It’s been about a year since I signed the contract and hired my coach and it’s been a good decision. Given the struggles I had in 2013, I think I would have still had a better 2014, but I also think that the guided and structured workout I’ve been doing since January have made more than an incremental difference.
With that in mind, you yourself might be at that time of year when you are thinking about hiring a coach. I have to preface this by saying that I don’t have any specific advice. Each person is different and there are a lot of reasons not to hire a professional to help you in your training and racing, not the least of which is cost. While I find the fee I’m paying my coach to be pretty reasonable (and I don’t pay it in the off –season) that’s relative.
However, if you are on the fence or just seeking more information, this post is to convey my experience with a coach in an overall sense. Perhaps you’ll glean a useful nugget of information from what I’ve said. So here goes; these are the benefits I’ve perceived from working with a coach:
Prior to working with a coach, I used to spend a fair amount of time preparing my training plans. I typically would schedule all of the workouts for a season months in advance. I did so knowing that none of what I wrote on an Excel spreadsheet was set in stone. Plenty can happen that requires you to be flexible. When I failed to complete a workout, I changed the font to strike-through like
this. For a while, that motivated me because, for me at least, it’s always more fun to record the details of what I accomplished than to note that I didn’t accomplish anything.
However, over time that started to fail. Worse, sometimes I would just delete a workout as if it had never been on the schedule. True, I suffered on race day but prior to that, there was no one there to keep me accountable.
One of the advantages of Training Peaks (which is how my coach and I respectively assign and show completion of workouts) is that there’s a clear indicator that a workout has been done. The date square on the application’s calendar turns green when I upload a completed workout. If it’s partially completed the square turns yellow and if it is incomplete, the square turns red. I know it seems simplistic, but those red squares are sort of badges of shame. Green squares show I’m doing what’s been assigned.
Experience is a great teacher and I’ve learned a lot of things about improving my swim, bike and run. What’s more, trial and error has shown me which workouts were effective and which were a waste of time. However, experience is not precisely the same thing as expertise. Additionally, my sample size of experience consists of one person—me. My coach on the other hand has not only me but all of the other athletes he coaches in his database. While I’m sure each of us in unique, there are some general rules related to performance that better inform his decision on which work outs to assign me. Additionally, as a USAT Level 2 Certified coach, he’s required to complete continuing education ensuring I’m being guided by the latest science and information. Comparatively speaking, doing this on my own seems a bit like I’m feeling around in the dark for the right combination or workouts and rest.
Often times, I have to explain the coach-athlete relationship to people who have a more conventional understanding of who a coach is. Unlike the head of a sports team (even one for a triathlon discipline) my relationship with my coach is really not a leader-subordinate dynamic. While it’s true that he assigns me workout and I do them, there is definitely a back and forth. Not only do I upload what I’ve done from my Garmin, but I also provide commentary. Short notes tell him if a particular set was especially difficult or if I’m having a bad week.
We also strategize on race plans. I did my first such plan for IM Austin 70.3 but since then, he and I have come up with more tactically sound approaches. This has resulted in more than a marginal difference on results.
Have you already decided?
If you have already made the decision to hire a coach and are in the selection process, here a few steps and guidelines I followed when I made my choice:
· Be confident in the coach’s enthusiasm for what they are doing. Get a sense of passion and engagement. Most coaches do this as second occupation to their main career. I made sure mine was really into what he was doing.
· Don’t let proximity be a barrier. I was fortunate to have a coach who lives just a few miles away from me, but in truth, he could live on the other side of the planet and it would not have that much impact. In age of Face Time, Skype, E-mail , Google Documents, etc., there are plenty of ways for you to communicate and collaborate effectively with your coach
· Don’t pay too much. I got a reasonable rate. While there are some big-name former pros who run programs for age groupers, I was hesitant to pay a lot of money for brand premium.
· Talk to several. I formally interviewed three people and I probably should have spoken to twice that number. Time was a factor. A broader pool is always better. I took lots of notes to keep everyone straight.
· Get a written contract and keep a copy. At the end of the day, this is a business transaction and a written agreement makes sure everyone is on the same page as to what is expected.
Thanks for reading and have a great week ahead.