Getting coached, part 2

I promised you a post on how I benefit from coaching. This one will have a lot about me, and if you’re bored with me, it might not be very entertaining. But I’ll do what I can to make it useful.

The coaching relationship is based first on a training plan, so let’s take a look at training plans.

Training Plans

While everybody needs a training plan to prepare for a triathlon or a race season, you don’t necessarily need a coach to get a training plan. You can get a competent training plan at BeginnerTriathlete.com. That site features free plans of varying lengths to train for a sprint or olympic tri. The free ones are printed only, which means you’ll have to track your progress with paper and pencil. But generations upon generations of successful athletes tracked their progress with pencil and paper. And, in any case, you can pay a membership fee and get access to a more interactive web-based plan. I don’t know what the membership fees are (there are several levels), but I assume they are cheaper than hiring a coach.

You can also get a training plan from Training Peaks. The plans at Training Peaks are often designed by multisport and endurance sports celebrities. The cost is fairly reasonable, often around $20, and includes a Training Peaks account with which you can track your progress.

As long as I’ve brought up Training Peaks, permit me a short detour into the web as a training tool.

Most coaches communicate training plans to their athletes through websites. Coaching has become largely web-based these days. When you hire a coach, he or she will give you an account on a website where you read your plan and enter the results of your workouts. Some websites are pretty much like diaries, others are fairly interactive and sophisticated.

The interactive ones will let you load your workout data into charts, compare your current abilities to your previous ones, or chart your performance improvement. Some coaches have their own web systems, but I think most of them probably use third-party sites, such as Training Peaks. You don’t have to be a coached athlete to use Training Peaks. A basic Training Peaks account is free. Upgrading to a paid account gives you more features and eliminates the ads that free users have to put up with.

If your coach uses Training Peaks, then he or she will set up a coached account for you. It’s the same as an upgraded plan, and it has the coach’s logo on it, but it’s “free” in the sense that you don’t have to pay Training Peaks, although your coach will build the cost of it into the fee you pay for coaching.

Whether you have a free, upgraded, or coached account, Training Peaks will not only let you track your workouts, it will make doing so very convenient, because you can upload your workout data directly into your account. It doesn’t even matter what device you use. Polar, Garmin, Timex… Training Peaks seems to accommodate all of them.

I don’t want to attempt writing a review of Training Peaks, because that’s not what this post is about. But if you’re unfamiliar with it, you should go have a look at it, because it’s pretty incredible. It will do far more than track your workouts. You can also track your nutrition (it even has meal plans available), your sleep, your weight, or a number of other variables. And, not only does it track your performance, but it will also predict it, which is a good way to time your peak to your “A” race.

End of detour. Let’s get back to talking about training plans. Using a packaged plan, you have some assurance it’s been tested by other people and that it probably hits at least the high points of what you need. But personally, I need a plan that’s geared to the needs of a person my age, my tendency to hydrate ineffectively on the bike, my inability to master bilateral breathing in the water, my weak left leg, my poor flexibility, and the myriad other things that I imagine are my special requirements.

I need, in other words, something that’s customized to me. So a packaged plan is probably not ideal for me. Then again, I could get something tailored to me by developing my own plan. If you want to know how to do that, get a book called The Triathlete’s Training Bible. In that book, Joe Friel, one of the top coaches for endurance sports, walks you through the process and the rationale behind periodized training, from setting your goals through building your calendar. He has questionnaires that let you determine your strengths and weaknesses and methods for building your workout calendar. If you’re a self-reliant do-it-yourselfer, that may be the way to go. It’s certainly economical.

Brand new, The Triathlete’s Training Bible sells for less than $17 at Amazon.com as I write this. Used, it’s even cheaper. Just make sure you get the latest edition. You may want to get it new anyway, just to make sure nobody’s written in it before, since you’ll probably want to use it as a workbook.

So I could work my way through The Triathlete’s Training Bible and presumably tailor the program to my needs, but here’s where my personality deficiencies first begin to come into play. Let me explain with an arithmetic lesson.

I can’t do factoring

I was absent from school the first day of factoring. Ever since then, I’ve been able to get along OK when factoring was required, but I’ve always worried there’s a secret first step that I didn’t get. So if I were to have anything serious riding on a factoring problem, I would hire a mathematician to do it for me. I’m this way about nearly everything I try to do on my own. I worry I’ve got something wrong, and I’m unaware of it.

In fact, this feeling was confirmed when my coach, Colin, was checking my form for my strength training exercises. He had me do some squats, and then he showed me I was lifting my heels when my feet were supposed to be flat on the floor. Nobody had ever watched me do squats before and nobody had ever told me to keep my feet flat on the floor. That could be 50-some years’ worth of squats wasted. No wonder my quads are so anemic.

Maybe you have more confidence or self-reliance than I have. But I don’t want to try to create my own training plan, and I’m willing to pay for a custom plan, which means hiring a coach. Actually, what I am willing to pay for is the security of believing that my plan covers all the bases.

