Podcast, Racing, Training

Olympic gold medal training and preparation with Arild Tveiten | EP#304

 September 20, 2021

By  Bernardo Gonçalves


Arid Tveiten - That Triathlon Show

Arild Tveiten is the head coach and sports director of the Norwegian Triathlon Federation. At the Olympics in Tokyo 2021, Kristian Blummenfelt, who has been coached by Arild for 11 years, took the gold medal in the men's individual event, and fellow Norwegian athletes Gustav Iden, Casper Stornes, and Lotte Miller finished 8th, 11th and 24th, respectively. Here, Arild makes his third appearance on That Triathlon Shown to discuss the specifics around training and preparing for the Tokyo Olympics, including heat preparation, tapering, race schedules, and much more. 

In this Episode you'll learn about:

  • How Arild viewed the Norwegian results in the triathlon events at the Olympics
  • Training camps and racing blocks in preparation for Tokyo
  • Tapering strategies
  • Heat preparation protocols
  • Preparing for the bike course with near-constant cornering and accelerations
  • Kristian's swim strategy to lose minimal time to the front pack
  • Arild's verdict on what went well in the preparations and what could be improved for Paris 2024
  • The next big goals for the Norwegian team and individual athletes
  • Shifting training focus to long-course (half and full distance) racing

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Olympic results review

04:26 - 

  • We are happy that we achieved a gold medal with Kristian as we have been working with him for 11 years.
  • However, in the Olympics, most athletes fail to achieve their goals. Therefore, we are focusing on the reasons for the different outcomes with other athletes.
  • Gustav's 8th place and Casper's 11th place are reasonable. However, we know that they did not have their best day, despite doing good races. They played a role in the race. They were close to the front after the bike split, so we were the main players on the main field.
  • We were not able to position ourselves well in the peloton on the bike leg because the swim split was not good. She got out of the water a bit too far back, and in women's races, it is a bit harder to get back to the front. So in the end, the result was not the expected one.

Kristin Blummenfelt's preparation

08:05 -

  • The day after the Rio Olympics, we just focused our minds on the next Olympics, so we were motivated for that.
  • We knew that the heat would be a factor. The first day we started doing specific preparation for the race was in 2018, when we did our first heat training in Thailand. The goal was to evaluate the reactions we got from the heat exposure.
  • From that time, we started paying close attention to doing our training camps, focusing on the specifics of the Olympic race with heat preparation and heat camps. And we started doing it all year round.
  • In 2021, overall, it was still challenging due to the pandemic. So, some of the things were changing during the year. At the first training camp in January in Rio Maior, we said that it would be a big chance that the athletes would not return home before the Olympics.
  • Most of the athletes were there 6 to 9 weeks, where we did a good block of training, with not so much emphasis on heat stress.
  • Then, we went on an altitude training camp before the first big race. We planned to have a big racing block of 4 weeks, starting in Yokohama and finishing with a race in Leeds.
  • We discussed if this would lead to too much travelling between the races, but we found out that there was so little racing in 2020 that the race experience would be valuable for athletes.
  • Not every athlete did all the races, but for example, Kristian did all 5 races, including the mixed relay qualification.
  • And we were sure that we the strong base condition built over the winter, the athletes would not have problems in back to back races. Moreover, we would then have another big block of training after, leading to the Olympics.
  • The challenge with the race block was having 2 Olympic distance races within 6 days apart. The first one was in Japan and the other in Lisbon. This meant that we had to cross 8 time zones.
  • After the race in Lisbon, we went straight to Italy and stayed there for 10 days, which meant a 10-day training camp with a sprint race, which allowed us to do some good training there.
  • Looking at Kristian's results, he started strong with the victory in Yokohama. In Lisbon, he did not feel good, but he was still the best athlete in both races overall because many of the top athletes did not perform in one of the 2 races.
  • When we went to Italy, he was not 100%, as he felt slightly sick and did not have the last kick. In Leeds, he had a regular performance but struggled a bit in the race. We did not stress about that because we knew the reasons why he was not performing as well.
  • From an outside perspective, it might seem that he had peaked too early and then got tired. But for us, we analysed all the data. Therefore, we were not concerned at all.
  • Many of the athletes may have thought the block of racing was a bit too much with 3 Olympic Distance Races in 4 weeks.
  • We cannot do this with lots of athletes, but with Kristin, we could do that, and despite not having a perfect day in Leeds, he was 6º overall. This was important because if he had not had this result, he would not have won the Grand Finale World Series in the end. All races matter.

