In the increasingly competitive world of ITU and long-course racing, now being won by tenths of a second, Lindley is convinced that mental toughness and confidence in one’s ability to push past pain are what separate winners from losers. It’s the mental side that allows people to break barriers, win races and achieve their true potential. So she constantly challenges her athletes with workouts that take them to the limits of their ability.
“My philosophy as far as racing is, your biggest competitor is yourself,” she said. “I never say things that are impossible. But I will always tell them basically something that seems impossible to them, but I know it’s not. So then, it’s a matter of who’s got the guts to believe in themselves, to believe in what I’m saying.”
Justin Trolle, a New Zealand ITU coach living in Colorado Springs, Colo., says this style of coaching, common in Australia and New Zealand, is one of the reasons Aussie and Kiwi athletes are so mentally tough, so hard to beat in close races.
“If it’s raining outside, an Australian or New Zealand coach is going to send you out on the bike,” he said. “In the U.S., they’re going to put you on a trainer. We have a tendency to soften our athletes too much, so when push comes to shove, they don’t have that aggression.”
Later, he added: “I see where Siri is coming from. If you push an athlete to the limit, then back off, it resets the limit. When the pressure’s on and things are hurting, they know what to expect, so it doesn’t shock them. Winning is going to hurt. Winning never feels good until after you cross that line. And I think Siri is particularly good at breeding that toughness into them.”
Lindley makes no bones about expecting her athletes to go to their limits and warns them that she has little tolerance for unmotivated, uncommitted people.
“I remove people who aren’t 100 percent,” she said. “When you have one person in the group who isn’t giving 100 percent, even though they may be slightly motivated, it affects the rest of the group.”
She also has no tolerance for those who don’t follow the training programs she develops collaboratively with each of them. One of the most recent casualties of Siri’s program was Desiree Ficker, the runner-up at Kona in 2006 whom Lindley was training for last year’s Ironman Wisconsin. Lindley says she gave Ficker four days off before the race, then found out from the postings of Ficker’s friends on her Facebook page that she had done a track workout and time trial before the race. After dropping out of Wisconsin, she ran the NYC marathon and again, says Lindley, never told her coach.
“It’s like entering a relationship. You come to me and I’m going to devote myself to you. That’s what my major weakness is,” she said, pausing while trying to find the right words as tears welled up in her eyes. “Something like Desiree disappearing really breaks my heart because I’m choosing to believe in them 1,000 percent, too.”