Written by Christopher Kelly
July 10, 2018
Christopher: Leif, thank you so much for joining me today. I am delighted to have you, a recent graduate of the Nourish Balance Thrive Elite Performance Program. When I say graduate, I mean, that you've left the program and gone on to bigger and better things. I hope your future includes helping some other people achieve what you've achieved over recent years. Thank you so much for joining me today.
Leif: Yeah, of course. It's good to be here. The funny thing about Nourish Balance Thrive is it's a great program for finding out all the things that are wrong with you but it also teaches you to take things in your own control and handle things on your own. It was great to work with you guys and I am forever thankful about all the progress that I've made over the last two years. I feel pretty comfortable now with taking my own health into my hands and dealing with everything that way.
Christopher: Yes. I love to hear that. That's fantastic. I really do. We've lost a great client but the world has gained a wonderful, an even more wonderful human being, and that is the exact reason I started the business. I realized that nobody cared about my health more than I did. You're doing the right thing. You're doing wonderful things. I'm really excited to have you.
Christopher: This story today, I'm really interested to hear it. Tell me about your first adventure on ski. Tell me where were you, who you're with, what kind of skis were they, what was it like?
Leif: I can't tell you what kind of skis they were. My father taught me how to ski when I was about two years old. We lived back in Colorado Springs at that point. Probably twice a month we would drive up to Granby, Colorado, which is just outside Winter Park. There's a little cross-country ski area there at the YMCA of the Rockies.
We would ski there every weekend. He would take me out and teach me how to ski. I have two older brothers and one older sister. They would take off and I wouldn't see them for hours. If I was two or three years old, I'd just be skiing little tiny loops around the ski lodge or whatever. I loved skiing at first. It was so much fun for me to move under my own power. You can get going pretty fast downhill. You still have to work at it and it's something that stuck with me my whole life, perfecting the art of cross-country skiing, I guess.
Christopher: We're talking about cross-country now. You're not getting on a chair lift or you're not being pulled up the slope by one of those little toe line things.
Leif: One of the things I love about it now is there's so much time and effort that go into training as a full time athlete, as listeners will discover about me in the next little bit. It's like mountain biking for you. You have to spend a lot of time outside in nature training. That's one of the things that I love to do. Being a full time athlete is just perfect for me.
Christopher: You're picking shit.
Leif: Exactly, exactly.
Christopher: So, tell me about your dad having the patience to teach you how to cross-country ski at two years old. I mean, I've spent some time with a two-year old recently and there are a lot of work even without all the ski gear and the warm clothes and all of that. Was your dad not wanting to go off and do his own thing?
Leif: I'm sure he was but having taught three kids previously how to cross-country ski, I think he had learned a lot of patience by that time. And being two or three years old, I'm sure I never made it more than half an hour or 45 minutes, and then he could go off and ski by himself. Every time I talk to my dad, that's one of the things he loves about, his family, is that we all love the same things and we love being outside and that was one of the things that he instilled in everybody, was love for the outdoors and doing things together as a family.
Christopher: That's wonderful. And so cross-country was always your thing. You were never tempted by the chair lifts?
Leif: No. Actually, the first time I ever went downhill skiing was not until I was probably 13 years old and it was actually in Minnesota. It wasn't even downhill skiing as most people know it.
Christopher: So, tell me about your transition to Minnesota then? I know that your dad was in the Air Force. Is that why you moved to Minnesota?
Leif: He was in the Air Force which is why we lived in Colorado, actually, and then when I was about ten years old he got a job with Northwest Airlines which was based out of Minneapolis in Saint Paul, in Minnesota. He actually grew up in Minnesota. It was a natural transition for him to come back to his home state. Colorado was all I had ever known.
It was interesting. As far as cross-country skiing is concerned, it's far more accessible in Minnesota than it ever was in Colorado. All of a sudden I could literally walk out my door from my parents' house in Minnesota and have access to ten or 15 kilometers of groomed ski trails.
Christopher: Wonderful coincidence. You couldn't have planned it better.
Leif: Even if I had to drive within 20 minutes of my parents' house, there's probably four to five different places to ski. Besides that, there's literally thousands of cross country-skiers in Minnesota. All of a sudden it was almost much more of a social thing than it ever had been for me before.
Christopher: Yeah. Tell me more about that. Was it part of the culture? I'd been to Sweden and I can't say that I saw it that much but maybe that's because I didn't get out to the city enough. But certainly, when I visited friends in Finland, the cross-country skiing was, obviously, a big part of their culture. The ski trails, they went everywhere. It's almost a way to get around.
Leif: Exactly, yeah.
Christopher: Is it like that in Minnesota? Is it part of the culture?
Leif: It's definitely part of the culture. It's a little different than Scandinavia, for sure. Scandinavia, you can start off from your hometown and ski over to the next town for a beer or a pastry or whatever and then ski back to your town. It's not quite like that in Minnesota but it's huge there. There's thousands of skiers. It's one of the biggest high school sports in Minnesota. That was another thing, growing up and doing high school ports. There were teams with hundreds of skiers on them. This is a high school sports. It definitely draws in a lot of younger numbers as well, which helps out a lot.
Christopher: And tell me about how you got into competition. Is competition the natural path for all these kids that are skiing in school or is that something special?
Leif: Yes and no. My first race was back in Colorado. I'm not sure how old I was. I think I was probably five or six. In Colorado there's, actually nationwide, I suppose, there's series of races that younger kids, I think all under the age of 20, can qualify for basically the junior national championships in the US. Colorado was part of the Rocky Mountain region. Minnesota is part of the Midwest region.
There's literally races pretty much every weekend all winter. My siblings, being older than me, they were trying to qualify for these junior national races but they also had younger novice races for younger kids like me. I did a fair amount of racing actually from a pretty young age. And then in Minnesota you throw in high school racing into the mix too.
A lot of those high school racers all around the country are even racing four to five times a week sometimes if they're doing two junior national races in the weekend and maybe two high school races during the week. It's definitely a very natural part for younger kids, I would say, but it's also very relaxing for older folks to just get outside, get some fresh air and get a pretty darn good workout in too.
Christopher: Yeah, I'll say. So, tell me about the demands in sports. I'm sure there'll be some people listening that are not familiar with cross-country skiing at all. I've only ever tried it once and I can remember ending up flat on my face, the end of the ski up my ass.
Leif: That will happen. We've all been there.
Christopher: Tell me about the demands of the sport. Tell me about the style of skiing that you do.
Leif: Right now, I'm on the US Biathlon team. Biathlon combines cross-country skiing and rifle marksmanship. Biathlon is actually only skate skiing or freestyle skiing, as some people call it. There's also what we call classical skiing which is -- that might have been what you did. It was two parallel tracks that go down the trail.
Christopher: Actually, it's not what my Finnish friend did. He just did a skate style and he was gone within 20 seconds and then I was left my feet going backwards and forwards not really going anywhere.
