Let’s face it. As much of a badass Jedi as Luke Skywalker was, he probably wouldn’t have made it out of the garbage pit and into The Empire Strikes Back without Yoda to teach him how to harness the power of The Force.
Star Wars references aside, one of the most interesting reactions I get from people when talking about my athletic endeavors is when I tell them that I have a triathlon and running coach. These reactions come in all forms and it seems to draw a lot of questions and confusion. Why? Who? What for? Isn’t it expensive? Can’t you do it on your own? And the list goes on and on. Regardless of the form of the question, the message is clearly there: most people either don’t understand or haven’t yet discovered the many benefits of having a coach.
The most common question I get is “why do you have a coach?”
This is a great question and one I had asked many athletes myself, as I am just an age grouper and only professionals need to be coached, right? In fact, I had never planned on hiring a coach until my husband recommended I do so at the beginning of last year. He said it would help me excel significantly and more rapidly in the sport, better understand the mechanics, physics, and overall science behind everything, and learn the “right” way to train and race. At that point I couldn’t possibly understand the value of having a coach until I actually worked with one.
There are so many factors involved in training, preparing for, and racing in one event. A coach would take all of these factors into account and would understand my goals, my daily life and schedule, my experience level, and what I hoped to accomplish in x amount of time. I would not have to waste precious energy worrying about what workout I am going to do when, and for how long, and at what intensity. The workouts on my schedule would be effective and doable, and would get me to where I eventually wanted to be.
I did my homework and after researching several local options I settled on Mike Larsen of Larsen Performance Coaching. Now that I have worked with Mike for almost a year, I get it. Swim-Bike-Run isn’t just a little hobby that I like to do from time to time. Running and triathlon are integral parts of my life and there would be a huge void without them. Because they are so important to me, nurturing and fueling them in a variety of ways is important. I want to learn. I want to grow. I want to be the best darn runner and triathlete that I am capable of being.
Having a coach has allowed me to build a deeper understanding of what I am doing. A treadmill is no longer just a place to people watch, read the latest gossip in Us Weekly, and sweat. A 20-mile run is no longer just a long run at whatever pace I feel like doing. Each workout, big and small, serves a purpose, whether it is to strengthen, build speed or endurance, or (surprisingly) to help me recover. Training has become this multidimensional concept instead of a straight and narrow line from point a to point b.
I also work better and even thrive off having structure and a plan. When Mike hands me my schedule for the next two, three, or four weeks, I get a rush of adrenaline. No joke. I know that it is good to focus on one workout, one day, one week at a time, but being able to see a schedule mapped out ahead of time allows me to mentally prepare and pump myself up. If you told me that I had to bike 80 miles tomorrow without warning, I would probably have a small panic attack and fake an injury. Ok, not really. But I would struggle and go through a lot of unnecessary emotions. If you told me that I had to bike 80 miles two weeks from today, I would get excited and start looking forward to the experience.
“I thought only professionals or elites had coaches. Are you trying to go pro?”
This is another question I get a lot, and the simple answer is “Heck no.” I know I will never be a professional runner or triathlete and I am perfectly okay with that. The person who loves to read, seeks out books. The person who loves to paint may never be Monet, but they may take art classes. The person who is passionate about playing guitar may never be Eric Clapton, but they might sign up for lessons in order to hone their skill. If it’s a definitive part of who you are and what you love to do, you always want more, and you look to others who possess greater knowledge, experience, and skills from which you can learn.
I know I never will be an elite runner, or pro triathlete, but that’s not what is important to me or why I put in the hard work. I do the work because it fulfills me in ways that nothing else can. Why wouldn’t I want to learn from someone who knows more than me, spend time around those who are better than me, teach and talk to those who want to realize more themselves, and seek out opportunities that may frighten me, but ultimately help me grow? Like this one – an epic 112-mile ride and awesome group of people who encouraged me from start to finish (coach is the one on the right, posing)!
“I don’t need someone to hold me accountable. I can do the work on my own.”
