Coaching: The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Coaching: The Gift That Keeps on Giving

The holiday season is almost upon us and I’m beginning to see athletes posting on social media about the newest tri equipment or gadgets that they have received, or would like to receive as gifts. They’ve read in the tri mags, or observed the top age group or elite athletes having great success using these gadgets and are convinced that obtaining such equipment or gadgets will get them to the next level of performance. It’s a cycle that repeats itself every year. Spend lots of cash on gear in the offseason, train the same way you did last season, end up with similar results this season. Unfortunately, they have yet to figure out, or simply choose not to acknowledge the fact that quality focused training is what separates the cream from the crop, and the cream usually have prioritized the enlistment of a proven triathlon coach over spending their hard-earned money on shortcuts to speed.

Many performance records set by elite triathletes in the 1980’s and 1990’s still stand, or have been eclipsed only in recent years. How is it possible that the athletes three decades ago were able to perform at such levels when much of the equipment, technology, and information to athletes at any level wasn’t even invented yet? In fact, I would even argue that most of today’s “entry-level” tri bikes are better than the bikes ridden by the top pros during that period. The answer is training. I lived in San Diego during the 1980’s and early 1990’s, and you could find a different quality group workout almost every day of the week if you looked hard enough. You were welcome to join in the fun at most workouts, with the understanding that nobody was going to wait on you, so it was in your best interest not to get dropped if you didn’t know the route.

This was certainly quality training, but it only met the needs of the top dogs leading the workouts and left the rest of us to overextend ourselves and sabotage our recovery and ability to do quality training for the next day’s workouts. We really didn’t know what we were doing because the sport was still young, and there weren’t many triathlon specific coaches. Most of the coaches working with triathletes were swim coaches, cycling coaches, or run coaches. It was an inexact science to say the least, which led to overtraining and injuries while trying to improve through trial and error. Although many athletes were able to perform at a very high level, everyone training together at the same intensity was not conducive to everyone improving performance, and only a small percentage improved and stayed healthy enough to race regularly.

In the three decades since, the body of knowledge with regard to triathlon training has increased significantly, and today’s athletes are able to procure the services of highly qualified triathlon coaches to help them achieve their goals in the most efficient manner possible. Unfortunately, the proliferation of coaching certifications in recent years makes it difficult for athletes to make a well-informed choice if decide to secure the assistance of a professional coach.

 

How Do I Find the Right Coach for Me?

It’s important that you find the right coach for YOU. The easiest way to do so may be to simply answer the following questions:

  • What are my short term and long-term goals?
  • What do I need to do to improve so that I can reach my goals?
  • Do I personally know, or know of anyone who has made similar improvements recently with the help of a coach?
  • Does this coach have a history of successfully developing athletes to get to where they want to be?

Once you have answered the questions and decide that this coach may be a good fit for you, contact the coach. Explain your goals and what you hope to achieve by working with a coach. The coach should be able to give you a general idea of what he or she believes is required to achieve your goals, and whether or not they are realistic. If possible, try to meet in person with the coach so that he or she can assess your skills and provide immediate recommendations on a plan to meet your needs.

 

Coaching versus Planning

There is no shortage of instantly downloadable, free online coaching plans. Some are better than others, but the last time I checked, none of them provided feedback, automatically adjusted workouts regularly for athlete adaptations to training, stood on deck to teach and monitor skill development, or accommodate for individual personalities when structuring workouts or developing race plans. That’s because coaches do all of those things, plans don’t. Trisutto plans don’t come with a coach either, but each and every plan is built on the same principles and methods practiced everyday by Trisutto certified coaches worldwide. These are the same methods that have guided countless numbers of athletes to achieving success at the highest levels of triathlon, as age groupers and elite athletes. Sometimes circumstances dictate that an athlete simply may not be able to enlist the services of a qualified coach. In such cases, a downloadable training plan may have to suffice. If so, athletes should take time to do some research just as they would if they were looking for a qualified coach. For instance, if you want to train for an Ironman distance event, try and find someone who has trained for a similar event and had success with their plan and get as much first-hand information as you can. If you find that several athletes have used the same training plan, you might be on to something. Recommendations from people that you know will always be much more forthcoming and reliable than product advertisements.