Leif: Exactly. Classic skiing is more of the traditional style. That's the style that's been around for hundreds of years. Skate skiing was only really developed, I should remember exactly when but I think it wasn't until the late '70s when a guy named Bill Koch developed skate skiing. More or less, I only skate ski. I do a lot of classic skiing for training but all of the races that I do are skating.
Christopher: And how much faster are you when you skate ski versus the classic?
Leif: Me, I'm quite a bit faster.
Christopher: So, there are people then that is comparable?
Leif: Yeah, there's definitely classic specialist--
Christopher: People who are good. Okay.
Leif: -- that are maybe not quite as fast. I would definitely say skating is a faster technique. There's people that can classic insanely fast also. It's different when it comes to different conditions too but it's super warm and slushy. The snow is super whacked. It can be a lot more fun to skate just because you don't have to deal with super sticky kick wax or anything like that in classic skiing. It also depends on the conditions for your average person probably.
Christopher: When you first started competing, did you get the bug right from the beginning?
Leif: Yeah. I obviously grew up watching my brothers and sister race and so I wanted to be like them. The first race I ever did, again, I was five years old. I think there was only two or other three kids racing, but I won and I won this giant extremely heavy metal. There's actually pictures of me holding this medal and you can just tell on my face how psyched I am to be holding a gold medal and it's really big and really heavy. I was hooked pretty much right from that point.
Christopher: What do you think was going on there? Do you think that you were always awesome and it was just a matter of time before you found a sport? Or do you think that it was your history, the process of training and starting so young, that led to that initial discovery of competition?
Leif: Yeah. I don't know about that. That's a good question.
Christopher: How about your siblings? You've probably measured your VO2 max. Can you tell us your VO2 max?
Leif: It's around 65 to 70. It goes up and down depending on the shape of the day, as my coach would say now.
Leif: I'm definitely not the most naturally physiological gifted athlete ever and a lot of that has come through a lot of hard training over the last couple of years. But when I was younger my parents and I and the family, we were very outdoorsy and so we were always spending a lot of time climbing mountains in Colorado or canoeing in Minnesota.
I think a lot of maybe, call it natural ability maybe just came from being active and being fit and doing things outdoors. That definitely helped when I started training full time in my mid-teens because I had this broad base of natural ability to draw upon, I guess.
Christopher: So, it's not like all of your siblings have got VO2 max of 90 and they're all world competitors.
Leif: Exactly. I mean, my two oldest brothers, they skied until they were maybe in their early 20s, which is pretty good. They did a lot of -- I should say they raced until their early 20s. And then my sister was actually a biathlete also and she made it on to the junior national team or the world junior team for a couple of years but she never quite transitioned over into the Olympic level side of things. I definitely have gone the furthest with sport in the family. Everyone still skies. Everyone still enjoys time outdoors.
Christopher: When did the biathlon part come into it, to add the shooting as well as the skiing?
Leif: Not until we moved to Minnesota. I was about ten or 12, I would say. Actually, my sister started biathlon first, as I said. She had some friends on her high school ski team that were doing biathlon as part of the Minnesota Biathlon Club. She picked it up. She started training with them, going to training camps and stuff. And my first real experience was going to a Minnesota Biathlon Club race and doing just a little novice race, a little beginner shooting clinic beforehand, and then you do short little ski loop and come in and shoot your five shots.
That was really my first taste. To be honest, I really didn't like it at first. I was still much more serious about straight cross-country skiing at that point. It wasn't until I was probably 17 that I really started training full time for biathlon and really fell in love with the sport at that point.
Christopher: What didn't you like about the shooting part? I think if you would have given me a gun at that age, I would be like, "Oh, you've got to be kidding, right? This is the best thing in the world plus the other best thing in the world." It sounded really cool to me. So, what didn't you like about the shooting?
Leif: I don't know. I don't really remember exactly. I would say I really just enjoyed getting out on skies and going as hard as I could for as long as I could. And so when you introduce shooting we do what's called zeroing so you have to set the rifle sites for the conditions of the day. Then during your race you have to come and lie down on the mat and shoot your shots.
I didn't really like that pause. I just wanted to push myself as far and as fast as possible. Biathlon is a very, very different sport than cross-country skiing. It's basically two different sports, I should say. You have the very physiological active sport of cross-country skiing and then shooting is really a mental sport. There are two sports on total opposite ends of the spectrum that are combined into one sport and that's what draws me in and, I would say, lot of biathletes to the sport.
Christopher: That's wonderful. So, take me through the technical aspects of shooting. What type of rifle is it?
Leif: We use what are called 22 long rifles. They're a little different than maybe your average 22 long rifle. They're modified a little bit for biathlon. We have a different kind of bolting system called the Fortner bolt. And then, obviously, you have straps to carry it on your back and things like that. We shoot slow -- what's the kind of ammunition? I can't even think the kind of ammunition we shoot.
Christopher: But it is a firearm?
Leif: Yes. Exactly. It's not a laser rifle or anything like that. It's a straight up firearm. So, they're not especially loud but it's still a gun and that's what draws a lot of people to it. That's the funny thing. Since it's a firearm you would think a lot of the Americans would automatically really be into biathlon but that's definitely not the case.
Christopher: Interesting. You're on the ragged edge. Your heart is beating in your head and you feel like you might puke and then suddenly you've got to lie down and take five really great shots. How do you do that?
Leif: Basically, a lot of training. It takes a long time to develop the skills to do that successfully, to hit all five shots after you've been skiing all out for ten or 15 minutes. That's the other thing I like is because it's this never ending pursuit of the perfect biathlon race. It's much harder to come by than you might think even for very high level athletes. There might only be a couple races a year that I'm really satisfied with 100%. That's definitely one of the things that draw me to it as well.
Christopher: Can you walk me through the process? You lie down on the mat. Is it worth taking some time to let your heart rate drop a little bit or do you just go straight into it?
Leif: More or less, you just go straight into it. As you approach the range, maybe the last ten or 20 seconds while you're skiing up to the range, it's pretty common for most athletes to slow down a little bit, take some deep breaths, try to get their heart beat under control. But really, in all honesty, it doesn't really drop that much.
Leif: Maybe you're skiing and your heart rate is 175 to 180 beats per minute as you get down onto the mat. Most athletes these days shoot in about 20 to 25 seconds prone, about the same standing, I would guess also. Maybe by the end of that 20 or 25 seconds, my heart rate might be 165. It's not really dropping that much. A lot of people ask, well, how do you teach yourself to shoot between heart rates or how do you naturally slow your heart rate down? It's not really that. It's more or less you're training yourself to shoot with a high heart rate. That's why the shooting training that we do is so important.
Christopher: Is there a noticeable difference then between when you're shooting just at the range and your heart rate is normal and what you would do in a competition?
Leif: For sure. So, we call it slow fire when we're just there at the shooting range practicing technique or something like that. Some athletes want to work on a really smooth trigger squeeze. Even the bolting is super important or how you get into position and out of position. When you're still and you're working on those things, it's very easy to shoot five exact bull's eyes across the board. When you throw in a heart rate into that, it can change very quickly.
Christopher: Is it a big differentiator then? So, if I was, say I was an absolute killer skier and no one can touch me in that department, could I blow the whole thing in the shooting section and still not be that good?
