Going for Gold with Kristin Armstrong

Going for Gold with Kristin Armstrong

Listen to three-time Olympic Gold Medalist Kristin Armstrong dive into her epic journey to win gold and the dedication it took her to get there.

A true legend not only in the cycling arena but in sports history as well, Kristin Armstrong has had one of the most prolific careers of all time. She began as a walk-on high school track athlete plagued by injury, transformed into a triathlete and finally honed her craft in cycling. She has finally landed with a successful coaching business, guiding the most promising young female cyclists on their journey to Olympic gold.

This week Dirk sat down with Kristin to discuss her race strategy in the Beijing, London and Rio Olympics, training after motherhood, the support of her beloved son Lucas and more.

Stand-out Quotes:

  • “I remember looking in the mirror one day and said, I need to take care of myself…. so I saved up all my money to buy a road bike. And it took me a long time because once I bought a road bike with my money, didn’t have enough money to buy shoes or a helmet.”
  • “He said, ‘So there’s just a couple of things, Kristin, who coaches you? Like, how do you train?’ And I said, ‘I don’t, I don’t have a coach. I just ride my bike. And when I feel like riding hard, I ride hard and when I don’t I don’t.’ And he’s like, ‘Well, you know, to get better, you probably need to work with a coach that can guide you and help you be successful.’ And I said, ‘I don’t know any coaches…do you coach?’ And he said, ‘I coach.’ I said, ‘Great, then you’re my coach.’”
  • “So we went over there and I re-conned the course with Jim and we were like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is a 20-minute hill climb, straight up and then we’re going to go, guess what, straight down.’ And basically we looked at each other and said, ‘Oh, when people ask us about this course, our response is going to be, it’s just a hilly time-trial course.’”
  • “And about a week before Rio, he came to me and he said ‘I found more weight to take off your bike, but I just don’t know if you’re gonna go for it.’ And I was like, ‘What do you mean?’ And he said, ‘Well, I found a half a pound.’ I was like, ‘Well, you have a gram scale out, how can you find a half a pound?’ And he said, ‘Well, I don’t know Kristin, like you have to race without power.’ And I was like, ‘Done!’”
  • “I always called being a mom, my secret weapon and nobody understood because they thought, ‘Well, how can you balance all your time?’ And I said, ‘It’s just about having someone that’s always happy when you come home.’”



Resources

Kristin Armstrong’s Instagram

Kristin Armstrong’s Twitter

Kristin Armstrong’s Facebook

Episode Transcript

Dirk Friel:

Kristen Armstrong is the most decorated US women’s cyclist of all time and the best time-trialist in sports history. She’s a three-time Olympic gold medalist, two-time world champion and has won six US National Championships. Kristen, thank you so much for joining us today on the CoachCast.

Kristin Armstrong:

Yeah, it was great to be here. I really appreciate you having me.

Dirk Friel:

Lord. I don’t know, I barely know where to start. I kind of want to go back to the early years. You know, I’ve heard you talk about your upbringing and all the different places you lived and people would just assume that you rode a bike from age five and got on a time-trial bike at age 12, and your parents pushed you to the Olympics. And tell us how that is definitely not the case.

Kristin Armstrong:

Yeah. You know, it’s definitely not the case. I was actually part of a military family, so I was a military brat and moved every three years of my life and played pretty much every sport you can name. Graduated in Okinawa, Japan when my dad got stationed to Colorado Springs and I had three choices between going to a school in Utah, going to a Colorado school or in Idaho and I chose Idaho. So I went to Idaho, walked on to the track team, didn’t enjoy it, didn’t have much fun, had a lot of injury, had some stress fractures, so decided that maybe that was kind of my time as an athlete. Graduated college and as the book says, you know, you’re supposed to get a job, get married, family. I mean that’s kind of what I always thought was supposed to happen in life.