Trust me, I have no problem getting the work done. Some people need to be held accountable for their workouts, and struggle to do them without someone there making sure the work gets done. I have always been quite the opposite in that I am able to do all of my workouts with ease (for the most part) and actually need someone there to step on the brakes and tell me to slow down. I think people who are at either end of this spectrum would benefit considerably from a coach. A coach does NOT mean you can’t do it on your own. Only you and you alone are ultimately responsible for your training and performance.
As a newbie to triathlon, Mike helped me learn how to train properly from day one, and saved me the time of having to learn good techniques and best practices on my own. We sat down and set attainable goals. He taught be about building and recovery, and why both are equally important. If I would have trained on my own, I probably would have gone out in typical Kristen fashion and done every run, ride, or swim at 100 percent effort, without any notion of base building, speed work, or recovery. While this had worked in small doses in the past, it also had left me more susceptible to injury, being let down, or experiencing burnout. I believe that one of the reasons I was able to stay fit and healthy this entire year was because of structured workouts, balance, and time for recovery. It wasn’t about doing the work. It was making sure I did the work right.
“Why don’t you just pick up a book?”
The thought of having to pick up a book, understand how to apply what I am reading, and then go out and perform all on my own is stressful. It was also the first thing I did when I decided to sign up for a triathlon and purchased a copy of Joe Friel’s Triathlete’s Training Bible. There is A LOT of literature out there and every author seems to have the perfect plan for a particular target audience. However, because these authors do not know me on a personal level and can’t begin to understand my strengths and weaknesses, how could they know what the “right” plan for Kristen is? My coach is able to weave through my goals, understand my strengths and weaknesses right down to the mechanics, and provide a plan that is unique to me. With all due respect to Mr. Friel, he will never join me for a ride, meet me at the pool to swim, or answer my calls or text messages, whereas Mike is able to provide real-time feedback and help me to improve upon or correct mistakes that I make along the way.
Don’t get me wrong, I have my little collection of books that I go to from time to time, but my coach helps decipher basic fundamentals and communicates to me in ways that a book cannot. There are several different ways that people prefer to learn and I was always one of those who preferred sitting in a classroom, listening to the professor and seeing the visuals exaggerated in front of me.
“I can’t afford it.”
Triathlon is by no means a cheap sport. Whereas running just requires a pair of shoes and the ground beneath your feet, the gear and resources for triathlon can make you feel a little insane to be spending this kind of money to put yourself through mental and physical suffering. But I guarantee that most triathletes would say it’s worth it every dime. The one thing I have learned this year is that you have to be particular about where you invest your money. If you had asked me last year before I hired a coach, I would have wanted to put more money into a fancier bike or better accessories, thinking that the equipment alone would make me faster.
But in reality, now that I’ve worked with a coach, I have learned that the value of a bike diminishes without an athlete who knows what to do with it. Why pay hundreds of dollars to shave grams of weight off a bike or a second or two of time due to aerodynamics, when the proper coaching and training can help you get lighter, stronger, and faster at a fraction of the cost? If I am going to get better in this sport, my money is better spent developing the mental knowledge and tools that I will need to succeed under any conditions. When you are paying for a coach, you are paying for knowledge and tools that will last forever.
My advice to those who cannot afford a one-on-one coach is to actively seek out other ways you can connect with those who can help you in the sport. Whether that be through community training groups, masters swimming, clinics put on by your local running store, or a friend with a lot of expertise. It never hurts to make connections and ask questions!
All this being said, it’s not all about the coach.
My coach has been a mentor, someone I continue to look up to, and a great source of knowledge for me as I have transitioned into the sport of triathlon. I’d like to attribute many of my accomplishments and successes this past year to him, and give him all the credit, but as he quickly reminds me, it is the athlete who makes the coach’s job worthwhile. Anyone can hire a coach, but not everyone can accomplish what he or she has set out to do. It takes a lot of heart, a lot of grit, and a lot of time to chase after big goals and dreams. No one can do it for you. May The Force be with you.
“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs, ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”