It’s a question as old as triathlon.  Should I use a coach or go it alone?

I’ve been a triathlete since about 2005.  Up until roughly nine months ago, I was “self-coached”.  My thought was that there were enough good plans online that I could borrow from, copy, or buy that I didn’t need a coach.  Why spend my hard-earned money on someone to yell at me about my training?  What possibly could be my return on investment? What could a coach provide me that I couldn’t do myself?

In fact, historically, I was very much an anti-coach person.  Back when having your own endurance blog was a big thing, I wrote an 11-part series about triathlon coaches, how to pick one, and ultimately how to go it alone.  I laid out in my series many of the complexities associated with having a coach.  Among the things I espoused that were reasons for not having a coach.  The expense.  The lack of flexibility on your training plan.  Not having to deal with the athlete-coach relationship.  The cost (yeah, I mentioned it twice.  It was a huge factor for me being anti-coach). I ended up writing my own training plans for three or four years using the methods of Joe Friel as laid out in his book Your Best Triathlon.

Was I successful as a self-coached athlete?  Nope.  Not at all.

I’ve have always been decidedly a middle-of-the-pack triathlete.  Have been for my entire career.  I was pretty dang excited if I went 6:30 in a half-iron distance race, or 30 minutes in a 5k run.  If I hit 20mph at all on the bike, I felt like a pro cyclist.  Swimming?  Well, that’s for race day – and only if it’s a breaststroke.  I’d enter races, show up thinking I was prepared, but in the end, I’d suffer the entire time.  I’d get off the bike and invariably walk 95% of the run.  No matter the race distance.

Is that approach OK?  ABSOLUTELY!  If that’s what you’re comfortable with.  For a long time, I was.

Here’s my thing, though.  I really wanted to get better.  Faster. Stronger. And now, I’m not OK with how I used to approach triathlon.

In 2019, I joined a local triathlon club.  Training with others taught me just how much fun training can be.  I caught the real racing bug.  I wanted to be better than I had been for my entire triathlon career. One of the principals of the club I’m a member of is a triathlon coach.  She typically focuses on coaching women – often newbies – and is very highly regarded locally and across Florida.  I approached her a couple of times about what it might take to have her coach me.  I talked with many of her athletes.  The feedback was universal.  Having a coach (and especially this coach) is a great thing.

So I hired her.

And WOW!  She regularly kicks my butt.  My workouts can be really hard!  She pushes me when I don’t want to push myself. She boosts me when I’m having a bad day.  She reminds me that this sport is about having fun. She holds me accountable when I miss (or skip) a workout.  She comes to one-on-one workouts armed with good stories, sometimes a funny joke, and always the right words of encouragement.

But here’s the thing.  The results are there, too.  I’m a TON faster than I used to be.  Last year I set a bunch of personal bests in every discipline (well….not transition, but that’s a different story).  I’ve dropped 30 seconds per 100 yards in my swim.  I now average at least 20 mph on every ride.  I’ve seen my FTP watts go up 30 points in just four months. My running intervals are in the high 7 and low 8 minute per mile pace. Last December, I set a 50 minute (FIFTY MINUTE) personal best in a 70.3 race.


Joel Strickland

REV3 Team Ambassador

Class of OG