And so I got the job part, didn’t have the boyfriend part and didn’t have a married part of course, didn’t have a child. And you know, that competitive blood that so many athletes have, it just didn’t go away. And I remember when my friend decided to dare me to do a triathlon. And so I remember my first triathlon doing a 400-meter swim and a seven-mile bike ride on, well, I call it a bike ride cause I was on a mountain bike with knobby tires. And it was like, yeah, I remember it was fluorescent green. And I got off the bike and I’m supposed to run two miles. And I had to walk, I had to walk two miles. And I think the race was about 35 minutes and I’ll never forget when I was like, Oh, I don’t need to work out for a week because I just did something for 35 minutes.

I had a normal job. I was a director of the aquatic center at a YMCA. And I remember one day just, being an athlete, sometimes we kind of underestimate how easy it is just to become a robot and go to practice and do our training. And well, after college, when I had this real job, I remember looking in the mirror one day and said, I need to take care of myself. I’m going to start swimming again, cause that’s what I did in high school, and I played soccer and I ran. And so I started swimming with masters and I started running with an actual running group in town. And I decided that, I only had a mountain bike at the time and I would never go on the trails at the time, and so I saved up all my money to buy a road bike. And it took me a long time because once I bought a road bike with my money, didn’t have enough money to buy shoes or a helmet and I eventually did that. 

And I pretty much wore the same pair of shorts and jersey for pretty much every ride I did for like two years, just barely making it off of a nonprofit salary. And I started entering into triathlons and yeah, I just kept competing in triathlons. One thing led to the next and a couple of years later on a fast track, I was competing at, some of you may remember the US Bally’s Triathlon Series as a national series. I happened to go there and I won the national amateur event and the prize that evening was for me to, I got a free trip to Hawaii, Ironman to compete. I had never done any of those distances at one time before. And so I show up to Hawaii…

Dirk Friel: 

Wow. Okay. So you’ve never done a long-distance, you’ve been short distance and you get an invite to Kona?

Kristin Armstrong:

Yeah! And that was the prize back then. So that was back in ‘99 when they hadn’t changed the format yet where you had to qualify at a full Ironman. 

Dirk Friel:

Right. 

Kristin Armstrong:

And so basically I went from winning the US Bally’s Series, which was the Olympic distance race and it was non-drafting. And then I went to Hawaii because they said, we’ll pay for your flight, we’ll give you a new bike and all your accommodations. I’m like, well, okay, that sounds great. I’ll do an Ironman. So I went and that was that day. I’ll never forget. I did my longest swim. I did my longest ride. It was my first century ride and it was the first and only time I’ve ever run a marathon. And I combined that in one day. So that was yeah, that was Hawaii. That was my amateur triathlon experience.

Dirk Friel:

So I think you and I have one thing in common that it may be only one thing in common is we did two Ironmans in one day. We did our first and our last.

Kristin Armstrong:

Exactly! See?

Dirk Friel:

Yup. Yup. Wow. In all of my reading I’ve done on you, I had no idea. That is an amazing nugget. Had no idea. So this is 1999?

Kristin Armstrong:

So, I qualified at the US Bally’s Fitness Race when I won that series in ‘98 and then I received the entry into Kona in ‘99 and during the year of ‘99, I got a phone call after winning the triathlon in Oceanside from the USA Triathlon Federation and they invited me as one of three athletes to live as one of the residents in ‘99 at the OTC. 

So they wanted me on the fast-track to enter into draft-legal racing. And so I moved there, I dropped everything. So this phone call, I’ll never forget, it was Thanksgiving week in ‘98 and I moved there January one, and gave up my lease that I had on an apartment. I handed over my car to my parents to take over the car payments cause they said we’ll take the car payments over, but by no means are we going to give you the car and take the car payment.

