10 Things Learnt With A Triathlon Coach

For the last two years coach Joe Beer has guided my triathlon training.  

Our time together has ended, and Joe suggested I write a piece about what I'd learnt.

So here goes:

1. Coaching was cheaper than I expected
I paid under £400 for six months of coaching.  Some charge a lot more.  

I wanted someone who earns a living from coaching, not someone still racing who was just supplementing their income.  

In our weekly phone calls, Joe was focused on me and my needs.  He successfully got me through my first Ironman.  
2. I needed a goal
In the first year my goal was clear; to complete my first Ironman without breaking myself during the demanding training.  I achieved the goal and was delighted.  However, in the second year my goals were vague and fuzzy, so I struggled with motivation.  There was little Joe could do to help me.  2018 is devoid of goals right now, so it was obviously time to part.

3. It never goes to plan
Stuff happens, usually injuries.  In which case a fixed plan is not much use.  How your coach helps you cope is crucial.  I had a persistent ankle injury, so Joe introduced me to deep water running.  When I had a cold or other interruption he guided me through the training without panic.     

4. You don't have to run a marathon to run a marathon
Because of my ankle injury my longest training run was just 6 miles.  Yes, that's right six miles!  Swimming and cycling delivered my cardio workouts and the bike also helped the legs.  In the run-up to my race, did two half-ironman events with 13mile runs, clocking respectable times, faster than my previous stand-alone half-marathon PB.  I went on to complete my Ironman marathon run in 4'40".  That's not superb, but it's better than many my age manage a stand-alone marathon.

5. Experience
How coach helped me through the ankle issue is just one example.  On numerous occasions Joe offered insight I wouldn't have found in books, forums, or from a fixed plan.  For example, starting me running again with micro-bricks (going from the turbo to six minutes on foot divided into minutes, 1-walk, 1 jog, 1 jog a bit faster, repeat).  Then there was the nose breathing, the alternative to FTP, the double-run days (to get the volume without the impact/injury) and over-geared bike efforts.  And more, much much more.

6. Keep the faith
Read about triathlon in magazines and online, and you'll be convinced you're doing the wrong thing at the wrong time.  What about high intensity? 80/20? What about diet - low carb high fat?  Trust what your coach and ignore everything else to background noise.  

Marginal gains are important for the elite, not us.  Privately, without my coach's advice, I looked at all kinds of minor tweaks and weird ergogenics, but that was like putting titanium horseshoes on a donkey - lighter, faster, but hey, it's still a donkey.

7.  Benchmark
As the season progresses you're going to wonder whether the training is working.  Assess this using benchmarks - fixed routes or workouts you can repeat time and again at similar intensities (or duration) and see whether you're going faster. 

8. Weight matters
Tyre sizes, clothes, helmet all make a difference to your speed but the big difference comes from the big bag of water; make it smaller, lighter, and more aero and you'll be faster.  If you don't know what I'm talking about try the Jiggle Test.

Stand naked in front of the mirror.  Bounce slightly on your heels.  Anything that jiggles, and isn't a primary or secondary sexual characteristic, is excess.  In my motivated Ironman year I competed at 71-69kg.  This year, less motivated, I was 72-73kg.  I was slower.  And I jiggled more.   

9. Train your gut too 
Years ago riding the La Marmotte sportive I mucked up my nutrition and paid the price.  You can and must train your body to handle the nutrition you'll use race day.  Either learn what the organisers are handing out and train with it, or decide you're going to carry you'll need.  Not all gels are the same - I find I need those with a low osmolality (like SiS) or my guts start cramping when I get off the bike.  If you don't know about osmolality, learn.  

10.  He's a coach not a wizard
We're all different.  Some people's genes and lifestyles have built bodies that allow them to excel athletically.  

Most of us aren't so lucky.  A friend of mine, a small female triathlete, swims bikes and runs almost every day for durations and at intensities that would leave me hospitalised.

If you want to excel at triathlon, pick your parents with great care.  

For the rest of us, who just want to do the best we can, then it is worth hiring a coach.

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