Unfortunately, there are also coaches that provide standardized or “cookie-cutter” plans that are not built on proven coaching methodology, and are in many cases provided by certifying organizations for use by all who complete the certification process. Most have limited or no background in the sport other than a few years as a non-competitive age-grouper, and a coaching certification that required little more than attendance at a weekend seminar (in the best of circumstances), completion of a take-home exam, and the payment of a hefty registration fee. Some of the certifications are entirely online, and almost none of them require participants to actually demonstrate coaching abilities under the direct supervision of a mentor coach. Upon earning their certification, new coaches set up an online site, recruit athletes, collect a fee, and provide a plan. They are for all intensive purposes planners, not coaches. Sadly, the worst part isn’t that they charge a fee for their services, it’s that uninformed athletes choose to pay them for this service. In all fairness to the athletes, I imagine that they have no idea of what they should expect from a good triathlon coach, or how to select one.

So, this holiday season, instead of asking for the latest equipment or technology that you are certain will finally get you over the hump and on to the next level of performance, ask for a triathlon coach.

Happy Holiday Training!

Rob Taylor is a professional triathlon coach with over 30 years experience. Join Rob at upcoming camps in Lexington, South Carolina as well as Hilton Head. Details here.

The Three Golden Rules: Kona

The Three Golden Rules: Kona

As we see on social media many are now at or heading to the big island, excited for the big show.

Each athlete will be champing at the bit to pull out the bike and hammer down the Queen K. There will be three types of athletes there by now.

The ‘Worker Bees’. The guys who have been working hard, saving up their money and holidays so they can be here for the biggest race in Ironman. They will have missed vital workouts, had to shorten others and now think they’ve got a whole 10 days to catch up and get their final work in.

The ‘Long Taper’ Brigade. This group are content ‘knowing’ all the work is done, so they’re happy to just to chill out and relax. They will be well at ease with themselves as most will have a coach who has a dogma for long tapers, and has assured them all will be OK.

Finally, we have ‘Deep Thinkers’. Similar to the ‘Long Tapers’, but are not overly convinced by their coaches and so are worried they’re going to wreck their race by too little work. This group tries to settle down, but on about day three start to think over everything very deeply and decide ‘I do really need to do a little more, if I’m careful it won’t hurt’.

Now, I’m not having a go at anyone in the above three categories and neither am I presumptuous enough to tell anyone what they should do. But this is the advice I give to my own athletes (pro and age-group) who have found themselves on the big island with just under two weeks to go. It has served the Trisutto squad pretty successfully and while it may not make you quicker, it may just save your race.

So, the three Golden Kona rules that don’t change no matter how fast or slow you are.

1) Stick to your own routine:

If that means in London you always swim in a pool, don’t now start swimming in the beautiful ocean just because you don’t have it at home. If you normally swim at 7am, don’t go swimming at 7pm so “I can watch the sunset”. If you usually run on a treadmill, get out and find one in Kona.

2) Stick to your own sets:

If you have been doing 3-months of certain sets, DON’T (you hearing me!?) Don’t start watching the pros and say I’ll give that a bit of a try because it could improve me. It won’t and it could kill your performance. That goes for the swim, the bike, and the run. If the race is over and you still want to try it, then be my guest. But not before the race.

3) Stick to your own nutrition:

Don’t go changing your race food or lead up nutrition. ‘But Sutto, it’s hotter here’. I know that. I also know that the biggest group walking along Alii Drive come race day are those that took steps to change their eating going into and during this race, because ‘Wow! It’s hotter than I thought.’ It is too late to change now. Stick to what you know.

In conclusion, you’ll find the golden rules have absolutely nothing to do with enhancing anything. That’s because when you hit the big island the biggest performance enhancer is not changing a thing. Go with what you’ve got and go knowing ‘this is what got me here in the first place!’

Join Trisutto Head Coach Brett Sutton at one of his remaining training camps in 2017 in Cyprus or Gran Canaria.

 

The Kona Surge

The Kona Surge

Countdown to the Ironman World Championships. Photo: Rob Holden Photography

With 22 days and counting – it’s about this time every year that the Kona surge starts to take hold.

An affliction that doesn’t just occur with pros, but one that infects many hard working age group athletes who have qualified to go to the big show.

And let’s clarify ‘hard worker.’

These are not pros, but people who have full-time jobs. Given the Ironman demographic we find that these tend to be high-powered, stressful jobs at that. It may not be physical labour, but it is the kind of work that requires a lot of time and mental attention.