Leif: Definitely. That's one of the things that make biathlons so exciting. You get some of the fastest skiers in the world and if they can't shoot they might not really have a chance. You get a guy who maybe he'll hit all five of his prone targets if he's a super fast skier he might be in the lead and then he'll come into the standing stage and maybe he'll miss three of his standing targets if he's not a great standing shooter. That can drop him from first place back to 20th place maybe.
Leif: If you get a mass start race or a relay race where there's 20 or 30 guys shooting all at the same time, a top contender can miss a couple of targets and then all of a sudden be out of contention for the rest of the race. It really keeps you on your toes and it keeps the fans and the crowd on their toes too which is why it's so exciting and why it's such a big spectator sport in Europe.
Christopher: And does the opposite ever happen? Do you ever get someone that's middling on the skis but then they never miss a shot and so you've always got to be worried about them?
Leif: Oh, definitely. That's where I would put myself. I'm not a superstar on skis or anything like that but there are the days where if I have a good enough ski race and shoot 100% on the range then I can definitely be in there for a top result. There's a lot of athletes that are like that and that's why the shooting part is so important.
Christopher: Talk us through the road to the junior world championships?
Leif: When I was 16, or rather 17, I should say, I qualified for my very first world junior biathlon team. Basically, I wasn't a full time biathlete at that point. Basically, I took a weekend off from high school and I went up and did the tryout races up in northern Minnesota. I qualified for the team. That allowed me to go over to a tiny little town in Italy called Martell and world junior championships -- That was my biggest biathlon race ever. It was coming from not training for biathlon full time and really not being very good at biathlon yet. I basically got my ass kicked.
Christopher: Were they people that you knew already or were they all these strange European folk?
Leif: It was a different world for me. They were all these Europeans, Norwegians and Russians and Germans that grow up watching biathlon on TV. They've all been training and shooting since they were, I don't know, 12 or 13 probably. And me, I basically picked up a rifle for, not the first time but picked up a rifle seriously a month beforehand.
I was really not prepared at all. Maybe I was a decent skier. I could hold my own on skis basically but shooting I was nowhere near most of these other athletes. But being the youngest of four kids, I have this fairly good competitive streak in me. I took that as a challenge that said, hey, I really like cross-country skiing, I like shooting, I'm not good at it but I want to try this out for a year or two and see what I can do.
That was actually my senior year of high school. Because I qualified for that world junior team I was able to spend the entire next summer training with the junior national team. That was the first time that I really had access to shooting five or six days a week and I had a coach that could help me with technique and all those sorts of things. I made some pretty big jumps that summer. It was a lot of fun. Like I said, I enjoyed being outside and I enjoy kicking my ass, I should say.
I had a lot of fun while I was doing it and I made some good friends and stuff. So, when I came back for world juniors the next year, they were in Germany at that time, and I actually won a bronze medal. That blew me away because I had put off college for a year to train full time for biathlon just to see where it could get me and here I am already a year later and I have a bronze medal at an international championship competition.
At that point I was ecstatic. I was sure that this was the right path for me. I had made the right choice by putting of school. I should say my parents were a little happier at that point too because I had something to show for the last year of my life. Yeah, at that point, that's when I really told myself that this is the path I want to take. Unfortunately, that also caught the attention of the national team coaches. They started to include me in training camps after that and take me under their wing and start giving me really very high level guidance at that point.
Christopher: Talk about the approach that you took to your training then? I mean, I don't know anything about how a cross-country skier might train and you talked about shooting practice and then there was obviously a lot of technique. What approach do you take to your training at that point?
Leif: Well, so, when I was a junior, my coach was a guy named Vladimir Cervenka. He's actually from the Czech Republic. He had moved to Grand Rapids, Minnesota which is where the junior national team was based. He's from the Czech Republic. He had a very eastern European style of training. I would say that they take a group of athletes and they basically push them and push them and push them.
The ones that make it through are the ones that can handle that very high training load. The ones that don't make it through just basically give up mentally because they can't take it, I would say. I don't know why I made it through but I actually enjoyed that training load. For the first time in my life, I had some good structure to my training even though it might not have been the right kind of structure at that time but, obviously, it worked out pretty well for me, I think, just because it was structured. That's what allowed me to make such big improvements in those first two years.
Christopher: So, how does it work? Is it all the ski training or is there cross training in the gym? What does it look like?
Leif: In the summer, it's actually a fair amount of cross training. We do a lot of roller skiing which is basically cross-country skiing but on pavement. You have little wheeled skis.
Christopher: I've seen them. I know exactly what you're--
Leif: They're much shorter. It's a little different than skiing on snow but it mimics cross-country skiing perfectly. We do, obviously, a lot of running, a lot of trail running, road and mountain biking. We're in the gym a couple of times a week as well and then we're shooting also. Like I said, those slow fire sessions, probably four to five times a week, and then especially as you get later in the summer and closer to the competition season, then you start actually combining roller skiing with shooting. You start doing what we call combo training. Then you combine the shooting and the skiing and it basically mimics biathlon perfectly at that point.
Christopher: How does it feel the first time you put on the skis? If you've been on the roller skis all summer and then the first time there's enough coverage for you to get on the ski, how does that feel? I wonder about that.
Leif: It's like the most exciting thing in the world. Because roller skiing, in my opinion, is not very fun. It's very boring. It's always hot all the time. And roller skis themselves, the road surface can be bumpy and the skis are not really very fast. When you put on snow skis for the first time, obviously, you're excited because it's closer to winter and it's snowy. That in itself is super exciting. But just the smoothness of the skiing action, it's very quiet and silent when you're out in the woods skiing. It's just really exciting and it's one of the most exciting times of the year, in my opinion.
Christopher: Talk about the volume. When that Czech coach was really putting the screws on, how much volume, how many times a day were you training and how many hours a week did you dedicate to training?
Leif: Yes. We did about anywhere from two to five hours a day, I would say. So, roughly, in a week, probably around 25 hours of training. And then if you throw in shooting training on top of that, it was probably more around, I would say, 30 to 35 hours.
Christopher: That's a full time job. And how old were you at this stage?
Leif: At this point I was 18. That's one of the things that maybe I don't agree with now but back then I really had no idea, is that maybe that training load was a little bit too high for me at that point in my development as an athlete. I think it also set me up really good because it taught me how to train really hard and that it's necessary to make yourself hurt and beat yourself up because that's really where you make the most training adaptation. Now, I actually do about the same amount of hours. I do 20 to 25 hours a week, 700 to 750 hours a year of physical training.
But I would say now I'm doing a little bit more smarter training, I guess, I would say. It's structured a little bit differently for different parts of the year. The early summer is the base period. We're doing a lot of long easy distance training. Towards the end of the summer, like I said, when we start doing combo training. Then we start getting into a little more high intensity, a little more race stimulation type stuff.
Christopher: So, there's no periodization then? When you're 18 you just went out there and just smashed it right in the outset?