Main objectives of a racing block

16:23 -

  • We can replicate most of the things you do in training, but you cannot replicate the race scenario and the situations that change from race to race.
  • The more you race, the more you learn how the competitors are racing. For example, the Yokohama race had quite a technical course that is hard to replicate with training.
  • You need to train, but you also need to race in your preparation. Last year, most athletes only did 2 or 3 races while they would do 10 normally. So, it is crucial to have the feeling of racing. Kristin's last Olympic Distance race before Yokohama was the Grand Finale from 2019.
  • If you do not do a race, you do not know how you compare to the competitors. And that knowledge is essential to understand who is improving and developing overall.

Block of training after WTCS Leeds

19:13 -

  • From Leeds, we went straight to Barcelona and spent 3 days there. Our focus was on aerodynamic testing in the Velodrome and getting data on heat preparation and equipment choices.
  • We went to an altitude training camp in Font Romeu for 4,5 weeks. 
  • After, we went to Japan 2 weeks before the Olympic Distance men's race and spent the first 9 days at the pre-camp in the heat in Miyasaki. Then we went to the Olympic village. This period was a good, well-focused block of training.
  • This training block was quite similar to what we did heading into the test event in 2019 in Tokyo. We spent some time in 2020 in the French Pyrenees as well. Therefore, we did almost the same things.
  • We strongly believe in the way we train and how we should develop the athletes. In that way, we are not trying to find something new or find some new methods. We try to train to what we know already works in a conservative way.
  • It is a common mistake for athletes to implement something new in training for the Olympic Games. Athletes try to implement something more race-specific or higher intensity efforts.
  • And then, when we come to the race, those athletes do not present the highest fitness condition possible because they did not do the train they should have done.
  • For us, we know that you need to have a lot of training volume, work on the aerobic base and have a high threshold. And the race-specific training is very little compared to the basic principles of training.
  • Despite Font Romeu not being that high (1800 meters of altitude), we still need to control the intensity and how hard you train.
  • We train for the speeds and paces we need to be a top contender for the Olympic Race.
  • Of course, we implement some heat preparation before going to Tokyo. But in general, we implemented basic processes of training. In terms of training volume, we even lower the volume by 5 % compared to other years to be a bit fresher for the races.

Font Romeu altitude training camp

24:45 -

  • In general, we plan our altitude training camp to be in the Spring in the Sierra Nevada. This year, most of April, we have been there (2300 meters above sea level). The stress for the body is bigger.
  • Then in the Summer, we go to Font Romeu. It is a place we know. The local is perfect for training and accommodation, so we feel at home there.
  • In October and November, we return to the Sierra Nevada, because of the higher altitude. Higher altitude is very good for developing the aerobic base and raising the threshold.
  • Font Romeu allows for more race-specific training. That is why we go there during the Summer.
  • In regular years, Font Romeu is a home base for the race period during the Summer.

Tapering period before the games

27:02 - 

  • We do have a taper period, where we prepare for the races. But in general, the training we do is the principal factor for race performance.
  • When we do a taper, it is balancing between the basic training and the more race-specific training.
  • We stayed on Miyasaki with the Japanese national team we could train with (almost the same place as the Browlees). We had the heat weather that we wanted to work and prepare for.
  • In the end, we had terrible weather. Therefore, we had to stay training indoors most of the time.
  • The taper period consisted of 3 or 4 open water swims with the Japanese team, where we were racing together, and we would work on the transitions.
  • The race-specific training for the bike and run splits was more regular. We had the help of the local government to design a technical course. We could create a closed circuit without any traffic, where we could train cornering and do the brick sessions there.
  • Those were large sessions that you do not do during the year that allowed us to focus on race-specific training with race intensity.
  • We were lucky because probably other national teams did not have the privilege to train this way.
  • The volume of training went down a little bit. The first week was 15 % lower, but this drop was because of travelling days. And after travelling days, we have to go gently, so that we can train normally.
  • The second week, we lowered it a bit more but not so much that the athletes do not feel lazy and not so fresh. But we do not do big rides or runs because that is not the time to train aerobic fitness.
  • If you get to the taper period and think you need more aerobic fitness, you are in trouble because you are too late to work on that.
  • To conclude, the taper period is very race-specific, with 20 to 25 hours of training per week and focused on race intensity.

