In 2012 when I trained for my first Ironman I decided to employ the services of a professional coach to help with my training plan. I learnt a lot and looking back I feel it was definitely money well spent.
2 years on and I am about 6 weeks out from my next ironman distance event - a good time to reflect on my decision to ask Coach Mike Porteous from ZigZagAlive to assist me with my training plan this time round.
I have known Mike for a few years both as a friend and fellow member of my local triathlon Club. He has helped me improve my swim technique so it seemed an obvious choice to ask his advice in relation to my overall fitness goals.
I do consider myself as a bit of a seasoned triathlete who has previously learnt a decent amount from the very structured approach that I was exposed to the first time around. At the time it involved some initial testing and individual sessions, listed on Training Peaks in advance, detailing exactly what should be done that day, which was probably the best way to go. It placed the responsibility of my training firmly with my Coach to tweak and fine-tune as he felt necessary based on the feedback I provided via Training Peaks and a few meetings / e-mail exchange.
When I sat down with Mike for that introductory session the approach was somewhat different. I did most of the talking, he asked a lot of open questions to probe into my background - it was more like a SWOT analysis - as he carefully listened to what I believed were my strengths, weaknesses, threats to meeting my season goals and opportunities to improve and enjoy the experience this second time around.
Once Mike felt he had a good understanding of my overall fitness, strengths, weaknesses, goals, ambitions and general personality and commitments (family, work and health related) he got to work on a plan of action.
After a few days I was sent the plan by e-mail together with an invitation to meet for coffee to discuss further. I was pleasantly surprised that it didn't dictate what individual sessions I must do this week or the next but was more of a strategy document covering the months ahead and providing guidance through the different phases of training - base, build, peak and taper.
Each phase had some sensible guidelines listed and mini goals to aim for and keep me motivated and moving in the right direction. It was simple to follow and you could clearly distinguish what was the goal for the week or 3-week cycle. Mike was not spoon-feeding me with individual sessions but educating me to focus on the mini goals that would help me to meet my bigger goals that would in turn give me the very best chance to complete my season goal(s) and have a great ‘A’ race experience.
One week my focus was on the bike and just a single ride, which enabled me to build aerobic endurance (hours in the saddle). Other weeks it was run/swim focus, then more about the recovery, ensuring I didn't over train and get injured. Within the phases there was other advice provided; whether it be to build the aerobic base (just get out there - quantity being the key driver), more intensity (shorter interval sets - quality over quantity) or during my current phase (peak) to compliment both quality / quantity into more race specific scenarios.
Attention was also given to weaknesses, especially during the base period, when we discussed swim technique, nutrition, transition, pacing etc. Mike was keen to back up the talking with a number of one-to-one coaching sessions in the pool, bike, trails or with a 3rd party - nutrition experts, specialists in stretching and core strength etc.
Although Mike was less interested in the day to day sessions and more the weekly goal he was always at the end of the phone or e-mail and occasionally would advise when he thought the session was not aligned to the weekly goal, i.e. decision to go on a 4-hour high intensity Group ride on a recovery week. In addition I enjoyed our regular face to face catch ups, normally in a coffee shop after a training session, when I could justify a nice bit of cake.
I must have re-read that original strategy document he originally produced 10x (at least) and still refer back to his wise words, making sure I am still on the right path.
So now I am on the last few weeks of peak training my thoughts are increasingly turning to race day and my strategy, especially around pacing, nutrition, time goals etc. I know Mike will be also interested in my final preparation and guiding me to the start line, so I feel 100% ready not just in the body but in the mind. At the moment my confidence is high and I feel the top-down plan will deliver, whatever the clock says when I cross the finish line on the day.
My interest in coaching has developed over the last few years from knowing very little and being spoon-fed my daily sessions to understanding some broader mini goals and aligning them to my main goal. Who knows what is next - I have certainly learnt a lot.
Actually, I do have a plan for the off-season, I am going to apply for Level 1 Coaching training myself; Mike has inspired me to develop my understanding and a deeper knowledge for this great sport.