Leif: Well, with that coach, I did. With Vlad, I did. There's definitely some junior athletes that are a little more into periodization but, in my opinion, I see it both ways. Like I said, I think it's good for some athletes, some junior athletes at least, to learn how to push themselves super hard and maybe having a super periodized schedule at that point might be helpful for some but it might not be the best for developing some athletes too. It's kind of six in one hand, half a dozen in the other.
Christopher: How did you figure out that one thing was working better than the other?
Leif: I trained with Vlad there for about two years and then when I was 20 that's when I got my first invitation to train with a national team out here in Lake Placid, New York. When I came out here to Lake Placid, the national team coach was a Swedish guy called Per Nilsson. He is a very brilliant coach. He's a great physiologist. He knows everything. He can pull any number out of his head whether it's World Cup results from last year or Swedish championship results from 1975. He has everything in his head there.
He had been working with the national team guys for about four years at that point. It was when I started working with him that I've learned the different approaches to training. He was the first one that brought this concept of periodization into training. That was very novel for me, obviously. I had never really thought about training that way before. But it was good because it forced me to learn about training, to learn what types of training I should do when, what types of training are bad to do at certain times. It was really good for me to develop as an athlete as well.
Christopher: And are you going mostly on feel? I'm just wondering how you quantify your training. Are you using heart rate variability or is it some other metric that you're using to track progress?
Leif: I do use heart rate variability from time to time, maybe a couple of times a month when I'm really feeling totally smashed. I have an app on my phone. But a lot of it is more perceived exertion, I would say. Obviously, we wear heart rate monitors every training session. You could see when your heart rate is a little suppressed.
The other thing is, now, I've been training as a full time athlete for 12 years. I have a pretty good handle exactly on when I'm tired and I need to back it off a little bit, when I maybe need to push a little bit harder. That's one of the things you just learn over time.
Christopher: Can you describe some of the feelings that you have when you think you might be overdoing it a little bit?
Leif: When I wake up in the morning and it takes me more than five minutes to get out of bed then I know that I'm probably a little over exerted and I need to either take an extra day off or take it a little bit easier for the next day or two.
Christopher: Do you still sleep well when you overreached?
Leif: I would say yes. I would say I rarely have any trouble sleeping anymore. Actually, that might have been one of the things that Nourish Balance Thrive helped me with, and we can get into that a little later. I think that I've learned in the last maybe four or five years that recovery is, obviously, very, very important. It's not just when you're, let's say, over trained that you can't push yourself because you can still push yourself but you're not getting the quality out of training that you should be.
That's another thing that you learned over time, is that if you're watching heart rate zones on your watch or something you can see during an intensity session that maybe you're pushing in like a race pace but your heart rate is definitely not in a race pace zone.
Christopher: Yes, I recognize that.
Leif: Yeah. So then you know. Then you know that you've overdone it and you need to back it off a little bit.
Christopher: Yeah. I've definitely experienced that especially in a stage race, day four of a stage race and you're like, "Well, I'm racing right now and my heart is 140. What's going on?"
Leif: Exactly. Part of our World Cup schedule, a lot of the times we're racing Friday, Saturday, Sunday or something like that. You have to be in good shape to race three maximum efforts three days in a row but you have to know that feeling when you're training in the summer too of how dead you're going to feel going into Sunday's race because you've already raced two days in a row. You definitely can't recognize that you might be a little tired and overreached and just freak out and stop training completely or something. You still have to monitor the situation and do what training you can.
Christopher: Talk about your first participation in the world championships.
Leif: Yeah. So, my first world championship was in 2011. It was actually in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia, which is pretty much in the middle of Siberia as you can get. It's about a five-hour flight east from Munich. It was the first time I had ever been to Russia. I really had no idea what to expect. That year, that was actually my first full year on the World Cup as well. I was, let's see, I would have been 24 at that time. No, 22 at that time.
It was definitely my first big major world championships at that World Cup level. I really had no expectations going into it. My whole first year on the World Cup I was definitely there just to learn to pick up how the schedule works, how the season shuffles together with the traveling and stuff like that. Going into world championships, I had no expectations. But I ended up doing really well. I think that's been one of my best world championships even now.
I think I was in the top 25 two or three different times. In most biathlon races, there's 90 to 100 competitors. For me to be at that level my first world championships I was completely blown away. Again, it gave me a level of confidence that I was doing the right thing, I was doing the right types of training. At that time it was really good for me although it probably over inflated my head a little bit, which you can't really do in biathlon because once you start to think that you've made it then you're up shit creek without a paddle, so to speak.
Christopher: I was going to ask you, do you think that's important? I certainly noticed that, that some of my best races ever. Of course, they're not anywhere near the scale of the competition you've done but going into a race with no expectation is usually a really good thing to do. I wonder whether that was a big part of your success at that first world championships.
Leif: There's definitely something to that. And actually even now, whatever, eight years later, going into every race I try to have that thought of I don't really know what's going to happen, anything can happen, it's a biathlon race. Because the minute that I start expecting myself to do well, as our shooting coach says, if you're already thinking about the results then you just forget about the whole process.
Especially when you come into the shooting range. If you're super confident that you're going to hit all five targets then you probably not because you're not really thinking about the little technique things that you have to do to ensure that you do hit all five targets. It's a very fine balance point because you, obviously, have to have some confidence in yourself. But it's very easy to be overconfident, I guess, and let that overconfidence get the best of you.
Christopher: And do you have a plan? Do you have -- the technical term is implementation intention. So, when you go in and something goes wrong, something happens with your rifle or you unexpectedly missed a couple of shots or, I don't know, maybe somehow you lose a ski or anything, do you have plans for things going wrong like that?
Leif: Yeah. That's also another part of the summer training. You have to be ready for basically anything. Obviously, you don't want anything bad to happen but you have to keep your cool if something does happen. For example, nothing really bad ever has happened to me in the range before but one of my teammates a number of years ago, he came into a race, there were four different shooting stages, it was one of the longer races, he came into his third shooting stage and he had no bullets in his magazine.
He was doing really well. I think he was in the top five at that point. But he did really well. What you do is you raise your hand. You can't shout on the firing range, around the firing line. They call it the zone of silence. You basically have to raise your hand, get the attention of -- there's an official there at the range. They'll run over to you, ask you what you need.
If you need a screwdriver to fix your sight or if you need more ammunition then he'll run back to your coach, get a spare clip or something and bring it out to you. Yeah, you just have to be ready for things like that. Obviously, you don't want anything to happen but the more prepared you are for those little types of things then the less damage they'll cause you when it actually does happen.
Christopher: So you know exactly what you would do then? If that happens to you, you pull the trigger, "Oh, crap." I guess you find out before you pull the trigger that the magazine is empty. But you know exactly what you're going to do at that point.
Leif: Exactly, exactly. Actually, now that I remember, that actually did happen to me once but I happened to have -- I think it was on my second shooting stage. I actually had another magazine that was loaded so I used that one and then while I was out on the ski course I yelled at one of the coaches out there that, "Hey, I'm going to need five bullets next time I come into the range." By the time I got into the range, the coach there at the range had taken care of everything, given my spare magazine to the range official. By the time I got onto the point he was already standing there and it was just a super quick swap out.