Heat preparation protocols

34:50 -

  • In general, since 2018, we have measured core temperature on race-specific training. 
  • Our athletes need to learn how the body reacts to the hotter environment. Based on that, we get experienced to control the body temperature. This is done on managing intensity, even though we can try some cooling protocols. 
  • And we saw that in the bike, it is easy to control the core temperature if you manage the intensity rightly. On the run, the core temperature increases over time, no matter what.
  • So there, you need to know to react to that increase of core temperature and the kind of equipment you should use to cool down.
  • We focused on teaching our athletes to manage heat and to be able to train hard even if the heat (e.g. on race-specific workouts).
  • Another thing we did differently, we collected a lot of data with a lot of sensors. In the beginning, we were only able to evaluate the core temperature after. But as time went on, we could see the changes in core temperature in real-time.
  • The device we used was CORE which measures heat flux. And correlating this with other methods of measuring core temperature, we see strong correlations.
  • We used these devices in some workouts to evaluate how much we could raise the body temperature without the athlete's performance decreasing drastically. We used it to find the intensity where the core temperature does not increase too fast or maintain itself constantly.
  • Regarding the heat stress period, we did it actively during training sessions in a heat chamber. In 2020, athletes would train indoors, putting the room thermostat to the maximum and do heat sessions like that.
  • We had a heat chamber in Norway, but we only used it for testing, as we did most heat training on training camps. 
  • However, we tried to do heat training not so frequently. In general terms, we believe that too long exposure to heat will negatively affect training and progression.
  • One aspect that we are researching is the relation between altitude and heat training on blood plasma.
  • Heat training could be a way to develop blood plasma for athletes.
  • We structured heat training in a different approach. This year, we did most of the heat training when we were at training camp in Font Romeu, and we found out how many weeks to have the blood plasma response. So, this was the last 2 weeks in Font Romeu and the taper period in Japan.
  • We also did heat training for some races to raise blood plasma as we could not travel and do altitude training camps. With this, we realized that we did not need to do it all year round.
  • In a heat period, we trained almost every day in the heat for 1 to 2 hours.

Swim training and racing

49:05 -

  • The swim split is not the most optimal for the Norwegians. It has been a challenge for us to finish the swim split in the front group.
  • But in the last year, Kristian and Casper were able to get closer to the front group within 20 to 30 seconds from the front.
  • If we look at Kristian, he is not a fast swimmer. Therefore, he will always be a slow starter, and the focus is on minimizing time lost. He has a big aerobic engine and the time he loses is in the first 200 to 300 meters of the swim slipt.
  • His aerobic condition allows him to maintain his speed during the swim.
  • We tried to get his swim start faster and work on the swim speed. We restructured the swim sessions to be more race-specific in the last year. 
  • This change meant a standard warm-up, depending on the workout's goal, and do the work required to develop the speed and the anaerobic threshold to work at a higher pace and focus on the race specificities.
  • We manage this quite well, but athletes do not respond the same way to the same workout. So in swimming, each athlete needs a different stimulus to develop.
  • Usually, triathletes have more fast twist fibres in the upper body than in the lower body. Some athletes are naturally faster during the swim and have no problem achieving high speeds. 
  • However, their VLaMax might be too high because of the high-intensity training in the pool. This factor does not allow them to perform at the highest level in the bike and the run splits. A high VLaMax burns a lot of glycogen, so it will hurt the splits after.
  • But if you lower the VLaMax too much, the swim speed is lower. Thus, performance at the beginning of the races decreases. In that way, we have to find a balance, according to the type of event the athlete will perform (short or long course distance).
  • As the athletes have faster twist muscle fibres in the upper body, we monitor the recovery needs of athletes after each swim session.
  • But in general, swimming is still the discipline that needs shorter recovery times. Athletes can do more and more intense workouts more frequently. 
  • However, this is not to say that we should always do high-intensity training because it may lower the bike and run performances in the end.

