Alexander and Norden not only see eye-to-eye and are training together for the same world-championship race, but she’s fit in seamlessly with Alexander’s family — his wife Neri and their three young children — and he’s not spending the time planning every detail of her swimming and running workouts. “My role is to make sure we bring it all together as a triathlon program,” he explains, “because triathletes are not single-sport athletes, and to help her step up in distance. There are a few nuances to it. It’s not rocket science; I’m not going to say there are any great secrets. … The secret is in doing it consistently, staying injury-free and doing it in a way that the sessions complement each other rather than counteract each other.”
Injuries to her feet, however, plagued Norden’s build-up to Vegas, a problem she suspected might have been caused by her tough ITU racing schedule before and after the London Olympics. Following her training camp in Boulder, in which Alexander limited Norden’s running to heal the injury in her right foot, she flew to Stockholm to do her first ITU race of the year. It was intended to be a homecoming celebration of sorts for the returning Swedish Olympic medalist, who had won the race last year. But halfway into the 10K run, Norden felt a searing pain in her left foot and hobbled in to finish 19th. “After the race, it was incredibly sore and it took me a couple of days to be able to walk on it,” she says. “I had an MRI done on the Monday [after the race], which showed a partial rupture of the tendon. The doctor told me pain has to be my guide; he didn’t think I was able to endanger the foot by racing. Just prolonging the rehab time.”
Norden’s next test was the Hy-Vee Triathlon in Des Moines, Iowa, a race she had won the two previous years and qualified her for Vegas. While it was only a week after Stockholm, Norden says her foot “was actually doing quite well until I attempted a run-in start from the beach on the Saturday evening [before the race]. It went from barely noticeable to very sore again. So I called Craig and we discussed the options and decided to pull my name from the Hy-Vee race.” Norden arrived in Vegas the following week with her foot taped and tried to maintain her run fitness by water jogging. Her “A” race of the year began on an unusual rainy and humid desert morning. Norden overcame a slow swim with a strong bike, riding her way to the front of the women’s field, but had to serve a drafting penalty that put her four minutes back. The hard and hilly run course then took its toll on Norden’s feet, and despite running in obvious pain, she finished eighth in 4:31 and was taken from the finish line in a wheelchair.
Alexander had problems of his own in Vegas: a four-minute drafting penalty during the first two miles of the bike that effectively put him out of contention early in the race. “I wasn’t paying attention. It was near the start, it was real wet; it was slick,” he told me shortly after finishing a disappointing 19th in 4:06. “I nearly ran up the back of Tim Don once and I swerved to miss a manhole and then I was looking down trying to get my foot into my shoe. And I was right up on him,” adding, “I was doing the wrong thing. I’m not going to complain.”
Alexander and Norden are well aware world championship titles aren’t easily won. Things often don’t go according to plan. Excuses don’t mean much. Norden put a positive spin on the day, tweeting, “Lots have been learnt — and looking forward to another crack next year!”
“Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but Stockholm was probably not a good idea,” admits Alexander. “But she had to do it for her federation. You live and learn.” When I ask him in Boulder how he will judge his success as a coach, he says presciently, “For me, the ultimate test is the race. They say sport is a bottom-line business.”
Although Norden didn’t win the 70.3 world title she was hoping for this year, she remains steadfast in her determination to learn the intricacies of long-course racing and go all the way to the Ironman.
“It’s already on the plan,” but it will have to wait, Norden says about her plans to race Kona after the 2016 Olympics. Alexander believes she has what it takes for any distance. “I think Lisa will change the women’s race in Kona. I think she’s the prototype.” And that’s her objective. “I want to win the world championships at all of the disciplines,” she says, adding with a confident grin, “That’s the humble little plan that I’ve come up with.”