What you’ll find in the ‘Surge’ is that these qualifiers are now cramming every bit of training in they can do. Every minute is filled with extra training as they feel guilty about their jobs robbing them of valuable time in preparation for a good race at Kona.

Within my pro team I’ve been addressing this issue nearly every second day. Assuring all that the training is on track and repeating the word ‘No’ quite a lot.

I need to do more! No, you don’t.

This is too slow! No, it isn’t.

I’m not able to push hard enough! No, you’re pushing the exact right amount.

Can I do an extra session of … No!

I don’t feel I need the rest day, can I … NO!

These conversations mirror the ones I’m having with our working age groupers – hyper motivated individuals who have had to miss a few sessions because of work and as such are in meltdown mode when coach advises to take a step back and readjust the program accordingly.

‘But Coach you don’t understand… I haven’t had much time…’

Yes, I do understand. You see most of these AG athletes are university educated people who in some form of their old lives have had to cram for exams to maintain high grades while maintaining a busy outside life.

Many of the same people then move into the business community where they’re governed by strict work deadlines in a culture that seems think that setting unreasonable time tasks will enhance the work value out of those white-knuckling 15-hour days.

The head down and don’t lift it up, don’t shower, drink some more coffee way of getting things done is a common theme when discussing people’s work / training arrangements.

So of course it’s natural that the habits and rituals we see in the workplace are now carried over to one’s new hobby – Ironman.

Just a few days ago I heard this: “What do you mean easy swim and 20 minute jog? I’ve done nothing for 3-days except meetings so that I could get here to train my arse off.” For context they had just hopped off the plane after an 11-hour across the dateline flight.

Does this ring a bell to some of our qualifiers out there as the nerves start to jangle as we think that Kona is only 22 days away?

Swim_Triathlon2Training in the build up to Kona.

If so, have no fear as Coach is here to help.

Firstly, the ‘add more training’ approach is not applicable. Physical sport is not the same as when you used to cram for a week and pass with flying colours. It’s not the same as pulling an all nighter on a Powerpoint and then nailing it the next morning. The phenomenon of ‘cramming’ with a few weeks out will have a huge negative  impact on your performance.

If the Kona surge has got you in its grip then the ‘do more, do it faster, take less rest’ approach will ensure that you will be making this statement after finishing your race: ‘Next year will be better as I’ll have more time.’

So I’ll pass on what I’m telling my own coaches on a daily basis now. Hold the line. Stick to what you have been doing, even if it wasn’t enough. Athletes a little underdone will perform a hell of a lot better than athletes that are overdone.

Courage is shown at this time by not joining in the Kona surge people, but resisting it!

You want my honest feelings about Kona?

It’s just another race. To prepare for it like it’s just another race will prove much more fruitful for your performance. Enjoy the experience. The journey is the real adventure, the doing is just the icing on the cake.

Join Trisutto Head Coach Brett Sutton at one of his remaining training camps in 2017 in SurseeCyprus or Gran Canaria.

What is Success?

What is Success?

In every race there are only three prizes. One for first, one for second and one for third. So unless there are only three people racing, there’s no way everybody can get a prize. So if you don’t win, if you don’t podium, are you not successful?

As a professional athlete it was something that was always in my mind. Am I succesfull? Am I successful to come fifth in an IRONMAN race, to come fourth, to come eight in a Championship race or to run a career personal best time ending up sixth place in the field? Was I a good athlete even though I only won one Challenge race? Do people perceive me as a successful athlete? Again, what is succes?

As a coach I see athletes struggle with the same question. Of course racing as a professional has its own dynamics and you strive to be the best athlete in the field. You want to make a living out of it, which is not easy in this sport. You do that by performing. To podium. To get a paycheck. Or to get that podium bonus by your sponsors. It is the ultimate implementation of being paid by performance. Something that will not work in a normal job or corporate company because there is simply no way that you can run a business by only paying people who have the best performance.

But succes and/or performance is both subjective and objective. The objective side is the simple 1, 2, 3. The subjective side is more complicated. My career best performance only got me to sixth place. There were 5 girls better then me on the day that I had my best performance. My best performance is limited by myself. I’m no Chrissie Wellington or Daniela Ryf. I’m not a Xena, the Warrior Princess or Corinne, the Welsh Wizard. And that is ok. I strive to become as good or even better then they are, but I might not have the same talent physically or mentally. Or have the right background in sports to fall back on. And that is ok. I want to make myself better, stronger and faster. So ’till this date my career best performance, even though I was not on the podium, is a succes in my books. And one of my best performances.

