Coaching is as much art as science. It’s easy to get lost in numbers, research & someone else’s training schedule. If training were that easy, my job would be simple: all I would need to do is to create one workout schedule for 12 months for everyone, and distribute it.
Obviously, that’s not ideal. I don’t believe in cookie cutter training schedules. In fact, the hardest part of my job is determining how much and when an athlete should rest. My coaching is highly individual, and varies from athlete to athlete.
However, I do have some basic tenets that apply to everyone I coach.
When push comes to shove, racing is all about suffering.
I’m not just talking about that glorious, last-second push for the finish line. I’m also talking about the good, old-fashioned, day-to-day work ethic. If you’ve practiced suffering in your training, doing everything, following the plan, resting harder, going the extra mile, taking care of yourself better (you can always do more), then you will also know how to do that when you compete. When you suffer in your race, you will have won, regardless of your finishing position, because you will know that you have given it everything that you’ve got. If you have given it everything that you’ve got, you will exceed your expectations.
This mindset doesn’t minimize the training and the structure. You can call it perseverance, endurance, tenacity, determination, whatever. Give it everything you’ve got. And you probably have more than you think.
Two athletes competed in an early season bike race.
The first finished in the top ten and reported, “I am so sick of riding in the rain! All I did was follow wheels, and I got a faceful of wet road slime all day. I didn’t think I gave it 100% at the finish. Now I think I’m going to get a cold from freezing my butt off for hours on end.”
The second got dropped, finished almost last, and reported, “Good thing we trained in the rain this winter, because all those SoCal racers couldn’t handle the cold and the wet like I could. I stuck my face in there. I was gutsy and aggressive, and I got in a move that completely fried me, and I went shooting out the back and got dropped by the pack. But I gave it everything I had and finished the race.”
Guess who ended his season early? Guess who upgraded later in the year?
It’s OK to complain, but whining is counter-productive. Attitude matters. Having the right attitude is a part of being a good athlete.
When life throws you for a loop, what do you do? Do you get frustrated and angry and angst about your training schedule?
Good athletes adapt to the changing situation. It could be a course change, getting lost, arriving at the race venue late, weather change, injury, sickness, job change, whatever. As they say, life happens while you’re busy making plans. Expect the unexpected. Take the opportunity to learn from every experience, even the negative ones. Learn to adapt to changing situations, and you will be a better athlete. The best athletes not only are disciplined, but also adapt the best.
You pay someone $200 plus, get on a trainer, take a blood draw, put a mask on your face, and you get you a nice print out of when blood lactate starts to rise, when your metabolic effort changes from burning fat to carbohydrate and what your VO2 Max value is. Of course I understand what these tests measure, and I understand that they have value. I go to plenty of coaching seminars and clinics that discuss tests and research and numbers and data points, and I’ll continue to do so. But, when it comes down to it…
These expensive data points serve no better purpose than a good, repeated, old-fashioned field test. And in fact, these tests don’t necessarily correlate to racing. They are less specific to the efforts required for racing your chosen event. I know many people whose test results indicate that they should be winning the Tour de France. Funny, they aren’t.
I much prefer to see the results of a field test – a time trial on your local terrain that you can repeat throughout the year. From a field test, you will know your 100m swimming pace, your minute/mile running pace, or your power at threshold on the bike, and whether or not you are improving. What else do you need to know? It’s not glamorous; it’s just hard work.
You know, when they start having bike races or triathlons based on lowest/highest lactate value or least calories burned or most fat calories burned, then maybe these scientific tests will have more importance. No one has convinced me that these tests offer more than a good ass-whooping ITT.
I believe that every athlete should understand perceived rate of exertion – that is, knowing intuitively how hard you are working, a learned skill requiring perception not measured by electronics, but by experience and understanding your body. Some athletes like using heart rate, but although heart rate is an interesting value, it’s not absolute, and influenced too easily by factors such as fatigue, environment and dehydration.
There is nothing like a power meter for the absolute final word.
I encourage all cyclists and triathletes I coach to purchase and use a power meter (at present a PowerTap, an SRM, or Qaurq CinQo). For running, distance and pace devices like a GPS-based Garmin or similar provide valuable information in tracking performance improvements, and for swimming, your 100m or 100yard pace. The point is, these numbers don’t lie, and it’s easy to measure improvement with these devices.
“What gets measured, gets done” – Tom Peters.
Every winter I’m inundated with questions about so-called “base miles”, the traditional long miles that, during the winter, you churn out half-heartedly at a restricted heart rate (usually less than or equal to 70% maximum heart rate) or wattage that is lower than the effort it takes to tie my shoes. Don’t bother.
Of course, I agree that everyone needs enough endurance for their given sport. Everyone needs long miles and hours in the saddle or running on the trail.
I know, I know, there are many different ways to get fit. At some point in your training, you may need a longer training session. But to restrict all your long training to a very low intensity during the non-competitive season is counter-productive. During the non-competitive season, I recommend training at different efforts, including sprint training. However, your focus is more on zone 2 and zone 3 than on zone 4, and more on steady work than intense work. This type of training is proven to help you prepare for your races. Exclusively easy training isn’t proven. Period.
I need feedback from my athletes to be successful as a coach. If I didn’t need feedback, I could produce generic training plans for everyone. I’m not that kind of coach, and I never want to be that kind of coach. I want to hear that work is stressful, or that waking up at 5AM to workout is simply impossible for you, but that you can workout better at 6PM. I want to hear that your right knee is bothering you. I need to know which workouts I give you are your favorites, and which you can’t stand. When your goals change, when you are unmotivated, when you can’t do the workouts…tell me so I can adjust your schedule.
One of the benefits of working with a coach is personal attention. But communication is two-way, so please do your part.
There are many ways to get fit and strong for racing. That means my way isn’t the only way. However, having a consistent training plan, working with a knowledgeable coach you can trust and believe in, and then following the plan is the key to your success. Of course, this training plan will also need to be fluid based on your ability to follow the plan; get adequate rest; recover; avoid or deal with sickness, injury, stress, work, lifestyle, and all the other pitfalls we encounter.
Jumping from one training philosophy to another, and another, and another isn’t a good path to success. If you don’t believe in my philosophies or my abilities, please, find another coach. If you have faith in my ability to get you where you need to be, then I can be successful as your coach.