Ben Price talks about how a coach can help you achieve your performance goals and how it has helped him become fitter and faster.
In November of last year, I wrote about the benefit of having a coach. In the article, I included an exchange between my coach and me after I won the Ballbuster Duathlon, after which he told me straight – despite me winning the race by several minutes – that my run off the bike was not good enough (he was a little more blunt than that in fact!). He went on to say that if I was to compete with the best at the elite Powerman races and the European Middle Distance Duathlon Champs (my main target in May) I would need to improve significantly. I was a bit miffed at the time – it rather burst my post-race bubble – but he was right.
From that point on he put together some really tough brick sessions and had me doing some nasty runs off the bike with pure runners that would push me to my absolute limit. I had nowhere to hide with these sessions because we had a target and every training session gets synched with the Training Peaks app and my activity is coded – by the app – as red, amber or green, depending on whether I hit the numbers or not. Coach likes them to be green! And I know that if I want to achieve what I am hoping to achieve then I need to have plenty of green on my Training Peaks calendar. Knowing your coach will be checking up on your splits and power numbers after a session brings a serious level of accountability that pushes you on to new levels!
My coach doesn’t just set me sessions, he sets me SESSIONS! Many of them completely blow my expectations of what a hard session is out of the water. In fact, I have messaged him on several occasions asking whether he had got the target splits right.
There was one session in early December that stood out. I excitedly logged into Training Peaks to find out what the session was for the day (I know I’m not the only one who excitedly logs into Training Peaks first thing in the morning to find out what’s in store!). It was a running session and I was forced to immediately text him:
Me: ‘Are you sure today’s session is right? It says 2 miles easy, 15 miles at 5.45 minute per mile pace, 2 miles easy. That sounds very long and very fast in the middle…..!’
Coach: ‘That’s correct. If you think that’s fast then you shouldn’t be doing elite middle distance duathlon and will get a shock at the Europeans’
Pause (me thinking things over).
New text from coach: ‘Just get out there and do it’.
Me: ‘OK boss’
So, I dutifully got out there and did it. And smashed it! I ended up doing 5.38 minute miles on the grass for the middle 15 miles and came up fine the next day. I would never have dreamt of doing a session that long and hard. Coach has pushed my limits and expectations so much over the winter. Some of the brick sessions have been bonkers! Bonkers good. Obviously.
As well as pushing your limits, a good coach will know your physiology as well as you do. On Sunday night I gave some feedback to my coach saying my legs were pretty tired after a monster session two days before. I was very surprised to wake up on Monday, log into Training Peaks and find a 3hour ride with 60minutes of L3 and 36 minutes of 3mins L5/3mins high L3. In short: a tough session. I phoned him and he told me that because I’m not running (injured foot) my recovery will be much quicker. He signed off saying, ‘Just get out there and do it’. Obviously!
My legs were tired at the start and I was filled with a fair bit of dread and uncertainty.., would I get that ‘green’ on the Training Peaks App? At that point, I very much doubted it! I got through the 30 minute warm up, then the 60mins L3 and started the 36 minute block of hard efforts. My plan was to take them one by one and bail when I couldn’t hit the numbers.
I got a couple done, then a couple more and then only had two more to do. The penultimate rep is always the one to push on; the final one you can get through because it’s the last effort and you can empty the tank. I pushed it and not only hit the numbers but exceeded them.
I got a very satisfying green on Training Peaks when the ride uploaded. I reminded myself never to question the coach! He was spot on and knew I could hit those numbers.
So, in May, after a full-on winter and spring I found myself on the start line in Viborg for the European Elite Champs in the form of my life. However, the input of the coach does not just end with your physiological development. A good coach also helps you with your race strategy and most importantly, your self-belief.
For me, lining up alongside the legends of Powerman is an honour. Considering my age and how much I put these guys on an unreachable pedestal when I first started out all those years ago, I am pleased to make the start line with them! It would be easy to be satisfied with qualifying for the elite GB team and simply being alongside them in the elite race.
But my coach had other ideas. ‘We haven’t spent a winter doing what we did just to turn up. Your numbers are great. Who cares who they are? Go out and have a go. You can beat them.’ This sort of talk is hugely inspiring and motivating.
The run legs are my strength and he wanted me to go out and push the pace from the start. This is quite an intimidating thing to do given the company and the fact that after the first (hilly) 10k comes a 60km bike and then a repeat of the 10k run. But with the confidence coach put in me, I went out hard from the start.
After the bike leg I was in 8th. Would I run ‘sh*t’ like I did at the Ballbuster in November or would that hard training have paid off? Luckily, it was the latter and I ran off the bike like I have never done before, picking off athletes as I went. In the end I crossed the line in 4th.
This result blew my mind! Not bad for a 37-year-old teacher, dad and husband, especially given the quality of the field. Yes, my parents have clearly given me some decent genes, but my coach has a HUGE part to play in this. Quite simply, without his guidance and support over the years, I wouldn’t have got anywhere near my potential and would not have had as much enjoyment along the way either.
If you’re serious about improving in triathlon, duathlon or running, you should certainly consider getting a coach!