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How and Why to choose a Triathlon Coach

scs multisport logo So many times people ask me, “Kris, should I use a coach?”, and after I give them my philosophy on the matter they follow up with, “how do I choose the right coach for me?” I will address the first question today and the second in part two of this article.

After the question of whether someone should use a coach leaves their lips, I usually fire back with my standard answer, “even Lance Armstrong has a coach.” Most people understand that a new person to our sport, a “newbie”, will benefit from the knowledge and guidance of a coach, but it’s those of us who have been in the game for a couple years who can truly benefit from coaching.

A newbie is like a sponge, reading triathlon magazines, books and blogs. They watch videos, Tivo races and talk tri anytime they can. A newbie benefits by being steered away from the fads and gimmicks of triathlon. A coach also becomes a safe place to ask questions that might be thought of as “stupid”, but as we all learned a long time ago, there are no stupid questions. It is easy for a newbie to buy into the idea that all you need is a sweet $10,000 bike and you will shave 15 minutes off your 40k bike split. A newbie doesn’t usually know how to balance three sports, strength train and still make it to the dinner table on time. A coach will take this gentle little newbie and watch over them, guide them and help make sure they don’t run themselves into the ground. With a solid game plan geared around the newbie’s race schedule, a coach will build a balanced program consisting of easy days, hard days and rest days.

As for the grizzled veteran who claims to know everything already, I say “are you sure?” It is true the learning curve in triathlon is steep and in only a few years of training and racing an athlete can learn quite a bit just by being involved in the sport, but sometimes it’s how people apply that new knowledge that hurts them. A coach will research new techniques and equipment as part of their job. They weed out the gimmicks and incorporate the things that really work into your training program. I once had a client who read that track workouts were the only way to get fast running. I told them, this is true, track workouts help to build speed. They insisted on doing only track workouts during their training and nothing else. I advised them that a good running program has a balance of easy recovery runs, longer endurance runs and speed workouts (track workouts). I worked hard to convince them that research and practical experience has shown this is the way to truly get faster without getting injured. It took awhile, but they came around. I would hate to think what would have happened if they had just went out and ran fast track workouts three to four times a week. Planter fasciitis, bone spurs, stress fractures and just plain old burn out would have been the outcome.

I have also been asked if those “cookie cutter” workout programs you see in triathlon magazines or can buy online really work. These programs are beneficial in the sense that they offer a structured and balanced workout program that will most likely prevent you from getting injured and help you gain more fitness, but they fail to help YOU reach YOUR personal season goals. They are not built around your race schedule. They don’t account for that week you are going out of town for business or the days you work a double shift to pay for your new carbon race wheels. They are not built with YOU in mind. This is where a coach truly shines. A good triathlon coach will ask you how much time each week you can train, when your races are and what other responsibilities you have in your life. They take this information and build a program specifically fit for you.

Another benefit to having a coach is you free up a huge chunk of time you would have spent pouring over workout plans and structuring your season. You simply tell your coach what you have going on as far as racing, training, family and work. They spend the time building your program; it takes a lot off your plate and allows you more time to train or just play with your kids. It also puts an outside perspective on your training. You will have someone watching over you, making sure you are not over or under doing it. You also now have someone to be accountable to. You will now have to answer to someone else besides yourself if you skip a workout or a weeks worth of workouts.

So back to Lance, no matter how good you are, everyone can benefit from a coach. Just think, if Lance didn’t have Chris Carmichael, would he have won 7?

Next time we will discuss how to choose a coach.

Kris Swarthout
USAT Level 1 Coach
SCS Multisport