In September 2016, shortly before I signed up to the 2017 TAWR, I was cycling simply for pleasure and to improve general fitness. Once I’d committed to the 2017 race I knew I was going to need to raise my game so I began studying online articles and generic training plans. It wasn’t long before I concluded that this approach wasn’t going to be as effective as I wanted, there were just too many variables and too many opinions.
Virtually every, if not all, serious athletes in any sport employ coaches. There’s a reason for that, coaching is proven to improve any athletes performance.
Just because you or I are “lowly” amateurs of varying ages, ambition, experience and levels of ability doesn’t mean we don’t deserve or won’t benefit from coaching. If you’re planning to complete an endurance race such as the TAWR then make no mistake you are, or swiftly need, to become an “athlete”.
The race itself maybe unsupported but in the run up to it you are going to benefit from all the support you can muster to encourage you to keep getting the quality training hours in alongside all your other distractions, demands and responsibilities.
Having a coach setting my training plans, analysing my performance numbers and offering feedback has really helped with my focus, commitment, sense of direction and confidence. I always know he’s watching. If I skip a training ride, I’ll have to explain and it’s not often that I do.
The only downside with coaching is the expense. To get the best from it you absolutely need a costly power meter and of course you must also pay for the coaches ongoing time and expertise. It’s a luxury for sure but coaching will likely yield far greater advantages than buying a new bike for the event or costly, high end, ultra light components. £100 a month or less will get you well coached. That level of expense could be recovered by other lifestyle adjustments such as buying fewer posh coffees and less or no alcohol.
Finding your coach
I used Training Peaks’s find a coach service. Training Peaks was founded by Joe Friel author of “The Cyclists’ Training Bible” and many other excellent books. I was already familiar with his work and I respect the balanced, deeply researched and measured approach that he brings to any subject he tackles. The Training Peaks service is highly regarded and widely used by many top athletes and teams. There are other options of course but with Training Peaks you can pretty confident your getting one of the very best packages.
Multi day, solo, endurance riding is a tiny, niche, aspect within the global sport of cycling. Few coaches will have had any experience with working with such athletes so you are going to need a coach that is genuinely interested, understanding, adaptable and truly prepared to really think about what you’re trying to achieve.
Training Peaks introduced me to Martin Burrows from KOM Coaching. Martin has 20 or so years of coaching experience, is highly qualified and a pleasure to work with. He recognises that coaching is an art and that every athlete is unique with differing strengths, weaknesses and goals. He focuses flexibly on what you need at any given time rather than any hard and fast preconceived agenda of his own. A periodised training plan is initially tailored to your circumstances and created with the target of having you arrive at your chosen event as ready as you can be. This is then further refined and adjusted along the way.
I’ve asked Martin to share his perspective on the subject.
” Chris has touched on some of the many benefits of a having a coach. There are lots of great coaches out there, so I thought it might be useful to offer some advice on how to choose the right coach for you.
One of the main benefits to having a coach is that they can be objective. Instead of you trying to make sense of the data and trying to look at the bigger picture whilst in the midst of a tough training programme, a coach has the advantage of looking from the outside in. This brings with it a sense of perspective which is sometimes impossible to see from the inside. Choose a coach who not only has the knowledge and experience needed to analyse your training sessions and performances, but also knows when to push you a little harder, when to advise you to ease back, who can offer support when you come up against set backs or things that don’t quite pan out as you expected, and who can show you the positives and where you are improving when you can’t quite see it yourself.
There are lots of training plans freely available on the internet. These may work well for some people some of the time – if they follow them exactly. However they can’t possibly take into account a riders training history or potential, their work and family commitments, or adapt to unforeseen circumstances like illness or other reasons that a training session – or several sessions – are not completed.
A good coach will take all of these things into account to ensure that a training plan is personalised and the rider gets the most out of it.
A great coach will do all of these things and be prepared to adapt a riders training plan to suit everything about them, to change things when the unforeseen happens or life just gets in the way, and also to recognise that individuals respond differently to training. A great coach will work hard to create training sessions and plans that enable an individual to improve where it counts most in the pursuit of their specific goals and in a way that suits them best. A great coach has a whole ‘box of tools’ and the creativity needed to design a variety of sessions and plans that bring about the desired training effects in a way that suits the individual rider.
In the case of Chris, a drastic change in work commitments this year has necessitated a drastic change in the approach we’re taking to his training. Simply saying ‘you need to find x number of hours to train’ is just not going to work. I work hard to adapt and redesign Chris’ training sessions and plan to ensure that whatever is going on around him he continues to get stronger and faster and move closer to his goals.
Find a coach that is flexible in their approach and has the knowledge, skills and creativity to ensure that your training plan is truly personalised, giving you the very best chance to succeed in your goals.
Coach athlete relationship
This really is the key to it all. Just like any relationship, some people get along or work together better than others, and just like any good relationship you both need to work on it. For your part, you need to communicate regularly so that your coach knows how easy or difficult each session was. Did you struggle on some parts? Were other sections easier than you expected? All the numbers in the world can’t show the whole picture. Tell your coach how it felt so that your coach can put the last pieces of the jigsaw into place. Only then can your coach ensure that you are working on the right things, that you get the most out of each session and devise a plan to help you train smart and reach your goals. Help your coach to help you!
So, the key to it all, in one word? Communication! “
Thank you Mr Burrows.