So I went to Colorado without a car. No money. My stipend was $300 a month. I didn’t want this dream to pass. And so I spent obviously a couple of years in the sport of triathlon chasing points, the whole ITU thing until I started having you know, issues with my body and I could no longer run. I had some hip setbacks and thought, you know what, I am way too old to be competing. I was in my mid-twenties and I thought, I’m far behind on this whole work thing and family thing and boyfriend thing. And so I thought that this injury is just going to kind of reset things and it’s just kind of a blessing in disguise, that I just need to move forward with my life. And so I did that and it was about a year later where a local team had come to me in Boise and you know, the women’s challenge, which is called the HP Women’s Challenge. Before the HP women’s challenge, it was called the Oreida Women’s Challenge. They invited this local cycling team to participate. So, of course a local cycling team came to Kristin Armstrong and said, Hey…

Dirk Friel:

…You have another free ride into the world’s biggest stage.

Kristin Armstrong:

Do you want to race on our team? All we need you to do is one race. It’s the Women’s Challenge. And I was like, “Please tell me you’re kidding me!” Cause I’ve been watching these women for five years and I’m far, I’m not that cyclist. And they said “Oh Kristen will be so much fun!” I was just really nervous about being embarrassed and so I, my arm was twisted. And I remember I had a full-time job and I would go out after work with my headlamp on and I would train. And then on the weekends, I would go with my boyfriend at the time who’s now my husband Joe. And we would go do course recon and we would go, I would go memorize all the mile marker signs on every climb on the courses. So that when I got dropped, I knew how far I had to go to the finish line.

Dirk Friel:

The days before Garmin GPS. 

Kristin Armstrong:

Oh, absolutely. I was one-hundred percent ready to get dropped and just needed to know where I was. And we came and during that week, between the start of the race and the ending of the race, I had three contract offers. And at the time it was from Saturn, Rona and T-Mobile. And it was hard. Those were all like my dream teams. I remember Dede Demet and Kimberly Bruckner and Baldwin, they were all my heroes and all I wanted to do was race with one of those gals. And I thought, “Wow, where are they going?” And then you had Gianna pushing the hard sell on Saturn. And so I pretty much sat down with Jim Miller and I didn’t know Jim Miller, he was directing the women’s team at the time and he offered to take me on a European race in August and said, listen, why don’t you come join our team?

And it was just a small race like the Tour de France for women. It was when they still have like the 16-day race and I went over there with them and he offered me a contract at the end of that race. And He said, “So there’s just a couple of things, Kristin, who coaches you? Like, how do you train?” And I said, “I don’t, I don’t have a coach. I just ride my bike. And when I feel like riding hard, I ride hard and when I don’t I don’t.” And he’s like, “Well, you know, to get better, you probably need to work with a coach that can guide you and help you be successful.” And I said, “I don’t know any coaches…do you coach?” And he said, “I coach.” I said, “Great, then you’re my coach.” He’s like, “Okay.” 

And so that’s how Jim and I met and that’s how he was my coach from 2002 until obviously through Rio. And so obviously through that backstory, my life had changed. I always say that I’m just that normal average person who yes, I have competitive blood, determined, put everything there, took risks, but definitely didn’t train and grow up as like thinking I was ever going to be an Olympian or let alone a professional athlete.

Dirk Friel:

Yeah, I think you just ripped through about 15 years of an amazing career there. We’re going to go back and unpack some of that if you don’t mind.

Kristin Armstrong:

Oh yeah, absolutely!

Dirk Friel:

Okay. So first, so if we go into the Olympic years 2008, Beijing you know what? Every one of these, obviously you’ve won three gold medals in consecutive Olympics in the individual time-trial. No one’s ever done that in history. You were the oldest to ever win a cycling gold medal that was at age 42 in Rio, but yet they weren’t just time-trials. I mean, on paper they’re called time-trials, but they’re very different courses and that’s very hard to do. It’s not just sit on the trainer and go for 60 minutes, you know, it’s, they’re very unique and very different courses. So there has to be different challenges to preparing for all of them. How would you classify the Beijing course and what was the biggest challenge for you to prepare for that?

