>TriMadness Coaching Series – What Are My Self-Coaching Options?

>Over the past several weeks, we’ve examined the relationship coaching model. On Tuesday, we started to explore if being self-coached or using an off-the-shelf coaching product was right for you.

Today’s post is predicated upon the idea that you have decided to not hire a coach. What are your options and how can you best prepare yourself for your race? As I mentioned previously, when it comes to self-coaching, I think most folks actually purchase an off-the-shelf program (or obtain one somehow) and likely follow it fairly closely. Some folks may make modifications or change workout duration based upon their personal fitness level, mood or dislikes

The way that I’ll approach self-coaching and off-the-shelf coaching today is to spend a little time focusing on each. I’ll also try to give some information regarding source material that you could use to supplement your existing knowledgebase. I’ll reference a few off-the-shelf vendors in particular. Keep in mind that I have never personally used any of the off-the-shelf products that I mention below, therefore please don’t take the fact that I’ve mentioned them herein as a testimony to their effectiveness as plans.

True Self Coaching

I would describe true self coaching as a scenario wherein you personally write your own training program. Additionally, you may decide when to do fitness tests, diagnostic studies, and develop your own nutrition plan. In my mind, for the average athlete, this approach is the riskiest way to think about triathlon training. The likelihood of underperformance at a race feels to me to be spectacular. Of course, I don’t have a whole lot of empirical data to support that statement.

In order to be truly effective at designing your own training schedule and developing your own plans, it really pays to be well informed. Typically, former athletes (such as runners and swimmers) who are well attuned to the rigor of intense training make good self coaches. Likewise, folks who are educated in physiology, sports medicine, etc. are likely well prepared to formulate their own plans.

Don’t have that sort of training? I don’t believe it rules you out from being an effective self-coach; I just think it makes it more difficult to reach your optimal potential. How do you reach said potential? Well, the first step to gaining the requisite knowledge to formulate your own training plan is to soak up every ounce of information you can get your hands on. Read. Talk to people. Learn through observation. Learn experientially.

Network with other athletes. Learn how they approach training. Talk to them about mistakes they have made and what they have learned. Ask questions. Watch and emulate what works well.

Investing time in reading some of the many training articles and texts in circulation today is one way to build your knowledgebase. For example, in almost every edition magazines such as Triathlete and Inside Triathlon offer training tips. There are some really good books on the market that can help you learn about periodization, intensity levels, training blocks, training with power, and so on. (I’ll be reviewing one of these books, Your Best Triathlon by Joe Friel next week).

Is it possible to be an effective self-coach? Absolutely. There are literally tons of athletes that self-coach, and are dang fast too. My recommendation is if you’re going to take this approach, don’t take on the mantle too loosely. Invest the right amount of time to plan out your full season – or at least the time leading up to your next big race, plus some transition time following.

Off-the-Shelf Coaching

Whereas Self Coaching is very true to the term coaching, Off-the-Shelf coaching really falls somewhere in between Self Coaching and Relationship Coaching.

Typically, with Off-the-Shelf coaching, an athlete follows either a free training program or a relatively low-cost program centered on a particular race or event distance. For example, many people competing in their first Olympic distance triathlon will download a specific training program to help them prepare for that particular race.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with following this approach. This style of coaching works for lots and lots of people. The only caveat is that you must be aware of what you’re getting. To be completely honest, some plans are more robust than others.

For example, many Off-the-Shelf plans give only recommendations in terms of time one should spend training for a particular event on a particular day. For example: Monday, swim 45 minutes. Tuesday, bike an hour. Wednesday, run 30 minutes. While for some (especially first-time triathletes) this approach might be acceptable, this approach really understates the training – specifically the intensity – that must be done to optimally perform in a race.

There are plans in the marketplace that do speak to intensity, and further give tips on nutrition, race strategy, and overall mental preparedness. I’d urge you to look for plans with much more in terms of detail than some of the “freebie” plans you’ll find on the internet or via some of the magazines.

No Training Plan Napster

You may remember Napster – the music file sharing website that was insanely popular a few years ago. Basically, people would upload music and share it with others for free.

Unfortunately, there’s no such distribution channel for triathlon training plans.

The good news is that there’s a plethora of websites where one can find a solid Off-the-Shelf training plan.