Whether you are successful as an amateur athlete is something you don’t need to measure by other people. You have your limitations as do the others. You just don’t know them. Maybe you were racing people who used to race professional? Or still kind of are. Or don’t have that demanding job of 50 hours a week. Or maybe the person you just overtook is working 60 hours a week. Or maybe he or she is overtaking you because training for triathlon with a demanding job is a way to get their mind at ease. Or maybe you race against people with a family. With a newborn. With four kids. And they have to juggle everything around. For them it might all be about balancing everything out.

As hard as it is, I want my athletes to look at their own performance. Making their own succes. Like getting to that finish line of a full triathlon for the first time. In one piece. Finishing to grab a beer with the family after. For me as a coach, that makes me very happy and proud. I see that as a success. Or enjoy a 15 minute best time even though it wasn’t enough for the podium. You had a great performance, so don’t beat yourself up because someone else was better on the day. Celebrate your progression. As a coach I see that progression and I see that as a success.

But success might also mean overcoming fear. Fear for a distance, or a certain race. I have experienced that. Challenge Almere last year was my fear race. My home race. The race where you want to have the best performance of your life. I feared the startline, because I was afraid I’d fail. For my friends and family. I wanted to make them proud. What if I couldn’t? Last year I finally did it. And even though I didn’t win, I celebrated my very hard fought second place like I did win. It was my succes of overcoming fear. Before the race. During the race. And even after the race, by celebrating my succes with the people that matter to me.

Success is not measured by podiums. Of course it looks great in the race report, but that doesn’t make success. That doesn’t always reflect a good performance. I landed on the podium of an IRONMAN once with a lousy performance. There were not too many girls racing that day. And I got lucky. Was that success? It looked like it to the rest of the world, but to me it has always been about performance. About getting the best out of myself. And on one day that might be a personal best time. The other it’s overcoming deep dark places during the race. You make your own succes. Not anyone else.

 

 Mirjam Weerd is a Trisutto Coach who also races as a Professional Triathlete. Mirjam is currently based in Curaçao, and has a dedicated group of online athletes. Mirjam also hosts regular coaching clinics, sharing her vast triathlon experience and knowledge.

 

Will Power Training: Age Group Athletes

Will Power Training: Age Group Athletes

‘Will Power’ training. Undefeated 1500m runner Herb Elliot with coach Percy Cerutty.

Those who follow Trisutto.com will know that we view our age-group athletes the same as pros when it comes to personal performance. Yes, you have less time and more stress with your training, but the parameters to lift performance are basically the same.

I challenge you to think of some of the most satisfying workouts you have done. Let me be presumptuous and say that I bet none of them were the fastest ones you did, but the ones that were a challenge. The ones where you were getting your arse kicked and managed to turn it around. The sessions where you attacked the paper tiger instead of giving in to it.

I once had the privilege of talking with a coach who used to run at Portsea with the great Percy Cerutty (brilliant coach of undefeated 1500m runner Herb Elliot). He told me about an infamous Percy training session. It wasn’t called ‘Speed Work’ or ‘Aerobic Conditioning’ or even ‘Hill Work’ though it was performed up a hill.

Cerutty_sand dunesThe Portsea Sand Dunes.

No, Percy called it the ‘will power’ set. In his eccentric style he’d rally the squad on a Saturday morning and tell them:

“This session is the one that makes you who you are. Defines what you want to be and gives enlightenment to the individual of oneself. You only ever grow as a human being if you’re outside your comfort zone.”

He then proceeded to a sand dune of only about 30-60m and say “up you go”. How many reps? “As many as your will allows you to.”

Now this is the type of workout you’ll no longer find in the textbooks, but it still takes pride and place in mine. I haven’t replaced it with a chapter on over-training or that other myth of the weak – recovery. Because when it comes to performance both pale in significance when pitted against the effectiveness of ‘Will Power’ training.

So as an age-group athlete there is nothing better you can do than plan a session that is not only good for performance, but great for the soul. I’m not saying you have to do it every week, nor does it have to be up sand dunes. Just every now and again when you’ve got time to yourself (maybe the weekend or an early finish from work) set aside some time to give yourself some ‘Will Power’ training.

One of those sessions where at the end of it you sit totally exhausted, sweat dripping off the end of your nose, your heart pounding through the chest like hammer blows. As you sit or lie there close to exhaustion you’ll know that you’re truly alive and that today ‘I made myself a stronger person.’