Kristin Armstrong:

So the Beijing course, you know, when, when someone talks about a hilly time-trial, so, what happens is whether it’s world championships, nationals, Olympics, everyone comes out and says, “Oh, have you seen the course?” And back in the day, remember there was no GPS, there’s no mapping, nothing. There was Google Earth by the way. And so when people say ‘the course in Beijing is hilly,’ as a time-trial-mind I think of, Oh, it’s probably these big rolling hills because typically there’s not a hill climb in a time-trial unless it was called ‘the hill climb’. And so, you know, I had heard that, “No, really Kristen, it’s really, really hilly!” And nobody was really understanding. And back in the day when you saw, like a race bible, or you saw a profile, you never really knew whether you should believe that profile or not.

And so we actually decided, Jim Miller and myself, decided to fly to Beijing to look for ourselves. So in December, in 2007, we flew over, there happened to be another world cup, a track world cup there. So he was going over there anyway and so we went over there and I re-conned the course with Jim and we were like, “Oh my gosh, this is a 20-minute hill climb, straight up and then we’re going to go, guess what, straight down.” And basically we looked at each other and said, “Oh, when people ask us about this course, our response is going to be, it’s just a hilly time-trial course.” The biggest tool we had was number one, my husband’s an engineer. So we geeked out, I went over there, he sent me over there with a bike computer so he could actually map out the GPS points, the data points.

And so then we overlaid it on a course in Boise and we found that Boise had a climb called Bogus Basin up to the ski resort and it pretty much matched Beijing. And so I would train on Bogus Basin for this hill climb. But on top of that data, that was also the year that we decided to go extreme with our bike and how we are going to make it as light as possible. And so we did anything from custom ordering a front chainring from the UK, that’s all carbon fiber. And the company told us like, I wouldn’t ride this more than seven or eight times.

That’s when we decided to order a special cog set, we ordered a different type of chain, you name it. But on the start line with a 404 zip and a disc, we were at the limit, right at 15 pounds. I’ll never forget Cancellara picking up my bike, where the bikes were getting weighed, and he picked it up and was like, “Oh my goodness!” And I just smiled because it was the first time I thought, wow, a female kind of, started, I guarantee you, I started that race having a bike that was at least two pounds lighter than everybody else, any of my competitors. And so that sort of started, I obviously had to break some sponsor contracts and that was a risk I had to take. I got fired from Cervelo and then rehired four months later, they weren’t happy, but then they had a hard time not being happy after I won. 

So there’s just some risks that you have to take some times as an athlete. And so that was Beijing. And so that was early on and that’s when we had to push the envelope back then.

Dirk Friel:

Well in Beijing, and then, Rio was maybe not as hilly, right?

Kristin Armstrong:

Well, Rio, so we had London, which was flat. It reminds me of just the year of speed. Again, weight didn’t matter as much, but the roads were a little rough. And so the wheel/tire combination in the aerodynamics and the focus on just not moving your head around became very, very important. But even that’s when we started looking at the importance of finding the fastest skinsuit. That became super critical as well. Just to gain those seconds.

So that was London and then Rio by far was the most difficult time-trial course I’d ever done. And so the difference with Rio was it was very, very short, spiky hills and the grade got up to 26%. And so now we’re talking about, you know, there was flat sections where aerodynamics played a role, but now we were taking the course, breaking it down and saying what percentage of this course is going to favor the rolling resistance in the weight of your bike versus the aerodynamics because now there’s so much conversation around tires that are aerodynamic and you know, do you use clinchers and tubulars and why the tire? And at the end of the day, you have to take your course by course. And that’s what we did in Rio. And then obviously we wake up and it’s pouring rain.

So that was a whole nother you know, something that we didn’t have control of. But with Rio we were able to focus on the weight of the bike again. And we got my bike down to right over 15 pounds once again. My husband had a gram scale out. That’s how much weight we were trying to take off. And so he had replaced all of my screws with titanium screws, you name it. We had the lightest bike. 