Christopher: Yes. It's so important. I feel like there are parallels in my sport of mountain biking. What are you going to do if your bottle gets ejected from the cage and it's a three lap race? Are you just going to wait until you cramp or something else bad happens? What's the plan? You have to have that plan in place before you start the race.
Leif: Yeah. Definitely mountain biking is another thing where you have to be -- I haven't done many mountain bike races but you have to have a head on your shoulders because you're dealing with all sorts of different terrain and rocks and roots and all that sort of thing. It's probably fairly similar to that.
Christopher: Talk about how you found out that you were going to the Olympics?
Leif: Yeah. So, my first Olympics was four years ago in Sochi. The one thing about biathlon is it's a very small sport in the US. For the Olympic team, for example, we bring five racers to the Olympic team. For those five spots, there's realistically maybe only 15 different guys that have the ability to qualify for those spots. My first Olympics, I qualified for -- it was the third spot of five.
I had had good enough results on the World Cup prior to the Olympics that those results qualified me for the Olympic team. More or less, it was obviously very exciting but it was also very relieving that I didn't have to go fully through the qualification process and come down to that fourth or fifth spot where it's between me and one other guy or something like that.
It was more relieving at that point that I could not really sit back but take a step back, think about the training that I wanted to do gearing up to the Olympics and structure my training plan a little bit differently than if I would have had to keep racing for the last couple of spots later on.
Christopher: Tell me about where you were? Describe the look on your dad's face when you told him you were going to the Olympics?
Leif: Yes. I had a World Cup in France, actually, at that point. I was actually traveling home for Christmas the next day. Yeah, it was basically the coolest Christmas present ever because at that point I had spent ten years working for it. I called my parents right away. I think they had believed it was coming maybe a little more than I did. I don't know that they were super surprised but they were, obviously, ecstatic and they were so excited for me. I think I called my grandparents after that and they were ecstatic.
Christopher: Over the moon.
Leif: Yeah, over the moon, exactly. That was maybe one of the coolest parts, was to have that level of excitement buzzing around that whole Christmas. Even though I was at home at Christmas I couldn't really wait to get back to Europe and get back to training and racing, things like that.
Christopher: That's great. And so how did it go in Sochi?
Leif: Actually, not well.
Christopher: Was it the expectation and the pressure, suddenly Leif the Olympian? There's all this weight on your shoulders.
Leif: I don't know if that's what it was. Obviously, I have spent some time thinking about this over the last four years. I was, let's see, I would have been 24 at those Olympics. I had a fair amount of experience. I'd been on the World Cup for three years already. Obviously, the Olympics is a totally different show than the World Cup and there's so much more media hype, family hype, whatever. All of this combines and adds a little bit more, or rather a lot more pressure.
It's not that I felt the pressure. I don't think it was me succumbing to too much pressure or anything that led to bad results. I honestly just don't think that I was really, I would say, mentally mature enough but also physically mature enough to really have good results there. Biathlon, probably similar to a lot of endurance sports, it takes you awhile to build up enough strength in your body to really perform well over an entire season.
A lot of good biathletes don't really reach their peak until their later 20s or early 30s or even mid-30s. Here I was as a 24-year old in my first Olympics. Obviously, I had big dreams of performing perfect races and medaling or whatever, things like that. But I honestly just don't think that I was mature enough physically or mentally to really be at that level at that point.
Christopher: What do you mean by mentally mature enough? Can you describe where you think you might have gone wrong?
Leif: Well, not necessarily that I did anything wrong but that I could handle that amount of pressure or -- it's hard to describe, I guess. Again, it's not like I really felt that much pressure because I wasn't really expecting that much from myself, at least I told myself I wasn't.
Christopher: And where does it manifest itself? In the shooting or somewhere else?
Leif: Yeah. If you come into the shooting range and you have too high of expectations then it's really easy to get nervous. If your mind flickers away from the five shots that you have at hand, just for a split second, you can lose your concentration and your focus and miss a shot or two. If I think back now, it was actually more the skiing part that really got me in Sochi. The course there was very hard. It's probably one of the hardest ski courses, in my opinion, that we have on the high level World Cup Olympic circuit.
Christopher: And what makes it hard? Technical? Twisty? Up and down?
Leif: There are some monster hills, I should say. Leaving the range, I remember there was just this very steep long climb right out of the stadium and there's a little flat section and on the far side of the course you bomb down this super twisty windy hill which when you're skiing, if you have a downhill like that, it doesn't really allow you to recover at all in a downhill because you're stepping around corners or checking speed or something like that.
So then, at the bottom of this monster downhill basically you just turn around and you ski right back up the same hill. Yeah, that's why I say I don't think I was mature enough physically for this course. I didn't have the strength to maintain enough speed on the downhill and then bring it into that monster uphill and carry myself over that hill. I don't know if you've ever seen me but I have very skinny legs to begin with. If you could imagine 24-year old me then I have little toothpick legs and that definitely wasn't good enough for the Olympics at that point.
Christopher: How does body weight play into biathlon? I mean, you just said, "Oh, well, there was this huge steep climb." Now, I'm thinking it would be better to be lighter. But then, of course, what goes up must come down and maybe the heavier guys are way faster on the way down. Or maybe that doesn't play into it. How does it work?
Leif: Exactly. It's not quite like cycling. My brother is a cyclist now so he's always talking about power to weight ratio, which I always get a kick over. It definitely helps to be light but you still, obviously, have to have enough muscle. Cross-country skiing is a full body exercise. In fact, I actually think that cross-country skiing might be the highest use of muscles throughout the body of any sport. You definitely have to be very fit. I wouldn't say that skinnier athletes are necessarily better because there's definitely some guys that might be a little bit bigger that do just fine. Yeah, it definitely plays a role but not quite like cycling.
Christopher: And does it depend on the course then? Do you go to a course and go, "Oh, no, I'm going to be rubbish but this other guy is going to be great because his body type is suited to this course," or does that not happen?
Leif: I would say that doesn't happen so much. There's definitely a couple of courses here and there that have very long climbs where you're climbing for two or three minutes, maybe, whereas other courses can be a lot more rolling. You might have a 30-second or 45-second working section before you can get a little bit of a recovery.
It depends. I wouldn't say I might be a little better at the more up and down courses where things are broken up a little bit but I would say some guys that have huge monster engines 80 VO2 max, those guys might be a little bit better at the long grinding climbing courses over someone like me.
Christopher: So, what happened then? You go home from Sochi and all eyes are on the next Olympics or is it just back to the normal, another day at the office on Monday morning? How does it work?
Leif: Yeah. It's more or less back to the grind. I mean, obviously, the Olympics were the highlight of that season and the highlight of every Olympic season. The World Cup is every -- it takes place every year from November through mid-March every year. It's a big deal in Europe. There's a lot of sponsorship money on the line. There's a lot of competition every year. I wouldn't say that leaving Sochi I took any step backwards from training or anything like that, took a little longer vacation, the normal, or anything like that. It was definitely right back into training to prepare for the next season.