Race-specific preparation for the bike leg

57:53 -

  • In general, you do not need a lot of time to focus on race-specific sessions. Therefore, we focus more on developing the aerobic condition during the preparation.
  • During the year, we perform some short efforts and sprints in many of the long easy sessions. The goal is to get used to it.
  • But the race-specific work is not so much. We did 3 or 4 workouts in Miyasaki and some at altitude. But that is working at altitude intensity and adding some accelerations in between.
  • The main thing triathletes need to work on is the technical skills and the art of cornering. And that needs to be worked on because that plays a role in the racing day. On the men's races, some athletes are becoming good technically. However, on the women's races, the problem is still somewhat evident.
  • In every training session, you should pay attention to try to attack the corners and follow the wheel of the best riders.

Factors behind Olympic success

1:02:04 -

  • I think you can have a lot of ways to prepare yourself for Olympic success.
  • In the end, the athletes who took the medals were not a surprise. But some athletes that you thought should have been fighting for the podium were not there.
  • Some athletes probably tried doing a little bit extra in this preparation. So, they stopped trusting themselves and the process and only wanted to do a little bit more.
  • Things we did well was the heat preparation as no athlete struggled in the heat. The training balance was good, with no athletes getting injured. So, athletes were able to work consistently.
  • Also, the training planning and how we worked daily was well executed. We trained a little bit less, so we were always fresher in each session.
  • However, there were always details that were not so good.
  • One thing that we need to focus more on is individualization. For example, in the training camp preparing for the Olympics, Gustav, Casper and Kristian responded differently to training. Gustav was not at the best level possible leading up to the Gomypic Games. 
  • We should have been to focus time on be with the athletes and talk with them. When we try to optimize everything for every rider, we see that we could not have the time to do it for every athlete.

Future goals after the Olympic Games

1:07:48 -

  • In the national team, the focus is on Paris 2024 and on building a competitive team in the mixed relay, intending to have success on the women's side.
  • In the rest of this season and the next one, the athletes are free to target their own goals, and we support them on their personal goals.
  • In 2 weeks, Gustav and Kristian will have the 70.3 World Championships, and I expect to be on the podium. They will also do the Ironman World Championships, and Kristian is also working on Project Sub 7.
  • From the women's side, we will be working with the athletes we have. We do not have many. 
  • We have currently 3 girls in the National Team, and some are coming as well. However, they might not have time to develop to succeed in Paris 2024 because the qualification process begins next year.
  • We have to work with the ones we have and try to achieve their potential while creating an environment that allows them to enjoy the sport. 
  • In highly competitive sports, there are a lot of complicated days. Therefore, the better the environment where the athletes work, the more enjoyment athletes take from the sport, and the more time they will stay in triathlon.
  • If we can keep the athletes motivated, we will be able to create world-class athletes. We just need time to do it.

Transition from short to long distance triathlon

1:13:20 -

  • Transitioning the athletes to race 70.3 distances is something achieved quite fast. There is not a big difference between the way we train.
  • It is about managing the intensity and working on the time trial bike. Focus on an even pace, despite today the fight for the win is a bit more of a "cat and mouse" game. But of course, it is different from an Olympic distance race.
  • Most of our athletes are running 100 to 120 km per week. So, they can do a half marathon with no training.
  • Training for an Ironman race changes a lot. The goal is to find the right intensity balance. It involves working a lot more in the lab and doing a bit longer runs.
  • Right now, athletes are testing themselves. Therefore, we know what we should do with athletes to perform at the level to fight for the win.


Bernardo Gonçalves

Bernardo is a Portuguese elite cyclist and co-founder of SpeedEdge Performance, a company focused on optimising cycling and triathlon performance. He writes the shownotes for That Triathlon Show, and also produces social media content for each new episode.

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