Many people, when they hear that I work with a triathlon/running coach, assume that I am some kind of fierce, elite athlete. No, no, not exactly. A 4:30 marathon is not elite, to say the least. So this raises the question: why have a coach, if I’m just in this for my own satisfaction and enjoyment? Why not train myself?
This question is especially interesting to me, since one thing that I do when I’m not making chocolate treats, working on nuclear things, or training for that little race in August, is coach synchronized swimming.
Given that background, I have many, many answers to this question, but today, I’m going to focus on just one: A coach can, and should, provide an outside evaluation and perspective, allowing the athlete to set and work towards appropriate goals, which will ultimately help you enjoy your training and competitions even more.
Take those athletes in the picture up there. They won the 2011 Junior South Zone Team title – an event that was open to 13-18 year old swimmers from across the southeastern U.S. (Texas to Florida to Maryland and everywhere in between). It was something that our coaching staff told them over and over was a possibility. It was something they doubted several times. It was a reach, but having it in sight made them work and ultimately made it happen.
Now that sounds easy, right? Just tell somebody they can do something, and they’ll make it happen.
Not exactly. As I noted above, the coach has to help the athlete set appropriate goals. If we’d gone and said “You can win Junior Nationals this year,” they would have known it wasn’t possible and would have given up immediately. Conversely, if we’d said “You can get 3rd place at Junior Zones,” it wouldn’t have been enough of a reach, and wouldn’t have pushed them to work towards their potential. The athletes can’t really do this alone, since they lack outside perspective and an ability to assess objectively.
And in this respect, I’m no different from the teenage swimmers I coach – it’s hard for me to assess my current fitness level, training performance, and talent level and develop realistic but challenging goals. This became very evident to me at our track workout last Wednesday, when 8 800s were on tap. I had a concept of how fast my threshold and aerobic capacity 800s were based on previous track workouts. For reference, here are some times:
9/14: 3x800: 4:41-4:35-4:32 (workout: 3200-1600-3x800)
10/26: 1x800: 4:10 (workout: 1600-1200-800-400)
12/21: 5x800: 4:17-4:15-4:13-4:16-4:10 (workout: 5x800)
1/4: 4x800: 4:25-4:18-4:21-4:25 (workout: 4x400-(recover)-800)
1/18: 2x800: 4:00/4:01 (workout: 1600-2x800)
So when I went a 4:03 on the first one, I was pleased, even though it seemed just a bit fast. Then, the following conversation took place:
Coach: What was your time?
Coach: Pretty good. Try to get down to sub-4 by the end
Hm. The first one didn’t exactly feel easy, but it wasn’t that far above 4:00. So, if I let up on a couple, I can re-start a descent down to sub-4 by the end.
800 #2: Ah, OK, a nice steady pace. Now I’ll have something to drop down from.
800 #3: Alright, now I’m stuck doing all of these sub-4. But there’s enough rest that I can eek out 3:59s for most of them.
800 #4: This hurts more than a little bit. Sub 4 for 8 800s is ridiculous.
800 #5: This hurts, but obviously I don’t need to push that hard to go sub-4. Thanks, coach, for believing in me!
3:59 (Oops. Slacker)
800 #6: This would be a ridiculous point to stop gunning for sub-4s. Obviously my coach knows what she’s talking about, so just run and push through.
3:55 (There we go)
800 #7: Only two more to go. I WILL go all sub-4. I WILL.
800 #8: Go go go just finish it fast. Nothing to go after this. 1:57 at the 400! I’m on this!
So was it a failure? I suppose in a way, since I wasn’t sub-4 at the end. But that was a LOT of sub-4 work in there, so ultimately, my coach pushed me to go faster by suggesting that I could, but didn’t suggest I go for some ridiculous time I’d not even bother to try for.
Cool, isn’t it?
I mentioned this in my weekly training summary email to her on Monday, and her reply was:
“Yes, your track workouts HAVE gotten a lot better. Now we need to translate that to pace goals for your weekend long runs, which I’ve noted in your training schedule this week.”
Yeah. About that goal setting thing…I guess it’s never over, you can always get better.
Not a bad thing, of course. Which is why everybody can benefit from coaching if you understand the role they can play in shaping (and subsequently achieving) you goals.