Christopher: Since you mentioned it, how easy is it to make a living as a biathlete? Is there a lot of money involved? I think all professional athletes say that -- There's like a few people in the world that make more money than you can ever imagine.
Leif: Exactly, exactly.
Christopher: A lot less than you think.
Leif: Put it this way. If you're really good at that biathlon, you don't have a problem. But if you're like me then it's more of a struggle and it's more -- Put it this way. I don't really do biathlon for the money even though I love to do it that way. I do it more for the love of the sport, I guess, I would say. But, yeah, definitely the top guys on the World Cup make a lot of money every year through, not just race winnings, but also through sponsorships and stuff like that.
Coming from the US, because it's such a small sport in the US, it's actually very tough to find sponsors. I have personal sponsors for equipment and clothing and stuff like that but, for example, our team has been without a title sponsor for the last two seasons. That's very hard because a lot of funding for training camps and new equipment and stuff like that, travel and, basically, all sorts of things come from sponsors.
Being a team without a title sponsor, we're already at a little bit of a disadvantage from a lot of European teams which, obviously, they're in Europe which is where a lot of the races are. They don't have to deal with travel and stuff like that which is why I say they have a little bit of an advantage. But also for sponsors too. Because biathlon is such a big sport in the US, it's so much easier for those teams to find sponsors in Europe there.
Christopher: In Europe, okay.
Leif: Yeah. So, if there's any listeners out there that want to be the title sponsor for US biathlon, just give me a shout.
Christopher: Yeah. That will be up, an email address, in the show notes.
Christopher: How do you keep roof over your head? How you keep food on the table when it's so challenging financially?
Leif: Yeah. So, that's one of the reasons that the US team is based in Lake Placid. In Lake Placid, as part of the Olympic legacy program from the 1980 Olympics, all of the training venues are still intact there and there's also an Olympic training center in Lake Placid as well. A lot of the athletes live full time at the OTC. They have housing and food, taken care of by the US Olympic Committee, basically.
And then, obviously, all the training is right out the front door, basically. That's one of the reasons why Lake Placid is such a great place for biathlon. The training is great there but it's also very easy for the team to have food and housing right there at their disposal. A lot of our support does come from the US Olympic Committee. Our staff has a very good repertoire with them and they're very good about giving us a lot of support even though we might not be the most successful team when it comes to US Olympic sports.
Me personally I live about an hour outside of Lake Placid in Plattsburg, New York. I actually just bought a house here last winter or last summer rather with my wife who I got married to last winter.
Leif: Thank you. So, it's nice for me to be a little bit outside of Lake Placid because, obviously, I can train here from home but its' very easy for me to zip up to Lake Placid and train with the team there as well. It might be, in my case, more that my wife puts a roof over my head and feeds me but I definitely do what I can with the support that US OC gives me.
Christopher: Talk about the approach you take to your diet? How has it changed over the years?
Leif: Yeah. That's actually one of the things that drove me to be working with you guys at Nourish Balance Thrive in the first place, was diet. So, starting back in 2013, I would finish a race and just have horrible, horrible stomach cramping. Hopefully, your listeners don't mind. But all sorts of gassy stomach digestive problems.
At that time, my mom had actually just been diagnosed with celiac disease and so she recommended like, "Hey, if your stomach is hurting try eating gluten free. You might have celiac or you might have a little intolerance towards wheat or something like that." At first, that's all I did. I started eating gluten free one day. After about a week it made a pretty big difference, I would say, compared to where I was.
At that time, I was like, "Oh, this is good." I started eating gluten free and it started noticing a difference pretty quickly. I thought, "Oh, that's easy. I can eat gluten free for the rest of my life. It's not that hard to do." Maybe it's a little harder while I'm traveling in Europe but it's definitely doable.
Christopher: So, it wasn't a huge shift in your diet then. You just went from eating bread and pasta and all of that to eating the gluten free equivalent. So, were you not eating those foods in the first place?
Leif: Exactly. Maybe I ate more rice than pasta or something like that but the biggest change was it got me thinking about what I was eating. Before that, I'd get in from the training session and I'd eat whatever was in sight whether it was good or bad or healthy or whatever. That was my first interaction with the idea that, oh, some foods might be actually bad for me compared to other foods. That was a really good wake up call to have at that point.
For the next two or three years I kept eating gluten free and, like I said, it helped but it never really resolved the underlying issues. I would say, I might have improved pretty quickly but then I plateau-end and I never really got back to full health. I still had a fair amount of digestive problems, a lot of gut problems all the time after training, after racing. It didn't really matter. But I never really thought that there could be anything else.
I think it was two years ago. It was actually my dad who started working with you guys first but he said, "Hey, these guys at Nourish Balance Thrive, they're doing all this testing." There was stool testing, there was the organic acid testing, blood testing, all that sort of stuff. He said, "If you're still having problems it might be that Chris can help you." I think his words were, "Chris is a really smart dude and he'll probably be able to fix you."
Christopher: I appreciate that. Your dad is a lovely man and I enjoyed working with him.
Leif: Perfect. I said yeah. I said, "Sure. I'll talk to him. I'll do these tests." It can't hurt at that point. Yeah, that was, again, really good for me because it allowed me to start taking my diet a little more seriously. It was at that time that I think I first talked to your wife as well and she also got me into these ideas about eating different diets. She was the one who -- I think she put me on a, what you call the autoimmune diet.
Christopher: Yeah, you got it. We use that diet a lot. Not with everyone all of the time but it is something that we have had really good results with and I've had really good results with it as well. It's not forever, forever but it can be a really good tool for recovering your health back.
Leif: Exactly, exactly. That was probably my next wakeup call. It's like, hey, there's actually a whole load of things that I probably shouldn't eat. Even if I take those things out of my diet for a month or two months or three months I could see remarkable improvement. You can probably talk about the testing results too, that those improved quite a bit over the last two years.
The only problem that I had with the autoimmune diet was that I thought it was quite restrictive. I don't say that in the term of I couldn't find things to eat. I say that in the term of I'm training 25 hours a week as a professional athlete for an Olympic level sport there were times when I didn't feel like I was getting quite enough satisfaction, I guess, out of my--
Christopher: It's very hard. If you just eat meat and vegetables, that's an awful lot of chewing. Have you have a rough idea of how many calories you need on an average day? It's probably, what, 6,000, 8,000, something like that?
Leif: Yeah. I would say exactly six to eight. I mean, if I go by my polar heart rate watch I'm definitely burning 5,000 calories just from training. If you throw another whatever, 1600 to 2000 from just living then, yeah, you're up around 6,000, 7,000.
Christopher: Eating is a part time job for you.
Leif: Exactly. Eat, sleep, train. That's what I'd do. After talking to Julie and going on the autoimmune diet for three months, I definitely realize that I couldn't train with quite as much quality as I wanted to just being on that autoimmune diet. I was forced to start throwing some things back into the mix, throwing back in rice and pasta, quinoa, potatoes, things like that, to give me a few more carbohydrates and really just to feel full a little more often.
