The original intention of this post was to talk about why I don’t use a coach. It’s actually more of a ramble about how I train and why I’m not using a coach…
I was introduced into triathlon in 2007 when I entered a sprint triathlon organised by a local triathlon club. I’d bought a 10 quid tri-suit from Aldi a week before and although I feared the stitching would disintegrate upon contact with clorinated water it held up and I finished with a smile on my face. I loved it. I did this race on my heavy old mountain bike. My second triathlon I borrowed a road bike from a friend who’s probably about a foot shorter than me. Things were getting serious!
The following year I bought my first road bike. This is still my only road bike. This bike got me happily round four Ironman distance races between 2009 and 2012. I got a fancy Time Trial bike in 2013 but the road bike still gets plenty of off-season use. I love it.
Anyway, this article isn’t about my bike collection but is about coaching. I’m not coached. Why…
A few months before my first Ironman (Switzerland, 2009) I ran my first marathon. I was planning on following a training schedule from Runners World magazine but I twisted my ankle so missed out on some sessions and I didn’t want to jump back into this fixed schedule. What I did instead was just count back from the race and plan my weekly long runs that way. Race day 26.2 miles, the week before 12, then 18 (that’ll be two weeks of tapering), then 21, then 19, then 17, then 15, etc. I did a few runs during the week and always ran a 5k parkrun on the Saturday morning – sometimes as part of a long run but often as a bit of a speed session. I ran 3:19 at the London Marathon that year. It was hard hard work but the reward of completing a marathon was amazing.
For my first Ironman that I was doing three months later I adopted a similar run training strategy. Run a bit during the week, do a parkrun, and get progressively longer runs in. I’ve never been a big run mileage person. 40 miles a week is probably pretty much my upper limit during training. On top of this I swam at least twice a week and did as much open water swimming as I could. I hated swimming pools and quite liked open water – so I really needed to capitalise on this! Bike wise I did the same as my running, I just counted back the weeks from race day. I wanted to do a couple of 100 milers and then a 95, 90, 85, 80, 75 etc.
I got the start line feeling good and I loved it (apart from a portaloo incident late in the run). I was an Ironman. I nearly got a tattoo.
A year later I was in training for the Challenge Roth race. What worked the previous year seemed good enough so I did more of the same. I was working away from home a lot during the months prior to the race which meant weekdays were normally treadmill or outdoor running and weekends were swimming and long bike rides. I had to adapt to my circumstances and fit the training around them.
I know you can’t get a swim schedule, a cycling schedule and a run schedule and do them all together at the same time as you’ll then experience something called overtraining. Scott Molina (look him up if you don’t know the name) is one of the only people who used to be able handle this kind of workload!
Have a listen to his excellent interview on the Legends of Triathlon podcast to see how the old school boys used to train and race. Oh, and do not fear, he’s still going strong with an age group win in January 2014 at the Challenge Wanaka Half race.
I currently work freelance which often means that my weeks are flexible. I kind of go by the idea that each week (or perhaps 10 day blocks) should include a long run, a long bike ride and some swimming. If I can get a couple of long rides in then even better. I don’t do much swimming. Swimming twice a week is a very good week for me! Because of my work flexibility I try not to do long run/rides on a subsequent days (e.g., Long bike Saturday, and long run Sunday). It doesn’t always work though.
Every time I’ve thought about getting a coach I think I’d spend too much time trying to swap sessions around to fit in with work or whatever else I’m up to on a given day. For example my parents live 60 miles from me. That’s a good solid bike ride away I’d say. So… I almost always cycle to their house when I visit. Sometimes I see them at weekends, other times it’s mid-week. I rarely know from one week to the next what my schedule is.
So.. if we fast forward to 2013 – which was my best ever year and the year that I won my age group at Ironman UK and stamped my ticket to Kona, what did I do differently…
Well – work wise I was in London four days a week. I almost always cycle commuted (13 miles each way) on my old mountain bike – yes, the one I did my first triathlon on in 2007. Sometimes I rode easy, sometimes I pushed hard, sometimes I raced as hard as I can between traffic lights. Yes, I always stop at red lights. It’s my recovery during interval sessions on the bike. I wish more city cyclists would give it a go. These workouts (an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening) were great for me. They were completely unstructured and I just rode how I wanted to based on how I was feeling.
My long rides were similar. Sometimes I’ll push hard, sometimes not so hard. I didn’t do many ‘easy’ rides on my road/TT bike. The easy rides were normally mountain bike commuting rides. When I rode my ‘decent’ bike I’d put the miles in and push relatively hard. I do have a power meter on my bike and I do keep an eye on my average power for a long ride. This gives me a reasonable idea of how I’m progressing during a season.
I ran ‘just’ enough in 2013. I ran a 5k parkrun as my weekly speedwork almost every week. I love parkrun (maybe I’ll write about that in a future article). I rarely did any 60 minute type ‘tempo runs.’ I got my long runs in. Always slower than (standalone) marathon pace and often faster than (ironman) marathon pace. I’d occasionally run into work (not much beats a half marathon before breakfast!).
In 2013 year I joined a local swimming squad. Most weeks I’d attend one of the sessions and these were great to force me to go swimming and also to put a little structure into these sessions. I’d never used fins, paddles, a pull buoy or swim band before joining the squad. I’d also try and get a second (or on a miracle week) or third swim in – normally an endurance one with my trusty Finis Tempo Trainer – a great little device that keeps me on pace.
I think the main change I made in 2013 was riding more. I almost always ride on my own. There’s no drafting in Ironman (well, not until about 25 miles into the race at Kona!) and I’m pretty good at self motivating and pushing myself. Because of my flexible work schedule I’m often riding mid-week so it’s pretty much always me on my lonesome out in the Surrey Hills.
All my training is logged in TrainingPeaks – mainly so I can look at the pretty graphs and to see that I’m building up week upon week during the season.
I didn’t do any turbo training during the main part of 2013. I’m only doing more turbo training at the moment as it’s often miserable to ride outside and more importantly there is too much stuff on our Sky+ box that I want to watch on television!
If I worked full time from a fixed location and had a regular repeatable weekly schedule then I think that ‘normal’ coaching might be a good thing. How my life is at the moment I think it would be a load of hassle for both the coach and myself.
Now, I could use a coach just to bounce ideas off of and get direction.
This is probably the coaching relationship that would work for me.
As for my training plans for 2014… Well, I’ll do more of the same that’s served me fairly well so far. I’ll open the curtains, look out of the window and decide what to do. It’ll probably be riding my bike, followed by running, and then some regular splashing around in the pool. For me it’s not rocket science.
I know I could train much better. One day I might give it a go but for now I’m happy with how I do things as they are.
This final quote is taken straight from a great article in the June 2013 issue of Triathlete Europe magazine and written by top US coach Matt Dixon – “Whether it is from trusted friends, a local coach with all the tools or a coach from further away that feels like a good fit, ensure that you set up your training and performance approach to suit you and your needs. Take ownership of your journey, and don’t simply look for the ‘flavour of the month’ and think that they are the right coach for you.”