Pro or age-grouper – isn’t that what we all want?

 Join Trisutto Head Coach Brett Sutton at one of his remaining training camps in 2017 in LanzaroteCyprus or Gran Canaria.

 

So You Want To Be A Pro Triathlete?

So You Want To Be A Pro Triathlete?

Last week I made an honest attempt to defend those developing pro athletes who train every bit as hard as the champions. They have the right not only of our respect, but for the sport’s leaders to provide a pathway for a sustainable career that will benefit both sides.

That aside, the pros do need a sharp reality check – as their predicament is largely self inflicted.

There is still a way to make a small living in triathlon if one is prepared to be disciplined in one’s training and racing schedule.

With the proliferation of new races worldwide – I find it quite concerning the amount of underperforming newcomers who ask about coaching, but then talk about sponsors and fulfilling a travel schedule that looks like a Contiki tour so they can ‘get to Kona’.

That’s all before the standard ‘I can’t afford to get a proper coach’ – despite the coach having a proven track record of delivering exactly what their goals are.

Many are disappointed when instead of producing a magic wand, I suggest they focus on improving their performance to be good enough to earn a pay cheque in the first place. Living out of a suitcase in an airline transit area, competing at races that you are not good enough to be at is the worst possible way to move forward if one’s goals are to be good.

If you have serious flaws in one or two of the triathlon disciplines – ‘joining the circuit’ for 12 months will leave you right back where you started. No money and no improvement.

Sarah Crowley justly rewarded for a long term, professional approach to the sport. Photo: Korupt Vision

Over the past 12 months we have seen the meteoric rise up the professional ladder of Sarah Crowley. Sarah left a well paid corporate job to follow her dream – and I’m proud to say followed a different path to the majority of the inquiries we deal with.

Realising rather quickly that being ‘good’ was more important than the holiday circuit, she got an excellent coach and paid not to go to races but training camps to improve her weaknesses.

A former solid runner at ITU level, she engaged her coach Cam (Cam Watt) who is a bike expert, and they also flew to Jeju, South Korea for swim focussed training. For a month she trained with Daniela Ryf to see how the very best worked.

With improving performances she had the opportunity to get sponsored products – but instead followed her coach’s advice:

“Do not take on inferior products – it will cost you performance and money!”

Losing two minutes over 180km because you’re endorsing slower equipment can be the difference between a win or a fourth. Sarah again wanted what is best for performance. Not to be able to say ‘I have a sponsor’!

Such long term thinking has paid off very handsomely. She is now the current holder of the Ironman 70.3 Middle East, Ironman Asia Pacific and Ironman European regional Championships. For those who were at Sarah’s level two years ago, the improvement is not luck.

Taking The Plunge

It is not to say everyone can make the huge leap she has, but I can identify many others who with professional attitudes have made the step from very good age groupers to real “pros”.

The greatest of them is the legend called, Chrissie Wellington. She took a one week trial with yours truly and then gambled her savings on coaching and camps that would make her the best she could be. She was going to the top or back to a ‘real job’. No grey area.

Similarly, last weekend James Cunnama destroyed the field at IM Hamburg. Writing this I remember James contacting me some 10 years ago and asking what is the best way to become a “real” pro. He was advised to get on a plane and come to camp, so he could get the best possible judgement. Like the others he made the difficult transition with two training oriented seasons – and since then has had eight years career professional athlete with more to come.

For those considering making the jump, please understand it is totally different when you’re racing for a pay check to pay the bills each month. The pressure of racing without a safety net is not for everyone. Though I’m happy to give some free advice for those looking to make the transition from good amateur to hard bitten pro.

1) It takes time. I ask people joining Trisutto for three seasons to be the best they can be. If you come into the pro ranks with the ‘I’ll give it one year’ mindset I can help you right now.

Stick to your day job.

2) Invest in quality coaching and in training to improve and develop all three disciplines. Weaknesses that you can get away with as a good amateur will be brutally exploited when you run into the real thing.

3) Pick races that you can access easily and economically. Ensure after a race you are always able to return to base and get on with the most important agenda – training to make you better.

A professional, long term approach will get you to where you want to go much faster than you’d think.

 

Join Trisutto Head Coach Brett Sutton at one of his remaining training camps in 2017 in LanzaroteCyprus or Gran Canaria.