But as you can guess, as soon as I started doing those things, I started getting mild gut problems again. And very mild at first. They picked up steam and picked up more and more to the point where I was right back in the same boat that I started with. That was frustrating for me. I think it was last November going into this last season where I was at a training camp in Canmore, Alberta and just having horrendous stomach problems every morning and every morning training session too. I almost couldn't finish some of them because my stomach would be hurting so bad.
Christopher: That sucks, isn't it?
Leif: Oh, yeah.
Christopher: For somebody who is only doing it for the love of the sport, it doesn't take very much discomfort to remove the love of the sport.
Leif: It's not only removing the love of the sport. It's affecting how I'm able to do the sport if I'm not getting all the nutrients that I should be getting. It's harder to recover. It's harder to have enough energy to raise. Your training is just not as effective as it can be or should be rather. Exactly. That's a really frustrating thing to deal with.
Christopher: Of course, it wasn't just the diet. We did some testing. The initial stool testing found H. pylori which is a bacterial infection of the stomach. A lot of people have it and I'm sure a lot of people who don't have a problem with it and it is quite controversial in that regard but we've definitely seen a ton of athletes do better without it.
Taking herbs does seem to be very effective in our experience. Of course, you find out by redoing a test and making sure that the treatment has been successful. Athletes, it does seem to turn into a bit of a process because you're just thrashing your gut the whole time. I'm no different. I'm doing it too. You do tend to see people recover from one problem and then walk straight into another one and it becomes this whack-a -mole game that you end up playing. That's been the case for you as well with overgrowth of candida as well, right?
Leif: Yeah, exactly. It was this last year that really made me realize how hard training and racing can be on your gut. It really takes a toll and that's why eating and eating the right foods become so important because you have to take care of your gut. They also say, what is it, like 90% of your immune system, or 85% of your immune system is in your gut too. I don't know if you believe that or not.
Christopher: Yeah, I know. I totally believe it.
Leif: That was another problem I was having. I would get sick three to four to five times a year and that's a lot of time to be away from training and racing and things like that too.
Christopher: I think this is really common. I've got one study here that I can link in the show notes of Ironman triathlete which is not such a different sport from what you do. After one race, 93% reported GI issues and 68% had endotoxemia, as defined by lipopolysaccharides. Lipopolysaccharides are toxins that appear in the cell wall of gram negative bacteria. So, they measure LPS in the blood, greater than five picograms per milliliter.
It was all these other inflammatory markers that were elevated after an Ironman distance event. You might argue, okay, well, this is part of the training adaptation and this is what's supposed to happen but when they measure again the 16-hour mark, the level of endotoxemia had actually increased from 68% to 79%.
Leif: Exactly. And it doesn't have to happen either. I fully think that if you're eating the right types of food that it doesn't take near of a toll on your gut as it can.
Christopher: Yeah, that's a really good point, actually. Whenever you look at these studies you do have to ask, "What were these people eating?"
Christopher: So, what approach have you found? Like I said at the beginning of the podcast, you are a recent graduate of our program. So, what approach have you found that's worked for you now?
Leif: In November, when I was having all these problems, my dad recommended a book for me called Plant Paradox by Dr. Steven Gundry.
Christopher: Steven Gundry.
Leif: Which I know you're not crazy about so I won't--
Christopher: Well, it's like everything -- There's probably something in it. I feel like our job, or specifically Tommy's job, and this is his, I think, super power, is being able to integrate the message that comes from all of these experts that exist in our sphere. There's very rarely something that we completely discount without further consideration. There's always something there. Like what's the kernel of truth in this and how do we integrate it with all the other things that we know? So, tell me about your experience with Plant Paradox?
Leif: Exactly. So, I'll let readers or listeners read the book if they want but there's a couple of plants and vegetables that might do a lot more harm to your gut than they are good for you. Basically, I cut all of those things out of my diet. Actually, quinoa was one of them, which a lot of people say, "Oh, quinoa is really very healthy for you." Well, as soon as I cut quinoa out of my diet, among a whole host of other things, I slowly started to improve quite a bit.
For the first time I found that I could eat a select few types of carbohydrates and not have the gut problems that I was having before. I started adhering to those principles in November of last year maybe, and it was probably February when I first started noticing, "Oh my gosh, I'm racing and I'm eating all these foods and I'm doing a whole really hard training also and I'm having zero stomach problems, gut problems. I'm having very normal bowel movements for the first time in the alts seven years. I feel like a normal person should," I remember thinking.
It was actually on the way to the Olympics in Pyeongchang where I woke up the next morning and sat down on the toilet, had a very normal bowel movement for the first time ever and I was like, wow, I feel--
Christopher: That doesn't normally happen.
Leif: Exactly, exactly. I don't know what really happened but if you ask me I think that it took maybe three or four months for all of that inflammation in my gut to process and move its way out of my system.
Christopher: Right. For the healing to happen.
Leif: Exactly. I'm having a crazy time now with my clothing because since November I probably lost three and a half inches around my waist as well as about over ten pounds. I'm a high level professional full time athlete. If you would have asked me six months ago if I could lose ten pounds I would have said, "Hell, no. There's no way I can lose ten pounds."
But, yeah, I've lost ten, 12 pounds and none of my pants fit now. If you ask me I think that was just a whole shitload of inflammation that was built up in my gut over the last, really, my whole lifetime, I guess, I would say. It took four or five or six months for everything to clear out.
Christopher: You're not worried you lost a muscle mass with that? Have you been doing any DEXA scans or anything?
Leif: I haven't done a DEXA yet. Actually, I have way more muscle definition than I did before, I would say. I guess, obviously, definition, if I lost body fat too. I definitely feel just as strong, if not stronger, than how I was before.
Christopher: I mean, ultimately, what you care about is performance. If you know that your performance hasn't dropped off then who cares?
Leif: Exactly. I probably actually will get a DEXA scan at some point this summer. But, yeah, I mean, I feel like I'm a whole new person internally. My gut feels great every morning. I feel like the training that I do is more fully absorbed by my body, I guess, I should say. I'm really excited about this training season and this coming racing season. I have really high hopes that now that I feel 100%, so to speak, that things might be different than the past couple of years.
Christopher: Yeah. It's a really nice feeling knowing that you are going to reach your full potential. I mean, some things are out of your control but being held back by your gut sucks.
Leif: Again, it's like you say, do all people have these problems? Is it just me? Are all people having gut problems?
Christopher: I think it's more than we know.
Leif: I would tend to agree. All of my teammates none of them eat gluten free, obviously, and they actually make fun of me for eating gluten free and my crazy diet. But as often as I can, I try to get them to eat whether it is eating gluten free pasta versus normal pasta or more vegetables or whatever. I definitely think that all athletes can benefit from mitigating inflammation in their gut, I guess, I should say.
Christopher: So, what are the types of carbohydrates that are working well for you now and do you know how many grams of carbs you eat per day?
