Article by Coach Steve Barlow
It's about that time of year where people start penciling in their race plans. Sometimes that means buying plane tickets and setting up bike transportation. Sometimes it means you can roll out of bed and be minutes from the starting line. It could mean doing the same race for the 8th year in a row. Or it could mean doing your first ever race of a certain distance, or even first ever triathlon. There are really so many things that Triathlon can do for us, and the beginning of the year is an exciting time to plan.
At some point, most of us will ask ourselves if we need a coach. Maybe we've read all the articles on the Triathlete homepage, but struggle to fit those individual workouts into a plan, or know when to do VO2 work vs Tempo, etc. Or maybe we know what to do and when to do it but need some accountability to force ourselves out of bed in the am, when it's dark and rainy. Regardless, there are some good reasons to hire a coach. There are also some good reasons NOT to hire a coach.
Nobody likes having empty spots in a training calendar. But we'd hate it even worse if we knew someone was looking at that calendar. The extra accountability of knowing that someone will see if you did the workout, AND if you stuck to the goal of the workout, can be just what we need. This can be the difference it takes to get us to focus on our weaknesses, rather than doing the same favorite workouts that neglect them.
FINDING A WEEKLY RHYTHM
Depending on our goals for the season, we might decide that we need (for example) three swims, 4 bikes, and 3 runs, each week. Where do I put all of those? And should I be lifting weights? What if it's dark out when I need to run 400s? All these things are part of finding your weekly rhythm. And sometimes it takes a bit of trial and error, because, you know, work. And family. And friends. A coach can give you ideas about how to fit triathlon into your life, without forcing other parts out.
FINDING HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH (or too much)
Sometimes, we need to be told how much work we should be doing. Left to our own devices, we can get excited, especially early in the year. How many have run too much, too early in the season, only to have nagging pain force us to take time off? Or how many times do we look back at a training year to see that we weren't really swimming as much as we thought we were? Hiring a coach isn't a guarantee that we won't ever be hurt, but often a good coach can tell you that you're ready for a break even before you're willing to admit it to yourself.
Ever have stomach issues during a race? Sure, me too. Want to experience that again? Yeah, me neither. From fueling to gear selection, and everything in between, a coach can help, and should be able to get you on the right track. Chances are that others have experienced your same problem and a coach can help you work through it.
There are so many workouts out there! But it can be tough to decide which ones are right for you. And for your goals. And for a specific part of the training season. Good news! A coach has the opportunity to work with more people, so will have more feedback on what types of workouts get what types of results and are right for what types of people. You don't have to try every workout under the sun to see what will work for you.
So coaches are great! And I need one, right? Like the answer to all good questions, that's a definite MAYBE. Here are some reasons you might not need a coach.
YOU DON'T WANT TO BE UNCOMFORTABLE
It's unnerving. Coaches have a way of finding our weak points. Then, they force us to work on them (the nerve). Who really WANTS to do kick drills? Or who really LIKES climbing hills? Ok, small confession, maybe climbing isn't so bad. Anyway, if you're not ready to be put outside of your comfort zone and be asked to do workouts that focus on things you're less good at, a coach may not be for you.
YOU DON'T WANT TO FOLLOW THE PLAN
If you enjoy doing what you feel like, day to day, a coach wouldn't probably be a good fit. There's joy in spontaneity! And some coaches will set aside days specifically for that. But if you think you'd take a look at Thursdays Tempo repeats and just go for an easy jog instead, you probably shouldn't waste the money on a coach.
YOU WANT AN EXPERT TO BE IN CHARGE
Coaches may have more exposure to things that can work, because we have more data points from a wider set of individuals. But we don't know everything. And ultimately, we're not in charge. A coaching relationship should be a give and take. But it can really be empowering to bounce ideas back and forth with another person that's equally invested in your fitness and success!
So where did we land? Should I hire a coach? Sorry, that's a personal question that only YOU can answer. If you decide a coach is for you, be sure to interview a couple (at least) before deciding. When you talk to them, here are a couple traits to focus on:
We'll be spending time with our coach. What will that look like? Will we chat weekly? Do some workouts together? Email, text, voice? And do your personalities line up? This last one can be especially important, as you want your coach to really FEEL your goals and own them like you do.
How will your plan be communicated to you? And how will your coach know how each workout went? Will your whole plan be created ahead of time, or will it change depending on your progress? Maybe you need some help setting up a macro plan for the year, but don't need weekly interaction. Is the coach open to that? Or maybe you want to write your own plan and ask a coach to go over it with you to discuss. Ask the coach what kind of options they have for their services.
This might be the main reason people want to hire a coach. So it's important how a prospective coach reacts to this topic. Does it excite them to talk about where your fitness path can take you a year from now? Do they talk about a larger plan for the year, and smaller blocks within it? How will these goals be measured? All good stuff to talk about in your interview.
You want your coach to tell you if you're not on track to meet your goals. You also need to hear if your goals are realistic. These can be tough conversations. But you need to know your coach can tell you if/when you're off track.
This one can be tricky. There are bad coaches that have great credentials, and good ones that don't have any at all. Having a coaching certification at least says that the coach in question made the effort to go through a learning process before plying their trade.
Everyone is different in their wants and needs in life, and Triathlon is no different. A good coach can be that partner to help us be the best sporting version of ourselves. Regardless of what you decide, hopefully this has you excited to start filling out that training calendar. '
About Steve Barlow: Steve's coaching philosophy is that there is more to success than just a good training plan. An athlete can benefit from everything from sport specific skills, transition planning and practice, to fueling advice, form checkups and mental training exercises. He is UESCA (United Endurance Sports Coaching Academy) Certified. Contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more about him HERE.
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