Confessions of a Coaching-Averse Athlete

My journey in triathlon has been a series of steps over decades.  It all started in my teens when I watched the NBC coverage of the Ironman World Championships every year in total awe.  In my mid-20’s, I met Mike and became full-immersed in triathlon life as a supporter.  In my late 20’s, I finally took steps towards MAYBE possibly trying triathlons myself by learning how to swim properly (Wait, you’re supposed to put your face in the water and exhale?).  Finally, by my early 30’s, I was ready to sign up for my first triathlon. 

Mike was 7 years into triathlons when I was just beginning, so I used him as my resource for all things triathlon.  Mike is a bit of a loner and treated triathlons as a solitary endeavor.  As my resource and de facto coach, I adopted his philosophy regarding the sport.  That meant, aside from consulting him, and Coach Google, I was training by myself.    

 Tri training is more fun with friends!

Tri training is more fun with friends!

Being a DIY triathlete was perfect for me at the beginning, because I really needed to build confidence in myself as I learned about this new sport.  And, I think I was pretty successful, all things considered.  I finished in the top third of my age-group in all my races, including getting on the top step once!  But, I started realizing that Mike’s solo-training philosophy wasn’t right for me.  I enjoyed triathlon the most when I was training with Mike or our friends Steve and Jennifer.  That realization took me to my next step on the journey. 

During the Summer of 2015, I considered hiring a coach to help me make the leap to longer distance triathlons for the 2016 season.  I even interviewed a couple, but with all the changes happening at the time (Mike relocating to Lake Charles, having to pay for two households, fear of layoffs, etc.), I didn’t feel comfortable making the required 4 to 6-month commitment.  So, I tackled training for Ironman 70.3 Texas on my own and feel I did pretty well

But, a couple months later, I was a mess.  I wasn’t sleeping well, I was irritable all the time and felt overwhelmed.  I was burned out at work; mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted at home and totally listless about triathlon training.  Everything felt like a burden, even tri training.  I thought the feeling would pass.  Or that if I just ignored it, it would go away.  But, the restlessness was getting stronger and I knew I had to do something. 

Over the course of training for Galveston, I had the great fortune of making lots of new connections and many new friends.  I first got to meet John Mayfield at a practice clinic hosted by Austin Aquatics & Swim Academy.  He was there to help support AASA and offer another resource for the athletes.  We would periodically touch base and talk about getting together so I could learn more about TriDot coaching, but our schedules never lined up.  After months of false starts, we finally met at Dunn Brothers Coffee and chatted for about an hour.  In addition to learning about TriDot's proprietary software, we just talked in general about my goals and concerns.  That evening, I had the best nights of sleep in months.  I woke up feeling refreshed and recharged.  I sent John a text and told him that our meeting was like a therapy session.  Something felt different.  I felt lighter. 

 Coaching + free bike maintenance?!  Sold!  

Coaching + free bike maintenance?!  Sold!  

While I knew I was on to something, I was nervous.  To be totally honest, I wasn’t sure my fragile ego could handle being evaluated by a coach.  And that’s the great thing about TriDot, they offer a free trial week.  So, I signed up and immediately became uncomfortable!  :-)  It was hard getting adjusted to having a coach.  After 4 years of doing whatever workout I wanted, all based on feel (adjusting my training to how my body felt), it kind of scared me having an entire week of workouts planned out for me.  But, if I wanted things to change, I had to be willing to change, too.  So, I embraced my new normal and haven’t looked back.  Not even for a second. Joining TriDot, and having John as my coach, was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.  Getting a routine reestablished with my tri training helped pull everything back on track in other aspects of my life.  Work and home life was still hectic, but I didn’t feel as irritable and was handling the stress a lot better.  That alone was worth the price of admission, but I gained even more than that!  Coaching was starting to change how I viewed myself.  I’m a person that struggles with self-doubt.  Sometimes it can be debilitating.  That lack of confidence has been one of the biggest regrets of my life, holding me back from trying new things and jumping at different opportunities.  But a month and a half of coaching has made me realize I’m stronger than I thought I was and that I underestimate my abilities.  Almost every day I look at the workout John has planned for me and think I can’t do it, and every time I’m proven wrong.  I have 37 years of hard wiring to undo, but I like to think that these daily affirmations are making new synapse connections and slowly rewiring the thinking in my brain. 

                                         My triathlon family.  

                                        My triathlon family.  

Everyone's triathlon journey is different, and I'm glad mine followed the path it did.  Doing it on my own was necessary for me to build enough confidence in myself to add a coach.  As a previously coaching-averse athlete, I wanted to share some things I've learned over this past month and a half:

  1. Coaching isn't just for elite athletes.  I think this is a common misconception.  One I was guilty of. But, athletes of all different background and skill levels use coaches.  Some are new to the sport and want guidance from a coach.  Some are chasing big dreams like Kona.  And others just need help fitting training in with life.
  2. Coaching isn't a perfect science.  No two people are the same and everybody responds to the same training stress differently, so there is a bit of trial and error to it all.  The real benefit of coaching is having a knowledgeable resource that can put together a plan that is intelligent and realistic.  Much less guesswork and more meaningful training.  
  3. Coaching is what you make of it.  This means the athlete is ultimately in control.  While a coach can lay out a plan, it's up to the athlete to execute it.  Sure your coach wants you to follow it, but they can't force you to train.  Additionally, the level of contact with your coach is also dictated by the athlete.  You can receive a weekly plan from your coach and never talk to them, or you can be like me and text your coach incessantly.  :-)  

I know coaching isn't for everyone.  As with everything, it's a personal choice, with no wrong answers.  But, if you're willing to try coaching, and find one that fits you well, I guarantee you that you won't regret your decision.