For someone new to triathlon, completing your first event can seem like a daunting task. Triathletes have so much gear! And instead of concentrating on just one discipline, triathlon requires the right balance of training for three. (I would argue that triathlon also has a fourth discipline, nutrition, which is essential for longer course racing.)
This is where a triathlon coach can be helpful.
The financial commitment of hiring a coach might not be possible for some new triathletes. As I wrote in this previous article, there are several different ways to invest your triathlon resources, each with their own benefits and limitations. But many coaches, including myself, offer individual consultations or training sessions. These can be helpful if you need an objective eye to critique your swim stroke or running gait and offer suggestions.
Or, a coach can be a second opinion. Say you’ve taken a stab at creating your own training strategy or plan. A coach can take a look at what you’ve come up with and provide input on how to modify things, if at all.
But beyond a one-time engagement with a coach, there are a few big reasons to consider a coach, especially if you’re new to the sport.
- To plan – A coach will take time to understand who you are, your goals, and the other things in your life that you must balance with triathlon. An ideal coach doesn’t just focus on technical aspects of the sport, he/she will help you figure out how to logistically make it all work. For the busy, on-the-goer, this can be even more important.
- To help recover – For some triathletes, training isn’t the hard part, it’s not training and resting. Many of us have the constant urge to want to exercise or train – that if we miss a day our bodies will somehow lose fitness. Some of the best coaches I know have said that it’s not usually about motivating, it’s about knowing when to push and when to hold back.
- To optimize lifestyle – What you do away from training is even more important than the few hours you spend training. Things like sleep quality, stress, and nutrition can all enhance performance or derail it. I experienced what life stress can do first-hand last year when in the midst of moving, changing jobs, and living with friends for several week, I was also preparing for (and raced) a half-Ironman.
- To motivate – I know I said before that many triathletes are self-motivators and many find their own ways to motivate themselves. But this isn’t always the case. For many, it’s the motivation to stay consistent with training. Within a 12-week training block, for example, it’s easy to think that skipping one session might not make much of a difference. This is true. But when one easy run session turns into two, and then three, there’s the chance of under-preparation.
- To develop training sessions – Using your goals and experience level as a starting point, an ideal coach will then develop a plan that helps you progress from where you are to where you want to be. Not all coaches use this type of customized approach, so be aware. There are tons of standard training plans out there, but a coach will be able to tailor everything to you based on where your fitness is. For example, after a couple of days of tough training, you’re feel fatigued and then you also have a work commitment. A training plan is rigid. A coach can add flexibility and modify your training on a weekly or evenly daily basis based on how you’re feeling and how you’re progressing.
- To educate – We hire coaches for their experiences. They’ve been in training and race situations that we haven’t and we want to learn from that. There’s no substitute for experience. A coach might have all the academic qualifications in the world, but if I’m hiring him/her, I want to know that they understand what it feels like at mile 12 on the run of a half-Ironman. And like I said earlier in this article, you can ask a coach anything related to your training and racing: how to take care of your bike; how to set your bike up for race day; what to eat before a race; what to eat during a race; etc, etc. For many, this is the biggest value of a coach. They give us insights into what it’s going to take to achieve our goals.
Before I close I must stress one thing. Not all coaches are created equal. There are a variety of different coaching certifications out there, such as those offered by a country’s sport governing body (for example, USA Triathlon here in the United States). But, as much as certifications are one important piece of a coach’s background, as I mentioned in bullet 6 above, it’s not everything. That coach’s experience might be the real value they bring to the table. And for some athletes, that’s the deciding factor. In fact, some of the best coaches out there don’t have any coaching certification. It’s all from experience.
Either way, the bottom line with a coach is to ensure their coaching philosophy lines up with your approach, goals, and lifestyle. If you’re a busy executive without a lot of spare time, a coach that believes in high-volume, aerobic training might not be the best match.
So, before you hire a coach, do you’re homework. Interview them. Ask questions. Make sure they are the right match to help you achieve your goals. Because after all, your goals should be a coach’s number one priority. And the best ones will do everything they can to make sure you get there.
This article originally appeared at Training a Runner: The Better Running Magazine.