Looking for a coach

A few circumstances changed in my life in early February and part of the result was a decision that I was going to really take my crack at Ironman seriously this coming August. Prior to this my intention was to take my best crack at the race given my circumstances. The difference is likely largely pedantic to the observer, and that’s not really the point of this article. It was a decision that I would allow my training for the race to dictate my circumstances for the next few months. Part of that decision was that the situation would change from one where I was happy to make my best season planning, training and goal setting decisions completely alone to one where I decided that outside input was now necessary.

What exactly would be the source of this input was a tricky thing to decide. The coaching options available were either ones I could source locally; where I couldn’t be all too picky about method, philosophy, or price; or online, where I could precisely choose philosophy and protocol, select an appropriate price bracket, and resign myself to the fact that I wouldn’t be meeting face to face or doing any training sessions with him/her.

Having spent a good amount of my prior time training developing my own training philosophies and approach it was important to me to find someone who was going to provide coaching in line with those ideas rather than completely different to them. This meant that I’d spend more time doing the sessions given with good confidence that they were going to make me a faster triathlete rather than spending my time arguing with the training plan’s protocol and not investing myself in the sessions as they had been set. The result of this desire was a now rather specific search. A search for someone who would take on an “enjoyment first” approach to training and racing but with a serious understanding of what it means to be competitive. I needed someone who was going to be a proponent of developing the broadest and deepest aerobic base as possible, someone who wasn’t going to be afraid to boost up the hours of work. It also meant that I wanted someone who was keen to make me fast, challenge me, and had a pretty good idea of what it takes to split hairs on details for the sake of success. I wanted coaching that was directed and purposeful, with a big plan behind the scenes, I wanted to be able to buy into the plan and be able to trust that it would work.

The search was both extensive and not-extensive at the same time. I spent a good amount of time searching, most of the places I looked though were obviously not a good fit from the outset. Some were pretty good options with a couple drawbacks but after having poked around for quite a while and sent out a bunch of inquisitive emails I settled on one of the first options I had considered. I’ve joined up with the Everyday Training Crew and I’m being coached by Steven Lord. Steven is quite an accomplished ironman athlete, having qualified for Kona four times and set an Ironman distance PR of 9:15. I found out about him a couple years ago reading about Epic Camp and had followed his blog on and off over the course of the past few years. His approach to the sport is pretty much characterized by repeatable high volume.

Everyday Training

Since starting with Steven the biggest change to my program has been to running. I’ve axed intensity in favor of increased frequency. Absolutely all of my running with the sole exception of one testing run every 2 weeks has been done with a strict HR cap of 162 bpm. Steven also posed a challenge of completing 30 runs in 30 days which I successfully accomplished ending on March 23. All runs were of 30 minutes duration or longer. This has led to the best consistency in running I’ve ever achieved in my life. My training log suggests I’m on about 25% better run form than I’ve ever achieved in my life.

My training analysis system gives a measure of form as an indicator of predilection to absorb further training or perform at a race. I measure form in Aerobic Hour Equivalents (AHEs) as a way of taking into account the relative exertions of different paces. Time spent doing aerobic work counts towards AHEs essentially at one-for-one and time spent at threshold counts towards AHEs at approximately two-for-one. Interpretation of form should be indicative of capacity for running speed, however this is nowhere suggested to be linear and I certainly am not running 25% faster than I ever have in my life. I do believe however, that my ability to absorb base training is at least 25% stronger now than it has ever been.

Having a coach has provided, I believe, a beneficial amount of accountability to get things done. I did feel the risk on occasion of being pressured to get workouts done just because they were scheduled even when I felt like I normally wouldn’t have tried. This was an artifact of adapting to this new system and the urgency to nail everything right now is basically gone, there still remains a healthy dose of pressure behind having to write up a weekly report of the work completed. Taking the time weekly to report in also makes me more interested in tracking how I’m doing, this is of real benefit as it’s an added reason to keep paying attention to details from day to day. Steven is likely one of the most detail oriented people I’m aware of, maybe even moreso than me! This has already rubbed off a bit on my approach to triathlon and believe that as it continues to do so I’ll continue to reap the benefits. This is something I believed was a strongpoint of mine last season and it allowed me to both train well and race well, the fact that this is something I can see noticeably improving I believe is a sign of good things to come.

So, to wrap up the post I guess the question to answer should be: “Am I going to be faster as a result of seeking help instead of doing this myself”. The answer really has to wait until August 29, although based on the consistency I’ve been able to manage, the endurance I can already sense I’m developing, and the resilience I’ve seen in my ability to load up on some serious running – the answer is almost inevitably yes. What I’ve really done by jumping into this coaching relationship is make ironman the only goal this year. The base-fitness development that I’m working on at the moment is very much geared towards ironman-speed and in some sense it’s a good thing I’m not even debating an olympic or sprint distance race this season, it would be frustratingly short. Having real support from Steven in making these decisions of where to focus my time and effort all-but-guarantees that I’ll be faster than without him. If there were no coach I can almost guarantee I wouldn’t have the same commitment to sole focus at developing Ironman-speed. For starters, I probably would have been out and running at a bleeding-eyeballs kind of effort for the Frank-McNamara race this evening.

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