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What It Takes to Be an Olympic Athlete

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Kristin Armstrong, Cyclist

Kristin Armstrong says she was born with a competitive game face.

"At Christmas, I'll play Dominoes with my family and friends, and they'll say they don't want to play with me because I'm so competitive," the 32-year-old Armstrong said. That competitive drive has led to impressive results on the bike. In the road race at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Armstrong finished eighth. A two-time member of the U.S. World Championship team, Armstrong was the 2005 U.S. national champion in the time trial. In 2001, Armstrong developed osteoarthritis, and the former triathlete was forced to give up running because of its impact on her hips. So she focused on cycling.

In a typical week, Armstrong rides for 20 to 25 hours. She trains in 10-day spurts before taking a day off, although she's found that an easy day can be just as beneficial as a day of rest. On some Mondays, she'll ride for about 45 minutes to an hour and a half on a flat course in an easy gear.

"It's not necessarily a day off, but mentally it's a day off," Armstrong said.

After the world championships in September, she usually abandons her bike for a month. She stays active by hiking with friends, but she doesn't participate in strenuous activity.

Now she's focusing on building her mileage base and strength training. Armstrong lowers the number of rotations per minute and shifts down, which creates more tension, and rides slowly up hills.

"There are a couple approaches to strength," Armstrong said. "My coach believes in building strength through the motion you need to do."

Armstrong has been working with her coach, Jim Miller, for about four years.

"One of the best things I did for myself was hire a coach," Armstrong said. "If you trust in your coach, it takes the pressure off you."

Hiring a coach or a trainer helped Armstrong focus on things she wasn't as good at, like taking time off.

"All athletes and exercise fanatics know how to work out well," Armstrong said. "Often you'll go workout after work for two hours and do the same things. We're creatures of habit. A coach is not so habitual."

Although training is essentially Armstrong's full time job, she values balance in her life. Fortunately, she was accepted into the Home Depot program, which allows her to work 20 hours per week with full time wages and benefits. Work is also a distraction.

"If I have an injury or something is wrong (in cycling), I'm not fixated on it," Armstrong said. Armstrong also cross-trains by skiing near her home in Boise, Idaho, and she practices yoga a couple of times per week.

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