And about a week before Rio, he came to me and he said “I found more weight to take off your bike, but I just don’t know if you’re gonna go for it.” And I was like, “What do you mean?” And he said, “Well, I found a half a pound.” I was like, “Well, you have a gram scale out, how can you find a half a pound?” And he said, “Well, I don’t know Kristin, like you have to race without power.” And I was like, “Done!”

I know how to hurt. I’m just gonna go for it. And so I didn’t have a power meter on in Rio. 

Dirk Friel: 

Oh!

Kristin Armstrong:

Yeah. And so the only thing, I had learned to control my training through cadence. I know how to hurt. I know what that feels like, but what happens with my cadence is a determinant of how much power I’m producing. Going as hard as I can and I know exactly what I do when I get tired and fatigued. And the cadence was a reminder of where I needed to be.

Dirk Friel:

Right. And you know, and for most people, they’re not going to have Jim Miller in their ear either.

Kristin Armstrong:

No.

Dirk Friel:

So that was effectively your power meter. You know, Jim has a stopwatch, he has the time checks along the way against your competition. Okay. So those were the challenges as it came, as it related to the courses. Let’s talk about motherhood. Another challenge. Beijing, obviously you didn’t have Lucas yet. Your son, Lucas was born in 2010. Is that correct?

Kristin Armstrong:

Yes, correct!

Dirk Friel:

So your first retirement, is that correct? Was 2009, to start a family. 

Kristin Armstrong:

Yes.

Dirk Friel: 

And walk us through the challenges of that, preparing for London. Was it natural like I’m going to have a family and I’m going to do the Olympics straight away?

Kristin Armstrong:

No, actually I was that person who thought that any person who would race her bike with a family was selfish and by no means should they ever consider racing as a professional athlete, as a mom like that to me was like, you should be over yourself by then. And it was basically when I was nine months pregnant, I rode my bike all the way through my pregnancy. I was lucky that I could do that. 

I’m about nine months into my pregnancy, probably about three weeks before delivering, I got this text message from Jim Miller and he said, “Hey, so 22 months, what do you think?” “I don’t even know what you’re talking about 22 months?” And so he said, “22 months to London. Wouldn’t that be an awesome goal?” I said, “I’m like huge right now.” I’m absolutely, like, “No, this is not a good idea.” And so then I went to my husband and I said, “Joe, you’re not going to believe what Jim is texting me right now. He’s like 22 months until London!” And Joe started laughing and I was like, “Why are you guys, why is this so funny to you guys?” And all I want to do is get this baby out of me.

Dirk Friel

So again, is the coach seeing something that the athlete doesn’t see?

Kristin Armstrong:

Yes, exactly. And so then I looked at John and I said, “Why are you laughing?” And he said, “Oh well Jim and I kind of have a bet going…”

Dirk Friel:

Oh my gosh!

Kristin Armstrong:

He’s like, “Yeah, we kind of, well the way you’ve been riding through your pregnancy, like there’s no way you’re done. You’re just so competitive. I mean you’re pedaling with one leg out cause you can’t even pedal, cause your stomach is so big and you just can’t slow down.” And I’m like, “Whatever, whatever!” I was like, so hormonal. And so I had, we delivered Lucas, September 15th and Jim gave me about probably 10 days. And then I got another text message and he’s like, “Hey, what do you think? 18 months.” I’m like, “What?!”

And so a couple weeks later, and now we’re like the second week of October. So about a month after having Lucas, I texted Jim back and I said, “You know what? You’re right. It would be fun.” And he was like, “Let’s do it.”

And so November 1st I’ll never forget it, he said, “We have to make a commitment, we have to go out with a press release. We have to tell everyone you’re coming back.” And I’m like, all right, so number one, it was kind of the real deal. We put it out there, I’m making a comeback. And I was like, “Well, how are we going to start Jim?” He’s like, “Oh, that’s a great question. I’ve never trained… I’ve never trained an athlete after pregnancy for the Olympic games.” It’s like, “Well, just think of this as another book you could write.”

