A get about an e-mail a day from someone asking for advice on topic XYZ or gizmo ZYX. I’m always happy to help anyone who e-mails me – so feel free to keep the questions coming! Every once in a while that e-mail triggers fodder for a post…
Thus…a while back I got this e-mail from a peep:
“I’m in the midst of searching for a training coach this winter and would be interested in a finding out a bit more about your selection process. And if you can recommend any coaches in the DC area. Might make for an interesting blog now that the season’s ending and you’ve hit all your goals?… “
So, how did I choose my coach? Well, first we have to go back to the coach before the current coach (around Feb 2008). We’ll call him Coach #1.
I chose him after I stumbled upon some of his posts on Trifuel.com – a forum for triathletes.
After reading Coach #1’s website I contact him and eventually met up with him for a session to discuss the upcoming season. After discussing it with him he seemed really on top of things and had numerous books/DVD’s/etc to back it up – along with some very reputable accolades. And he talked a good game.
So I started training under him. My workouts were hard – and thus I thought that I was on target. Training hard = results, right? However I soon noticed I didn’t get very fast/frequent feedback from him. He wasn’t actually looking at my workout data – but rather just sending me workouts. And it often took him days to answer e-mails or phone calls. My patience grew thin. I was paying a fair chunk of change to have a coach and he wasn’t responding. So after a while…I fired him. I won’t name names, because that would be rude. You know – kinda like the same kinda rude as not responding to e-mails or phone calls.
Here’s what I learned from this. Just because a coach has a few pros and some DVD’s released, it doesn’t mean they care about current athletes. In this case I was simply a low-effort stream of revenue. A name on a checklist. Despite his website saying he’d respond instantly – he didn’t. Days would go by. In the ‘workout world’ – that’s a long time. In my profession, that would be considered absurd.
So, about the time (April 2008) I was getting fed up with Coach #1 I stumbled into a dude at the pool I swim at that used to be coached by Coach #1. He asked how I liked him and I relayed my issues. He once was coached by #1 as well and agreed, and suggested a new guy that he was working with. So I gave #2 a call. #2 also knew #1 and had once worked with him. He understood all my issues. After talking with him on the phone for more than an hour, I started filling out some of the paperwork on my flight out to Wildflower (Half-Iron) last year. I hadn’t technically started with him yet.
I knew he was a good coach though when about 30 minutes after I finished that race I had already received a call and e-mail from him regarding my finish time at the race. Again, I hadn’t even started with him yet. Seriously.
I started with #2 a few days later – and in many ways started over. I had to accept that the workouts went from ‘hard’ to ‘not as hard’. I had trust him in revamping my schedule and my weekly routine. But I did. And he communicated. EVERY DAY I receive e-mails from him. I upload my workouts to Training Peaks every day, and within a few minutes or hours I’ll receive detailed feedback on the workout including where I went wrong – or right.
He’s not afraid to say things like:
“:40 Z3 versus :05 Z3 is a lot more than a bit and was time not spend towards achieving your goals.”
But also more than happy to send feedback like this:
“Workout looks really good. :):):):) Your heart rate on the 800s looks very encouraging for a PR half…”
They key thing is constant communication. He watching my daily resting heart rate, sleep and workouts and adjusting the schedule as required. He’s available for a phone call or e-mail. And most importantly – he understands the sport at an incredibly in-depth level. He’s taught me that going hard all the time isn’t valuable (as you can see above). And the importance of recovery and rest. And how to race.
For every race he gives me a detailed race plan calling out each section of the race with where I should be in HR/speed/etc. And that’s led to some very solid results for last year.
Of course, that takes time. He started off fairly cautious with race plans. But as he gathered (and stored) more and more of my data he’s been able to really refine a race strategy that leaves nothing left at the end of the race (depending on the schedule of course).
In the end – I can’t be happier with my coach. He doesn’t have a fancy website – or a website at all for that matter. He’s purely by referral and a small USAT bio (Coach Alan Melvin in Springfield, VA). He rarely mentions his other athletes (he doesn’t have many, and is full for this year), so I don’t feel like I’m just ‘another body’. He doesn’t have a fancy newsletter or advertisements. None at all in fact. But he does have a hell of a lot of triathlon experience with a lot of very successful athletes.
Advice on Picking a Coach:
So here’s my consolidated advice on getting/picking a coach:
Coaches can be useful for all levels, but in particular if you’re trying to push your limits some or just starting out.
While I’m very techno-focused and a website would normally be considered a requirement for me – I’ve found that word of mouth is much more important.
Sit down with the coach and talk about your goals, his/her current schedule of other athletes, and where you fit it.
Shoot e-mails to them at random times – how quick do they respond? When are they available? Can you call them at 6PM on Friday and say “My pool just closed early, what should I do instead?” and get an answer? I can (and have).
Don’t be afraid to cut the cord if they suck. I waited about 3 months. I should have cut it at two weeks. Give it a few weeks – but people don’t change behavior beyond that. It’s just the reality of humans.
More expensive is not better. I now pay 1/3rd of what I pay before.
Having a former pro doesn’t mean better either. Some of the best coaches were never super-competitive in their sport – but rather they understand how to coach vs how to race.
Internet coaches can work really well. While mine is local and I spend a lot of time with him in the pool – almost everything else is virtual. I upload data to Training Peaks, and he e-mails or phones me back. Determine what you want out of a coach.
Finally, you can look for coaches here – but I’d recommend asking around. When you go to the pool, most coached athletes have workouts printed out at the end of their lanes. Ask them. Post on your local tri boards or go to a few happy hours with folks. People are more willing to say “John Doe sucks” in person than in a post somewhere. And conversely you can chat with someone for quite a while about a good coach.
Hope this helps!