Triathlon is coming around to that as a sports culture, but it’s still a ways away from having it be a given that if you are going to compete in a triathlon the first thing to do is to line up your coaching. And if you think about it, what more important sport to have the guidance of a coach than one where three different disciplines are required!
Triathlons started as a sport defined by a purely individual effort and a solo journey. More importantly in the first nearly two decades of the sport there were no coaches who knew how to combine swimming, cycling and running into one solid performance at a triathlon. Yes, there were experts in each of the three sports. But meshing it all together without completely cooking an athlete was something the pioneers of the sport new better how to do than anyone.
Today is different! Triathlon is finally on the upswing as far as athletes first and foremost engaging coaches. If you don’t have a coach you might be asking yourself why you should pay for someone to coach you when there’s so much free information out there on the web? Here are a few really good ones why a coach is so valuable.
If you have a particular training philosophy that you think is best, you’ll be able to find countless free articles about how great that approach is, regardless of whether or not it is actually the best approach! A great coach is someone you can count on to have sifted through every training paradigm, separated out the useless and kept the effective.
Popular does not necessarily make one approach better than another either. In fact, often popular is going to be the latest new idea on how to train that is different than what has been popular in the previous four or five years.
Again, a new approach doesn’t guarantee it’s going to be effective. In fact, from the experience I’ve had training and coaching for over thirty-five years, I’ve seen that the latest coaching and training craze is often an old approach that went by the wayside years ago and is now making a comeback dressed up in new technology. A coach with years of experience is going to see this, and again take what does work and keep using it and not get wowed by the cool factor for something that doesn’t really work the way it promises to. If it did, it wouldn’t have lost its luster.
It was extremely popular for the first years of triathlon. People trained hard all the time. They got fast quickly, but then burned out. Triathlon is physiologically an endurance event, even in a sprint triathlon. Finally training to develop the fat burning aerobic physiology took hold with great results. That is what won me 6 IRONMAN World Championship titles. I did lots of aerobic work and then just the right amount of true speedwork.
But suddenly high intensity has surged back. HIIT workouts are the craze. Short on time, just train harder! Unfortunately it doesn’t work in the long haul of triathlons. And a great coach will save you from the pitfalls of it: injury, illness, burnout and just not having a lot of fun!
A great coach will be so worth engaging to ensure that all those other expenses don’t end up in a poor race and an unsatisfying experience.
Having a coach is about helping you train wisely and being there to give you the best experience possible in your triathlon journey. They guide you in what to do in your training. A coach is your accountability to help keep you on track with it. They are your sounding board for questions and someone you can turn to for support when things aren’t going the way you had hoped. Your coach is a mentor, a guide, a support system and a friend.
I didn’t have the luxury of hiring a triathlon coach when I raced. The sport was too young. I did have individual sport coaches advising me, but then I had to modify what each of them wanted me to do so that I didn’t get overwhelmed by the training. My true coaches were the training partners that I worked out with all the time. Guys like Scott Tinley, Scott Molina, Mike Pigg and Ken Souza. We brainstormed together and combined our overall knowledge so that we all did better.
As a kid I was on a swim team. From that I know the indispensable value of having a coach. We are slowing working in that direction in triathlons. But as I mentioned the sport came from kind of a winging it individual approach in the early days. Everyone was just supposed to somehow know what to do to get ready for racing.
A coach helps you shorten that knowledge curve and avoid the mistakes that are easy to make and even easier to avoid. A great coach is the objective voice and guide to help push you when that is needed and to get you to back off guilt-free when that is the call. Your coach can’t do the work for you, but your coach can be the one to help guide you in just the right way so that every step taken in your triathlon journey is the best possible.
I am the Founder and CEO at Mark Allen Coaching. I am proud to have been voted in an ESPN global poll "The Greatest Endurance Athlete Of All Time." During my multi-sport career I won the Ironman Triathlon World Championship six time, the inaugural Triathlon World Championship at the Olympic Distance in Avignon, France, and at one point in my career I won 21 straight races across every derivation and distance. It was a great career, but that's all it would ever be unless I was able to share all of the experience and methodology we invented long before smart watches, power meters, and flashy uniforms. That's why I started Mark Allen Coaching, as a way to return to others at least the part of the gifts I received.