And so I remember he said, and I think he was trying to be…coming from a guy, you know, men can put their foot in their mouth sometimes when women are pregnant, like you kind of think they’re pregnant, then you say something wrong or, so he was like, we started off with training, and I’m like, “Well how do we do this?” And he’s like, “Well, we’re going to start with just, well, I don’t want to stress you out too much, but let’s just start with exercising.” I was like, “Are you just saying like, let’s just start with like losing some weight? Like let’s exercise Jazzercise.”

So he said, “We’re going to take the next three months and we’re just going to focus on getting out for aerobic activity.” I’m like, “All right, this sounds like a great plan. Like this is not hard. I can go ride my bike sometimes and hike sometimes.”

And so that’s how it went for the first three months. And then January hit and he flipped a switch. It was like, we don’t have much time. We got to go. And I remember there were some really, there’s a lot of times where I’m like, I quit. This is horrible. The first race I did was in San Dimas and I had my Pack ‘n Play, I had my stroller, I was breastfeeding, you name it. It was horrendous. 

And I thought, “What am I doing? This isn’t not a smart decision and I don’t know why I have to be, you know, think I need to do it all. Why did I have to come back?” 

So anyway, that kind of was on and off for 15 months before London. It was just nonstop. And then obviously leading into London, nine weeks before London, my last opportunity to qualify, I crashed and broke my collarbone in what we call the Exergy Tour, which was a kind of a comeback to the Women’s Challenge in Boise. And so, there’s just so many events that you think, being a mom of a newborn is hard enough, and to add bike racing in. But it gave me perspective that no matter what, no matter how my training went that day, I had this little thing, this little human being, that every time I came back home, he didn’t really care if I had a bad day or a good day. And there was always a smile on his face. 

And so I think it was really much easier to train because you just had something so positive in your life no matter what happened out on the road. And I always called being a mom, my secret weapon and nobody understood because they thought, “Well, how can you balance all your time?” And I said, “It’s just about having someone that’s always happy when you come home.”

So yeah. And my training, it definitely, had to change. I think that for the most part, we obviously, it’s important to train your systems as you would if you have a lot of time. But I think the most important thing is, we obviously made sure that I was fuel-efficient and that I was building in the correct zone, so my body could actually have that foundation to train properly. 

and that I was building in the correct zone, so my body could actually have that foundation to train properly. 

But you know, that was just a period of time, and quantity, or quality over quantity and made sure that every one of my workouts had a purpose. And so just for example, if I were to have had two easy days throughout the week, prior to motherhood at an hour and a half of active recovery, you know, maybe one of those now is an hour and the other day is this off. And so some of those active recovery, more mental rides were sometimes just not anything. It might’ve been more of a walk with my son. So Jim was really good at balancing motherhood and training, which was really key to being successful.

Dirk Friel

Well, now I can not ever watch the footage of you on the podium in London without crying myself. Almost as many tears, if anybody has not seen that, go to YouTube and search for it. This is where Lucas runs up on the podium and you were frantically searching for your family prior to that moment. And then finally you see your family and break down and Lucas comes out and I start balling.

Kristin Armstrong:

Yeah. It was definitely a moment that I, it’s ingrained in my brain as well. Yeah.

Dirk Friel:

Okay, so the last challenge here, so we have Rio, you know, age 42. How is that preparation different than Beijing, if any at all? You talked about recovery, where did you see age setting-in, or maybe you didn’t?

Kristin Armstrong:

Because I have raced and ridden my bike for so long, I find that I can get back pretty quickly. You know, my aerobic capacity, I can get back to my threshold after a good period of training, that comes back fairly quickly. 

Obviously with Rio being pretty hilly and spiky, I had to really work on that upper-end VO2. And that’s what we focus a lot on actually. Had a lot of three-minute efforts in my life. I had a lot of just, you know, 40/20s or 20/40s or 30/30s. I had a lot of over-unders really focusing on that high-end that seems to go away much quicker these days. The other thing that I had never done, which is just kind of a thing now is, and it’s an important component now, but I had never done anything pretty much off the bike.

