If you have been following my blog for a while, you know that for the past year I have been working with a coach who has helped me excel in the sport of triathlon and attain new PRs in distance running. With the news of my pregnancy back in January, I wasn’t sure what the dynamic would be or how he would continue to “coach” me through pregnancy. I was now on a big fitness rollercoaster, unpredictable, and veering in a completely different direction toward slower speeds and less structure.
I have learned that one of the often overlooked but very important qualities of a good coach is versatility and being able to adapt to each athlete’s unique circumstances. Sure we all want someone to put together our training program, interpret our performance data, provide race strategies, etc. But what about when we are sick or injured, busy with work, just having a really emotional day, or become pregnant?
Most multi-sport coaches have extreme Type A personalities, and mine is no exception. He can be pretty intense and hardcore at times, as he coaches a lot of talented athletes (a majority of which are men) with very lofty goals.
One example of this intensity was a crash he took during a recent ride. Most of us would curse at our bike like a sailor, hobble to the shoulder of the road, call for someone to pick us up, and take a few hard earned days to recover. Mike is not like most of us, and his wife summed it up on Facebook with the following post:
“Only my husband…crashes on his bike, comes home to clean his many nasty wounds and then heads back out to complete the 56 mile loop. In my book that is as hard core as it gets. (And maybe as dumb…)”
I rest my case. But Mike is also a husband and a father, so it was really encouraging to me when he was able to quickly shift gears and accommodate his new “pregnant” client. To see a softer side in him was a pleasant surprise, and one that I might not have been expecting.
While his role as a coach and my role as one of his coached athletes are both taking on different meanings for the time being, I have found it very beneficial and uplifting at times to hear his advice and encouragement as I faced many of the changes that pregnancy brought to my training. What I needed most was mental encouragement, emotional support, and a realistic and manageable training schedule that could be adjusted as need be.
Emotional support? From a guy who crashes his bike in the middle of a 56-mile loop, cleans up the blood and rocks and gravel and sweat, and then heads back out to complete the ride? Mike was able to provide me with all of these, which is one of the reasons I have thrived while training through pregnancy and have been able to maintain my fitness to the best of my ability. He wasn’t coaching me to break records or compete at a high level. He was coaching me so I could continue doing something I love through a time of significant change.
Obviously at this time in my life I am not doing any fitness testing or training to improve, get faster, or even compete, though I’m pretty sure I placed first in the preggo category and the baby placed first in the fetus division at the Salmon Run recently. This has probably been the most challenging part of the pregnancy, as these things are ingrained in my blood and I love working hard and seeing results. My mind and body have had to relearn how to communicate and work with one another.
My coach said something to me a couple weeks ago that really resonated and made me re-evaluate this year off during pregnancy. He reminded me that I had just put my body through a really solid, hard year of training and racing, and this might be an optimal time for my body to take some time off to rest, regroup, and ready itself for what’s to come next (not just the baby, but training and goals). “Base miles,” he said. “The time you have now is all about working on those base miles.”
I love this mentality for a number of reasons.
1) It gives meaning to what I am doing, beyond just staying healthy and enjoying a sport I love. Every mile that I run or ride (let’s not talk about swimming for now), regardless of how fast or how far, still matters in the grand, long-term scheme of training and racing.
2) It means I don’t have to worry about speed and intensity, or get down about the fact that I can’t do what I know my body is capable of. Athletes train in cycles and are more apt to train at higher levels of intensity when a race is on the horizon. Because I don’t have a race to focus on for the time being, there is no reason to put my body through the rigors of difficult workouts.
3) It gives me time to work on other minor things – like form, technique, etc. – that often get overlooked when the focus is on speed, strength, endurance, etc.
4) I am reminded of the importance of building a resilient, strong base. You can’t build a house of cards, or any structure for that matter, without setting a foundation and building a solid base. This is the element of training that requires the most time, and all I have right now is time, so I guess I’ll just lay bricks for now and enjoy the scenery.
My coach knows that I am someone who thrives off of setting and pursuing goals, particularly those that are a little challenging, but not completely out of reach. When I mentioned to him that I really didn’t have any goals for the Bend Half Marathon, he was quick to ask me “why not?” My response was rather unassuming and I simply reminded him that I am pregnant. His response…
“There’s no reason why you shouldn’t have a goal for this race. Use this time to focus on strategy and pace. I want you to go out there and try to run the second half of the race faster than the first, no matter what that means for pacing strategy. This is something you have never done before. I think if you can finish this race with a negative split, feeling strong during those last few miles, you will be really happy with yourself.”
This was a good reminder that no matter what obstacles, setbacks, or challenges we are facing, we can always place goals in our path that will inspire us to work harder, dig deeper, and strive for individual moments of victory. My husband wrote about this concept in a previous blog post called “How do you eat an elephant?” that talked about creating a number of little “finish lines” within a triathlon to help make the bigger goal feel more attainable. Goals are exciting, and I don’t think anyone has ever met or surpassed one without feeling a sense of joy or pride. I love the idea of running a half marathon, five months pregnant, and still feeling as though I accomplished a goal I have yet to attain – beyond just running a marathon, five months pregnant. ☺
The Bend Half Marathon is my last scheduled race, after which I will no longer need coaching until the baby is here and I begin to re-visit my Ironman and Boston Marathon goals. It’s a little bittersweet because my coach has been a strong source of inspiration and strength for me during the past year and thus far through my pregnancy, including his advice on setting some goals for this race and beyond.
If I can focus on pace and meet the goal of a negative split, that in and of itself will be something I have never done before. Yes, I may be slower, but at least I’m still growing and discovering new fundamentals of what it is to be an athlete, which is something we all benefit from.
Maybe it’s not your fastest race. Maybe it’s not your best effort. Maybe you could have given more or gone harder. Maybe. But regardless, did you practice, focus on, or meet any of your goals? Even one? Because that DOES matter. It’s progress. This is all progress.
What are some small goals that you are currently working to achieve?
What do you believe are the most important qualities of a great coach? If you have never had a coach, how do you think one could benefit you the most?