Revolution 3 Triathlon offers a unique approach. Anyone who signs up for one of their races is entitled to a free training program for that race. This is certainly a unique feature of this race series, and one not duplicated by the “other” big race promoter. Rev3 additionally offers more detailed plans that includes more targeted training tips, guidance on intensity and nutrition advice for $120-140, depending upon race distance.

There are literally thousands of websites that offer training plans. A Google search for “free triathlon training plans” rendered more than 750,000 results. Many of the results advertise free or very low cost plans from sites such as http://www.trinewbies.com/, http://www.active.com/, http://www.trifuel.com/, and others.

Detailed below are just a couple of additional examples of websites that offer training programs – some free, some not so free:

BeginnerTriathlete.com. This site actually has a multitude of free training programs that include good direction on intensity. For example, one workout from the Beginners ½ Ironman training program swim workout reads as follows: “warm up 300 continuous. Slowly increase pace after each 100. Main set: 20 x 50 yds. Odds at RPE 3, evens at RPE 9!” You can access additional detailed training plans by becoming a member of the website (price ranges from $60 to $170 for a 14 month membership)

Markallenonline.com. This site offers fairly detailed plans for all race distances. The interesting thing about this off-the-shelf program is that you purchase the plan by weeks (for roughly $30 per week – 6 week advance payment, then remaining can be paid weekly) instead of getting the entire plan all at once. The “Peak Performance Program” offers training that takes athletes through three training blocks – base, speed and taper.

The Best Mix

While that subtitle sounds just like what an Adult Contemporary radio station would use to describe its music selection, it might better describe what I’d say is my personal history with Self-Coaching and Off-the-Shelf coaching.

You see, I started with a purchased plan. Except that I didn’t purchase it myself. A friend shared with me his training plan. I followed it religiously, except for when I didn’t. Over time, I found workouts that worked, and some that didn’t. I changed those that didn’t work and kept that I liked. Has this approach been effective for me? Well, that’s debatable. Judging from my race times, you probably could say heck no. Be that what it may (I’m not fast), I have competed in (term used loosely) triathlons of every race distance. And finished them. I’ve had bumps in the road, some success, but a lot of fun.

Many folks take the same approach. They purchase a plan and then tweak it. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. Is that the correct approach for everyone? Well, that’s not my call to make.

A Summation

As I noted in the very first article in this series, I am not a coached athlete. I haven’t used a coach since I ran track and cross country in high school (eons ago). For the longest time, I’ve been pretty opposed to using a coach. Frankly, the rationale behind that rested squarely upon the financial aspects of hiring a coach.

Has my opinion changed? Do I believe in the value of hiring a coach? Will I continue to stay self-coached? All good questions. Suffice it to say that my opinion of coaching in general has changed. I absolutely see value in having a coach. Having someone else figure out the best approach to training for a race is very appealing to me. I’m not sure that I need (or want) the accountability aspects associated with having a coach – but that’s part of the package deal. All this said, I totally believe that one can properly train for a race via either the Self-Coaching or Off-the-Shelf coaching styles.

The beauty of the coaching dynamic is that it’s an individual thing. Meaning, it’s up to you to decide which way you want to go.

Hopefully, through reading this series you find yourself just a little bit more informed as to your options. I welcome your feedback on the series (did you like it, find it informative, find it full of crap, etc).  Would you like to read similar series on an ongoing basis?  What are some other topics you’d like to read about?  Please leave a thought or comment (or click on the Contact Me page and drop me an email).

Thanks for reading.

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2 thoughts on “>TriMadness Coaching Series – What Are My Self-Coaching Options?

  1. >The series has been a great read – I'm sure there are loads of people thinking about the pros/cons of hiring a coach, me included. Your analysis has convinced me of what I suspected, which is I'm best suited to the self-coached model – at least for now when I'm competing in short distance tris. I may well change my mind if/when I step up to long distance.Couple of resources I've found useful (most obvious): Triathlete's Training Bible (Friel) – great for background and theory; Time Cruched Triathlete (Carmichael) – great for a high intensity on/off programme for short distanceTrainingpeaks.com – great for those like me that need the structure of defined intensity workouts but need to keep fitting it round a busy schedule, I use it to keep myself accountable for doing the workouts I've scheduled.

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