Leif: I do not know how many grams I eat per day. Basically, in his book, Plant Paradox, he says that the more processed that a carbohydrate is, is actually the less problem it's going to create in your gut because the little lectin proteins that he calls them are found, oftentimes found in the skin or the seeds of fruits or things like that.
I eat a lot of white rice. I still eat actually pasta, even polenta, things like that. Honestly, the more processed that it is, that's where I'm the happiest. Even though I might not be getting the highest nutrient density out of it or the full nutrition out of it, I'm still eating a ton of good vegetables and things like that. That's where I'm more concerned about getting good nutritious things for my food. Whereas, white rice, I'm really just worried about the carbohydrate content to fuel training basically.
Christopher: Right. You need a ton of carbs doing what you're doing. I'm sure you are highly fat adapted and you always had been.
Leif: That was another thing that you guys helped me out with. I don't know if it was last year or two years ago, you did a podcast with, I think it was Robb Wolf about -- what was it titled? Something. Basically, if you're going for a long easy distance workout, you want to eat more fat. And if you're going for high intensity race type workout then you're starting to eat more carbohydrates. That was the first time I even started thinking about that. That helped me, I think, become a lot more fat-adapted as well.
Christopher: You surprise me. Yeah, fueling for your activity.
Leif: Yeah, exactly.
Christopher: Fantastic. And then earlier you alluded to some improvements in your sleep. Can you talk about those?
Leif: Yeah. The last, basically, year and a half, for the most part I sleep really well. It's not that I have ever had major problems with sleep. I think if you're training as hard as I do then it's easy to be falling asleep really quick at night.
Christopher: You have a lot of sleep pressure, they would say.
Leif: Exactly. But one of the things that I learned from you was basically the intensity of the workout in the afternoon session, because we do two sessions a day, one in the morning, one in the afternoon, if you have a high intensity afternoon session it takes a while for, basically, all the hormones and stuff in your body to clear out. I'm sure you know more about the science than I can think of right now.
Basically, what I've been doing is just making sure that the hour and a half or so before I go to bed, I'm just super calm, very relaxed. I try to stay away from my computer and my phone, the TV, all that stuff. It really has helped. I sleep great now every night. I'm never really worried about it. It helps in competition season too. You don't want to be thinking about a race the next morning or something and not be able to get to sleep the night before. It really is a huge benefit to not have to worry about sleep, basically.
Christopher: Yeah, you're right. The half life of cortisol, which is perhaps the most important hormone, is hours.
Leif: Yeah. It's four hours or something like that, right?
Christopher: Yeah. So, if you do a really hard workout later in the day then that's probably going to impact your sleep. It is what we saw when you first did your DUTCH test that measures the cortisol rhythm. There was that right shifted pattern. You were making a lot of cortisol and you weren't clearing it very well. And so there was this right shifted pattern. I wouldn't expect that person to sleep very well. It's probably the most important reason, the main reason we did the DUTCH now is to look at that rhythm. I'm sure that is greatly improved from what you've learned about rhythm.
Leif: Which for someone like me, it's also not hard to overcome that because I can always do a hard session in the morning and take the afternoon session a little more relaxed. Whereas your average listener is probably getting off of work at 4:00 or 5:00 in the afternoon and then they're going out for a hard bike ride or a hard run or something and maybe they come back and they have to do some work on the computer or whatever. It's probably a lot harder than most people to turn that around, I would think.
Christopher: I mean, I've solved the problem for myself as well but I did it by quitting my job and start a business and now I'm the boss. I could decide whether I go ride my bike or lift weights or whatever. Obviously, not everybody is in the same position. Maybe altogether, if we all adopt these new practices, we'll maybe invent some new work days and schedules and stuff and so people -- I mean, it's true. Everywhere you go, lighting is inappropriate. Every room I step into, they've got these super bright lights that come on as soon as it gets dark. That's something we can fix. That's pretty easy to fix.
Leif: Yeah, exactly.
Christopher: Maybe things will change. Tell me. I've got one final question for you. Why do you perform so much better in the relay. Both at Sochi and Pyeongchang you did really, really well in the relay. Why is that?
Leif: I'm not really sure, actually. I've actually had a nickname for the past couple of years. They call me relay man just because, for some reason, I do so much better in relays versus normal competitions. But one of the nice things about relay is that it's head to head racing. A lot of the races we do, it's interval start racing so a new guy starts every 30 seconds. The relay is if you see a guy ahead of you, ten seconds, that's where you are in the results.
It's a lot easier to push yourself to stay with the guy up a big hill if you know that that's one position. And it's not just for you. It's for the entire team as well. I'm not really sure why but it's definitely -- Yeah, the relays are just very exciting as well because it is that head to head style. I don't have a good answer for that.
Christopher: Tell us where we can find out more about biathlon. I understand that you can watch some of the races online, right?
Leif: Yes. Actually, every World Cup race is live streamed online by the IBU, which is the International Biathlon Union. Their website is www.biathlonworld.com. That's basically the generic website but there's a link to the calendar and results and live broadcasting from there. You can also go to, I believe it's usbiathlon.org, teamusa.org/usabiathlon, and that is the US Biathlon team's homepage. There you can find all the news about the US Biathlon team and where we're doing all our training camps and stuff like that too.
Christopher: And where is the best place to follow you specifically? I follow you on Instagram and I really enjoy following you on Instagram. I can't say that about every professional athlete. In fact, I just had a huge purge off professional cyclists because the pictures were great but I couldn't stand for the horrible mean turds, the hosts in the tech section. It's like some dreadful useless thing about feeling positive and dreaming big and you can do it. Oh, god, that really just annoys me too much now.
Leif: Perfect. Well, I have to tell my wife that because she is actually more the one that runs my Instagram account than me.
Christopher: Oh, she's doing your Instagram. Yeah, it's just a little bit of insight into how an Olympian trains which, for me, is really -- and you do a lot of road biking, you're outdoors, you're training your dog. It's just like fun stuff to see. My advice is follow Leif on Instagram. But is there anywhere else you'd want to send people?
Leif: Yeah. So, Instagram is probably the best. I think it's @leifcnordgren, was my username there. I'm also on Twitter @leifcnordgren. I have a website though I'm not sure the last time I updated it so I'm not going to send people there. And then I have a Facebook account too. I think it's just Leif Nordgren. That's more geared towards biathlon too.
Christopher: I will, of course, find all those things and link to them in the show notes that you find at nourishbalancethrive.com/podcast. Well, this has been fantastic, Leif. I'm hoping that you're going to come back once a year and check in with us and run a blood chemistry and we'll run it through the algorithms and I'll have Tommy look at it and maybe we could consider tweaking a few things at that point. But I'll let you make that decision.
Leif: I love working with you guys. It was really cool to get those test results. They're very sciencey which I didn't always understand everything but, like I said, it taught me to learn a couple of things and I think that that was really important.
Christopher: Thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate you doing this for me. It's been a pleasure to find out more about your journey to the Olympics. Congratulations on everything you've achieved and I look forward to following your World Cup performances in the very near future.
Leif: All right. Thanks, Chris.
[1:08:56] End of Audio