Furthermore, I need a plan that will change with my changing circumstances. If I get hit by a car and can’t work out for a while, I need my plan to adjust to that and then tell me how to get back on track when I’m ready, or even how to figure out when I’m ready. To get a plan that changes when my circumstances change means hiring a coach.

There’s one other reason that I don’t want to try to do this entirely on my own, and it’s kind of complicated. Please bear with me.

More personality deficiencies

If you’re visiting this website just because you’re interested in aging or triathlon or both, you probably don’t know this about me, but I am a novelist. If you’re interested in learning about my novels, you can find information at my other website: thirdlion.com. My novels aren’t important here. But the story of how I became a novelist is.

Although I wrote fiction all my life, but I didn’t write a novel until I was in my 40s. That’s because of my misapprehension that writing is a solitary, individual undertaking. Throughout my 20s and 30s, I started novels all the time. I would write as much as a couple chapters, and then the novel would fizzle out. After a couple decades of such disappointments, I finally joined a writers’ group dedicated to novel-writing. The group met on a regular schedule, and having to produce chapters on that schedule kept my novels from fizzling out. The experience of having other people expecting to see a new chapter whenever I showed up for a meeting was as much structure as I needed to keep a novel on track.

What I learned from that is I can perform best when a process gives me somebody besides myself to answer to. That’s another of my personality deficiencies: I am perfectly happy to disappoint myself, but I can’t stand disappointing others.

Join a club
OK, so I’ve decided I don’t want to try to train on my own. But there’s another alternative to consider before hiring a coach. I could join a club. A club would give me access to other members’ experience, and it has all sorts of other benefits, including things like discounts on equipment purchases and the opportunity for socializing with other people involved in triathlon.

I am a member of NorthEast MultiSport, and I think it’s worthwhile, but it’s not useful to me for training. First, I don’t mind working out alone. Sometimes I run with my occasional training partner, Bill, but only when we can make our schedules work together, which isn’t very often. I don’t mind running alone in the dark. I don’t mind climbing on the trainer in the morning and pedaling for an hour and a half or two hours by myself, although sometimes I’ll set up a television and watch an episode of Spartacus: Blood and Sand if the workout doesn’t call for a lot of variation or drills.

Second, I can’t seem to work any of the club activities into my schedule. With a daily 2-hour commute, the only way I’ve been able to pursue triathlon is to get up at 3:30 a.m. every weekday. I do my email and catch up on the news from 3:30 to 4:00. I eat breakfast with my family from 4:00 to 4:30, and I start working out or get ready to head off to the swimming pool at 4:30. I’ve never been able to work out in the evening, and in any case, I don’t get home from work until 7:00 p.m. There’s just enough time to eat dinner before going to bed so I can get up at 3:30 and do it again. I know I shouldn’t be going to bed on a full stomach, but this is the only way I’ve been able to work it out.

So the club is a great source of information for me, and I like the people, and I like wearing the club’s colors at my races. But I still need a coach.

I imagine other people realize other benefits from being coached, but for me, there are primarily two: a flexible, personalized training plan and someone I need to answer to on my way to fulfilling my goals. That I consider these benefits probably tells you more about me than about the coaching process. What about you? How does your personality respond to coaching? Have you had coaching experiences you’re willing to share? Comments are open.

While I’m on the subject of comments, be sure to check them. There was one comment last week from Bill which is full of resources. I will be devoting some time to exploring them myself, but you can check them out on your own right now.

I’m sorry for the lack of posts this week, but my recovery from the accident has proceeded quite well, and consequently I am almost nearly back to my regular workout schedule, which leaves me with a lot less time for both life and this blog.

As far as my season goes, so far, I’ve missed one race (The Massachusetts State Triathlon in Winchendon, MA), and my coach has advised me to miss the next two on my schedule: The Sharon Triathlon in Sharon, MA this weekend and the National Age Group Championships in Burlington, VT the following weekend.

He has advised me to skip these races, not because they might aggravate my injuries but because I’ve lost training time during my recovery and to get ready for my next half-iron (Pumpkinman, September 9 in South Berwick, ME), I need to focus. The accident damaged my run the most, and I have barely enough time to rebuild it.

I did my first long run since the accident this past weekend. It was only 6 miles. I had discomfort in my hip from the first step, so to increase my chances of finishing the workout, I used the run-walk method, walking precisely 30 seconds every 10 minutes. I’m not going to share my time for that run because it was abysmal. But at least I finished without appreciable pain.

Today’s weight: 157.0
Waking pulse: 53

One thought on “Getting coached, part 2

  1. Floyd, I thank you for addressing my original coaching inquiry with your multipart posts. They have been informative in addressing my questions/concerns and supporting my assumptions about the coaching experience. I look forward to your final installment.

    And, thank you for sharing your writing website address. Your blog is well-written but I had no idea what an accomplished writer you are!! Congratulations on your numerous favorably-reviewed publications.

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