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.
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