Here in California, it seems every second triathlete I know – beginner or winner – has a coach. I've seen the same trend creeping in at home in Galway – as always, the zeitgeist quickly follows.
Now it's time to sit down and answer the $20,000 question: do I need a coach? But the better question to ask is: do you want a coach?
For most beginners, the structure of a triathlon or running club is sufficient to provide the expertise they need to get started. It's also good to learn some of the basic principles of training yourself (and muddle through your mistakes) before handing the car keys to someone else.
For some, training is a hobby without major targets aside from completing races, and being coached can take the fun out of workouts by making them goal-oriented.
Coaching is also a (sometimes expensive) luxury. Unless you're training and racing at an advanced level, it's easy to cobble together a training plan for an event from the hundreds of printed and online resources.
The execution of that plan (and the customisation when you fall off your bike and crack a rib, or, say, are travelling for business and have limited time and imagination to train) is where a coach comes in.
They act as a kind of high-end nanny, checking you're not over-training yourself into exhaustion, tweaking workouts when things go awry and ensuring your year of races is periodised sensibly, so that you're not burned out by June.
Of course, I'm simplifying here, and the understanding a coach provides is far beyond what the typical amateur athlete knows.
For many, learning how to structure their training is part of the experience of racing. I find that running training is simpler than triathlon, due to the sheer volume and complexity of balancing speed and long distance training across three sports for triathlon.
While I've trained myself from online programs for goal-running events, I have also drawn on a coach.
If you do decide to enlist one, understanding what you want from them is important. It's a given that they should have experience and education in coaching their selected sport. I have found that personality and motivational style forms a huge part of the experience.
What you want is support and feedback that will push you beyond your limits so you end up racing faster than if training alone.
This Week ...
While I successfully used a customised online training plan for my Ironman race in Sweden last year, I wanted to see if a coach would improve my performance this year.
While I'm confident cycling and running, I'm looking for someone to help me with my Achilles heel – swimming – and to put it all together in a faster package.
I signed up a few weeks ago with Californian triathlon coach Michael Waters, a grizzled 60-year-old who goes by the moniker Muddy Waters.
I'd heard great things about Coach Muddy, who has pro-athletes in his stable including Ciarán Byrne, an Arklow man who broke through with his first Ironman World Championship qualification last year.
Unlike many of his peers, Coach Muddy is somewhat low on technology, which alarmed me a little at first.
On the other hand, he seems to have huge heart and interest in his athletes – a trait a surprising number of coaches lack. The first few weeks of training have been a gentle build from a marathon-focused spring back into triathlon training for what I hope will be a fast season. I'll let you know if it's Muddy Love.
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