7 years, and I raced for 10 years.
- Our goal with the collegiate recruitment programme is to speed that up! Especially with Olympic cycles, you want more than one peaked shot at an Olympic team.
- With professionals I don't know how long it takes, but it's definitely a quicker move than with age groupers.
Age groupers take longer because it's not their primary job, and they're often older when they start.
- I don't think it's a bad thing that it takes them longer though, because it means you're constantly improving which is super exciting!
- I think part of the coaches role is putting that in the big picture for age groupers - they need to have more patience.
- Even professionals can't really work on a weakness, and work on a strength, and maintain all the other disciplines all at once.
You need to spend time working on a weakness and maybe your strength is just maintained, not improved.
- Age groupers need to be okay with training weaknesses and racing strengths sometimes - this is the low hanging fruit.
You're only as fast as your slowest piece.
- Having a multiyear, long term approach to it can be really helpful. E.g. focusing on the bike for one year and just maintaining the run. I think this is the coaches job.
Age grouper underestimations and overvalued aspects
- I was sharing a story today with an athlete about making sure the easy is really easy, so you are rested when the hard sessions come.
The story was from when I was in Australia, we were out on an easy spin with my 20 year old training partner, Matt. An old guy with tube socks and pedal cages when past us. Matt increased the speed because the racer in him came out. I didn't change my speed, and I told him it takes discipline to go slow.
- Recovery is really important!
I don't think I was the most talented athlete out there but I did the things in between sessions really well - to recover and prepare me for the next session.
I use trigger point technology rolling tools, first thing in the morning and at the end of the day.
I also made sure I got fuel in within the first 30 minutes of a hard training session.
- Learning to be a little bit bored also helps - as a professional athlete you need to be able to put you feet up and not do anything. Learning how to relax and rest your body is another really good skill.
- In terms of things that are overvalued, I think nutrition can be one. I got most of my fuelling from regular foods, not bars and lots of supplements.
I think nutrition can be made a lot more complicated than it needs to be.
If you cook most of your own food from scratch, not eating out too much and planning your meals, that's great. Also having prepared food in your fridge that you can zap in the microwave!
- From what I've seen, it seems like most of our USA athletes are foodies! They enjoy a good home cooked meal, they know what they like and aren't afraid of repeating those meals.
Most important things for self-coached athletes to consider
- One thing that self-coached athlete don't always do is plan recovery weeks. Often they wait until they have niggles or are feeling over trained. They need to be proactively planned ahead of time.
- When I was racing and training, I was a 3 week on/1 week off athlete. I would keep the frequency of all my sessions, but the quality would be cut down by half and the volume total would be cut down by 3/4.
- With my athletes now, I use recovery weeks as a practice taper week and then plan a brick or a 5K at the end to see if it worked.
You should be bored in taper week!
- On recovery week, make sure you do an extra good job on things between sessions, whether this is rolling/yoga/sleep. This helps you get ahead for the next block to come.
Fitting triathlon into life, not life into triathlon
- I think this is really important, particularly with age group athletes.
- Even as a professional, when I was ranked number 1 in the world, triathlon wasn't my priority - it was always my relationship with God as 1, and my relationship with my husband as 2.
- In order to fit triathlon into my athletes life, I need to know about their life. I get to know their work schedule, their kids and their other priorities. I also learn about their passions outside of this sport.
This way I can help triathlon fit into their life, and not let it try to rule their life.
- For me, my self worth wasn't wrapped up in a race result because I didn't make triathlon my whole life.
If you can start at the starting line with that in your mind, you have the freedom to go out and be risky and go for it. I never had fear when I was racing because my self-worth and identity was already taken care of.
- You need to be consistent but with the right perspective.
- For my athletes that have spouses and kids, I try to see if they can include them in some of the sessions.
For example I train a Mom who has 3 kids, so when I prescribe a skills session on the grass going really slow, that's something her kids can join in and make it a game.
Sometimes I put Sunday as a day off, but if she can convince her husband to go for an easy ride, or go for a walk with her kids then do that!
Rapid fire questions
- What is your favourite book, blog or resource related to triathlon?
- What is a personal habit that has helped you achieve success?
- I'm really good at being in the moment. I'm a planner, but I really enjoyed each session for its own merit, not necessarily it's bigger piece in the puzzle. This helped let bad workouts go, and it helps with racing to stay in the moment.
- What do you wish you had known or done differently at some point during your career?
- My husband was my coach, and I was probably a little devils advocate with him sometimes! I probably should have listened to him better towards the beginning of my career.
Links, resources and contact
Links and resources mentioned
Connect with Barb Lindquist
Connect with host Mikael Eriksson
Hi! I'm your host Mikael,
I am a full-time triathlon coach and an ambitious age-group triathlete. My goal is podium at the Finnish national championships within the next few years.
I first started the website Scientific Triathlon in autumn 2015 as a passion project to share my learnings with a larger triathlon audience. Later on, in early 2017 I started the podcast That Triathlon Show.
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