Steffi Steinberg may look about 25 but in terms of endurance accolades she is definitely a Veteran. Representing Germany, Steffi won the World Ultraman Champs in 2017, has broken records in Race Across America and has started in Kona IM WC three times already. This is her fourth qualification and this time she asked me to help.
The relationship I have with Steffi is very unique. We operate very intuitively - there is little analysis of the numbers on a day to day basis but we use number trends as gentle indicators of how well she is going (and why) on what she calls her
'strong legs days'. Steffi understands female cycles, she understands endurance training, she understands the relationship between energy needs and weight management in sport and I just have to support her in all of her knowledge rather than school her in anything.
My role with Steffi initially was to develop her run speed after feeling it had stagnated for a few years. We managed this by June but then, just before RAA, she got hamstring niggles that didn't go away with therapy, rest or training adaption. It put a major spanner in the works of what was looking like an incredibly solid build to Kona. Ironically, it was Steffi's bike prowess that saw most improvements from her hard work on the program - her ftp has risen, her ability to sit just below threshold went longer and on her 'strong leg' days - goodness help her ride partners.
We kept with it though and slowly, and then suddenly, Steffi got quick again. The pain went after a physio realigned her hips and heat camp in Lanzarote became uninhibited by injury. The camp became an exercise in patient building as we added in the mileage needed to prepare for the marathon.
The cards have fallen in place at the right time.
Steffi's aim is to finish the race and feel happy that she felt controlled throughout after previous attempts to do that fell futile. That been said, Steffi is a competitor and though the competition in Kona for all is primarily against oneself, the thrill and inclusion of an all women's race next Thursday is a major string to Steffi's bow. Racing allows her natural intelligence to flourish - where her patience, her confidence and her trust in her ability and preparation will bloom as the day goes on.
Of all the athletes I have ever worked with, though not a 'professional' athlete, Steffi is the most professional athlete I know. I used to baulk at Brett Sutton when he said things like that. 'It's not the same'. Well (Jodie Swallow of 2013) - it is actually entirely the same. It is about approach under duress, fatigue or illness and that doesn't change on the basis of speed or talent.
Steffi approaches training with utter commitment but also with the ability to understand that reaction and systems are not robotic - that periodisation and session evolution are not the absolute crux of training - it is the reaction, the mental approach and reaction that trigger the bodies adaption to training as much as the science.
She has no issue ditching the power numbers nor the paces if it doesn't feel right. If swimming is going to take up her whole afternoon she judges it, shifts it and then moves on. True professionalism; not the marketed or faddy kind, it about knowing oneself and knowing how training fits in on a day-to-day basis with her life and priorities.
Steffi will race in the Women's 40-44 AG on Thursday.