Podcast, Training

Training Talk and offroad triathlon with coach Lesley Paterson (multiple World Champion) | EP#277

 March 15, 2021

By  Mikael Eriksson


Lesley Paterson is a coach and multiple World Champion across XTERRA and ITU Cross-Triathlon. Lesley joins us to discuss training principles as well as specific advice for racing XTERRA or cross-triathlon.

In this Episode you'll learn about:

  • Leslie's training principles and approach to coaching
  • Top tips for improving your swim, bike, and run
  • Key workouts in each of the three disciplines, and an example training week
  • Training advice for XTERRA, including when and how to do specific training
  • Racing advice for XTERRA, including nutrition, gear, and more
  • Advice for time-crunched athletes

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05:25 -

  • My name is Lesley Paterson and I am a five time off road triathlon world championship (both as XTERRA and ITU Cross Triathlon world champion).

    I have also raced on the ITU circuit with both success and a little bit of disappointment.
  • As an athlete, I have experienced both some major ups and downs.

    Realizing a childhood dream of becoming world champion was definitely one of the ups, but I have also struggled a bit with eating disorders and other medical conditions during my time as a professional triathlete.
  • I am also a triathlon coach (coaching together with my husband who is a sports physiologist).

Coaching philosophy

06:15 -

  • I think it is super important to get a good sense of how the athlete’s life is besides triathlon to be able to plan the training properly.

    I’m also trying to incorporate a lot of training that you can do together with your kids and family (if applicable), like doing strength exercises together or let the kid take part of the game element of Zwift riding.
  • Training wise, me and my husband have a strong belief in that ”strength will lead to speed”, and I have a rather broad definition of ”strength”.

    We are both building strength in the gym as well as through low cadence intervals and hill runs, it’s all ”strength” but on the same time very different type of strengths!
  • If one would look at a typical week that I would prescribe, most sessions would incorporate some elements of quality.

    This is because most athletes that I coach only have 6-8h per week to train and you must make sure to spend the time as effectively as possible.

    However, only because most sessions comprises some elements of quality, this does not mean that the greatest emphasize still is on aerobic training.

    The vast majority of the time is still spent in zone 2 or 3 with the aim of building a very strong aerobic foundation.

    Hills also play a great role in the training programs that I prescribe.
  • For the swim, I am a big fan of focusing on speed and doing rather short intervals such as 50:s, preferably as you’re simultaneously focusing on form.
  • For the bike, I think strength is absolutely critical to be able to perform well on the bike.

    I include a lot of hills and plenty, plenty of low cadence work.

    As we get closer and closer to race day, more focus is directed towards race specific training.
  • On the run, once again hills play a big role in our programs.

    I think that strength is crucial also for the run, and we build strength with hills, alternating intensity and doing plenty of run off the bike.

    This also reflects the demands of XTERRA racing quite much, you push really hard up the hills and through tricky parts and then you back off quite much in the downhills and during easier segments.

    We also focus a lot on avoiding injury.


44:10 -

  • We implement a three phase periodization.

    During the first phase, we focus on strength and are slowly building up the intensity of the strength work thought this period.

    On the second phase we are focusing on speed and intensity (but a little bit of strength work is also maintained).

    The final phase is called the race specificity phase, and here we are doing as race specific work as possible to prepare the athletes for the demands of the race.

Tracking recovery

46:00 -

  • We are encouraging our athletes to keep some objective or subjective track on how they are recovering, such as HRV or mood diary.

    Most of our athletes find this very helpful.

Executing the workouts

48:50 -

  • Mostly we are prescribing workouts based on RPE but sometimes it’s also pace, HR or power driven.

    We are always, however, trying to collect as much data as possible, but sometimes this can be done blinded to the athlete so that he or she really learns to focus on effort.
  • When it comes to high intensity workouts, I think it is important to prepare the body for all type of scenarios, so we do prescribe ”all out” intervals as well as we are trying to prepare our athletes to also be good at pacing themselves and leave a little bit left in the tank.

Differences between off road and regular triathlon

57:15 -

  • The main difference between off road triathlons and regular ones would be the way the uneven impact on the body is affecting the muscles and tendons.

    This you must prepare very specifically for, otherwise the muscles will quickly get tired and cramp.

Gear and equipment selection for XTERRA racing

01:00:40 -

  • The bike is obviously the most important aspect, and this you can basically talk about forever…

    But if there is one gadget on the bike that is more important than another and that is how you’re carrying your hydration and nutrition, this you should be really diligent about.

The art and the science of coaching

01:04:15 -

  • The art aspect is for me the most creative part of being a coach and is very much about getting to know the athlete, what makes him or her tick and what kind of training he or she responds to the most.

Mindset and psychology in endurance sports

01:06:00 -

  • I think the mindset is absolutely crucial in endurance sports, and you can highly influence the way you think and in the next step the way you perform.

Rapid fire questions

01:11:40 -

  • What is your favorite book, blog or resource related to endurance sports? Mindset by Carol Dweck.
  • What is your favorite piece of gear or equipment? The ergometer for swimming.
  • What is a personal habit that has helped you achieve success? Rewarding myself for the tough days (I give myself a pat on the back and chocolate when I have done something good).


Mikael Eriksson

I am a full-time triathlon coach, founder of Scientific Triathlon, and host of the top-rated podcast That Triathlon Show. I am from Finland but live in Lisbon, Portugal.

Please contact me if you have feedback on the podcast or want to make suggestions for improvement or send in a question for a Q&A episode.

If you are a long-time listener and appreciate the value the podcast brings, please consider taking a couple of minutes for leaving a rating and review on iTunes/Apple Podcasts, or wherever else you can think of leaving a rating and review.

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