You know, I would go to some yoga classes, but when we talk about strength training, that wasn’t in my life prior to Rio. So as time has gone, I have found that it’s very difficult to keep, you know, when you’re younger you lose some muscle mass and you start training again, your muscle mass comes back, no problem. And so I had to focus a lot on, what am I going to do off the bike to, well, first of all, it was to prevent injury. You know, I had to make sure that my core, so if I go out for a long ride and I have tons of elevation that day, a lot of times our core or our transverse abs, they turn off and our lower back starts to carry that weight. And you know, over the years of riding bikes, a lot of us feel that.

And so I found that a lot of functional training style activity, doing some more mobility, some yoga doing that really was a key component to my training when I became over 40. The other thing is that I worked with a registered dietician to hone in on my recovery plan. So it was interesting. I actually used TrainingPeaks and shared my TrainingPeaks account. And it was interesting because as you get older, I worked with dieticians in the past and they made my meal plans when I was like 32 years old. And you know, at the time, I’m 42, 41 and I don’t really need, I never felt that I needed anyone to really tell me like, okay, eat a salad at 12 o’clock and eat chicken at… I’m kind of past that part of I know how to eat a well-balanced diet.

But what I did lack was, how am I optimally going to recover, stage after stage at like Tour of the Gila, or if I go to a classics race like over in Europe, or how am I going to recover from really hard back-to-back training days? And I know this information, but it’s like the physical training I needed. Finally I just cracked and said, I need you to go in on my TrainingPeaks and I need you just to write down exactly what I need to do even 30 minutes after my workout. And so I worked with Stacy Sims and she pretty much would just go in and see exactly what my training was from Jim and would write my recovery plan. And that’s all I wanted from her was my recovery plan. And she wrote it for my races, she wrote it for my training and I just followed it. And so if it was eating 30 grams of protein 30 minutes before bed, that’s just what I did.

Dirk Friel:

Right. That’s like accountability. It’s not just a prescription, but you are now accountable to her.

Kristin Armstrong:

Yes. And so I would say between off-the-bike training and my recovery plan, those were two critical pieces that I felt helped me win my third gold medal at the age of 42.

Dirk Friel:

Yeah, great tips. Absolutely. Really good stuff. If we turn the page and we go into the next chapter of your life, you bring all that experience into coaching now. So tell us about some of your athletes. Obviously Chloe Dygert. I mean, I think in Tokyo she could win time-trial, road race and team pursuit. So some great talent there. So, tell us about how you’re coaching these days. What does that look like?

Kristin Armstrong:

Yeah. You know, I coach a handful of athletes. The neat thing about coaching is I’ve really gotten to know, right now I’m coaching for individuals. It’s so nice and refreshing. What they bring, they think, “Oh, Kristin’s amazing. She brings so much to me!” And I’m like, “You don’t know, you bring so much to my life!” And you know that you have closure when you have a career like I’ve had, I quite often get asked like, “Are you really done?” And I was like, “You know what, I came back twice out of the sport, not thinking I was finished, but when you know you’re done, you know.” 

And I’m so thankful for having closure and it took me awhile, no question. But the way I see closure is for me to help Chloe win a gold medal and the same event I won the last three Olympics in, and to pass that baton. I’m okay with that. To me that is like, that would be my fourth gold medal. If I help Chloe win, I would claim that medal.

Dirk Friel:

That’d be a great story if you coach your successor.

Kristin Armstrong:

And so, for me it’s been a way for me to keep in the sport in a, in a really impactful and positive way. And I coach Chloe Dygert, I coach Emma White who comes from cyclocross. I’ve actually coached Emma since high school and she’s now just graduated college. She is now on the fast track for the women’s team pursuit. So she’s an integral part of the women’s team pursuit. And then I coach Haley Baton who is the top U23 mountain biker in the country and you know, she is a breath of fresh air. She brings so much motivation. She’s so excited about riding bikes that it inspires me to get out as well. 

And then I also coach a gal named Shana Powless who is living in Florida and she is the sister of Nielson Powless that a lot of us are familiar with. So I have a variety of athletes and it’s been a great process and it’s been really fun. I, my coaching style is very individual. So it’s not like Chloe’s plan doesn’t match Emma’s plan, who’s doesn’t match Haley’s plan, who’s doesn’t match Shana. So I put a lot of time in athletes goals, and in this day, in what’s happening, a coach to deliver and to really help remind athletes that you still believe in them and that this will turn into believing in themselves, no matter if Tokyo’s happening this July or next July, it doesn’t really matter the time frame. So that’s been a really important process. 

You know, people ask me, what kind of coach I am and I love it. You know, I have a reputation in the peloton of, people are always like, “Oh my gosh, I’m so serious and I don’t know, you know, scary.” And when people ask my athletes, which they’ve shared with me, like somebody will ask Emma, “Hey, so what’s it like working with Kristin? And is she like, hard as ever?” And Emma’s like, “Oh my gosh, she’s so, you know, she’s just so nice.” And so the perception of what people think of how I coach is very different than how I coach. So it’s, I think I coach kind of how I was on the bike as an athlete. So it’s, it’s really interesting— the outside perspective. 

But I would say as a coach, one of my strengths is yes, I know data, yes, I know the technology side of things. However, the most important thing as a coach, that I do is, I get to know my athletes. And so I have a relationship with them that I feel, it’s one thing to look at everything that data is showing me and I take that into a lot of consideration. But then knowing that voice of the athlete when they say, I’m just not feeling it today, and I can look at the data and say, “Well, you should be feeling it. What’s wrong with you?” But it’s a certain voice that I find that I connect with and I can always tell when an athlete is physically tired, mentally tired, just not feeling it. And so I’ve just had a great time coaching all different personalities and also disciplines.

Dirk Friel:

Yeah, yeah. Well, I think also you lived the epitome of grit and character and I’ve heard you say it’s all between the ears. And you could have taken that same character and done something else, in your life with it, but you decided to chase gold and it proved out to be the right choice. I love ending on that. There are so many great nuggets. Again, I could have seen this as a five episode show. Any kind of last words of wisdom as, as we’re in this crazy time of COVID and for those age groupers out there, they don’t know when the next race is, any kind of last words of wisdom for, for those folks.

Kristin Armstrong:

Yeah. You know, I think you have to keep things in perspective. You have to keep it fun. And so I’m developing a lot of fun events for four or five, eight athletes that maybe I don’t coach them all. But there’s no reason, if training camps have worked for you before, there’s no reason why you can’t do a training camp from afar. With all the different platforms that are offered.

I also think that this is a great time to work on weaknesses. I always say that, what are we struggling with? What are we always trying to accomplish when we don’t have time to accomplish? So focus on the positives and all the things you can control. Cause those things you can’t control are again out of our control. So there’s no need to create or, have any frustration you know, with that. And so this time will pass. And the great thing is that whether we’re indoors or outdoors, we can always ride our bikes and we should be very thankful and grateful for this.

Dirk Friel:

Absolutely. We can be a cyclist, we can be a triathlete, we can be a runner, but we can be that without the race and the races will come back. So Kristin, thank you so much for your time. It’s been so enjoyable. And how can people maybe follow you?

Kristin Armstrong:

Yeah, so I’m on Instagram, you know, it’s @kstrong22. I am also on Facebook just with Kristin Armstrong. I obviously post quite a bit. I am always, telling the story of my athletes, of kind of what I’m up to. But yeah, I would always, obviously I’d love to hear from people and if anyone ever wants to reach out, I’m always one, I’m a responder.

Dirk Friel:

Thank you so much. Thanks again and yeah. Good luck to all your athletes as they prepare for the Olympics. 

Kristin Armstrong:

Thank you.

TrainingPeaks

The staff at TrainingPeaks includes passionate athletes, coaches, and data enthusiasts. We're here to help you reach your goals!