Self-Justification

Originally Published Dec.2010

December is a time when students stress for fall semester final exams, when real people work their butts off to pay their holiday shopping bills and for a road cyclist, it’s a time when training for next season comes to the fore. Now a couple of months into the off-season, riders often plan out their next season by asking the BIG questions. Stuff like:

What went well, what didn’t?
What are my goals for next season?
How am I going to get there?
Am I going to get a coach or am I going to change coaches?
When am I going to start training intensity?

Since October, I have been working with five coaching clients. Each client has different time restraints, cycling abilities and long-term goals. I have also been coaching myself, which some may think is crazy or ignorant as next season is my first year as a professional and there is more on the line than ever before. However as a coach, both for my clients and myself, I have realized just how important trust is for any athletic success.

Regardless of everything that I have learned in terms of the types of workouts I need to do, the best stretching techniques or the latest and greatest in recovery practices, nothing beats trust. If an athlete knows that they are doing everything that they can to improve, they will push harder during their intervals and make smarter decisions during their recovery. There is no way a client will finish that last minute of a 20 minute interval as hard as they possibly could if they don’t believe, down to their core, that what they are doing is the right thing to do. This may seem very old hat to some of you, but just hold on.

Some cyclists, after reviewing their season and setting lofty goals for the next, decide that a coach is needed to guide them along. However there are different types of coaches.

If you want someone to suggest a training protocol for your next bike ride, you can get a “trainer”. This is essentially the lowest price point of any coaching program. It involves a generic training plan that accounts for your current time commitments and training availability at the outset of the relationship. Small modifications due to unforeseen stress and lack of sleep are usually made by the athlete and once a week to once a month, a rider will check in with their “trainer”. This can be a very beneficial relationship if the workouts are completed. However, it can be extremely destructive if a client has trouble finding time or motivation to change their training or lifestyle habits. The classic example is missed workouts, which often culminates in the compounding and psychologically dangerous situation of attempting a planned workout without finishing those that precede it. Since the workout was a lot of harder than the rider expected, they may start questioning if there is a better way to reach their goals. Essentially, they stop believing in their “trainer” and their fitness program.

The next level, which should not be confused with a ‘trainer’, is a “coach”. Often more accessible with a greater vested interest in the success of their client, a coach is there to suggest small things like race strategy and recovery techniques, as well as emotional support. The personal relationship is often much more significant which greatly lends itself to the formation of trust and an athlete’s belief in all their training exercises. Anyone can be a trainer, but not everyone can be a coach. I don’t know if I am a good coach. You’ll have to ask my clients. But I do know that if your coach believes that you can do more than you ever thought you could, it shows and sooner or later, the client starts amazing themselves.

However, having a coach that believes in you during the good times, is like getting flowers on the podium. They are nice, but you don’t really need them except to make a nice picture. You need a coach when you want to quit. When it’s January 20th, the season is two months away, you are stressed, on the verge of getting sick, it’s been raining or snowing for three weeks, you don’t believe that the types of workouts you are doing will get you to where you want to be and if you don’t get some answers quick, you might just do something crazy like coach yourself. In such a case, you better hope that your coach is a hell of a good friend and mentor that will help you dig yourself out of this massive hole you created for yourself by a lack of communication with your coach over the past few weeks. Trust and honesty are critical. Ask the tough question. A good coach, mentor or advisor will be able to answer these questions. You know you found a great coach when they say: “your training for the week is the sleep! or to take a week off! To write your damn thesis! Or finish those wicked hard intervals that you think might be easy but won’t be, especially on Sunday as the season’s peak event is only two weeks away.”

In October, when I was making this decision to coach myself, I had a lot of doubt in my mind. What if I mess it up? What if I burn out? It wasn’t until I MADE the decision that I got rid of the doubt. I knew that it would be very important to be objective during my program scheduling and just as subjective as I have been in the past when I train on or off the bike. And as a result, I have made small changes to my training plan over the past eight weeks to accommodate unforeseeable changes, but we are not here to talk about my training plan. The point is that I believe that what I have set out in front of me is realistic, completable and will get me to my goals by the spring. Of course if it is very important to have a mentor or an advisor so that a self-coached athlete can check in with a supporter for a completely outside perspective. I have been fortunate to find such a supporter and am very thankful for their insight.

So if you are having trouble looking at your training schedule and fathoming how you are going to complete it, then make changes! Cut out stuff! Make it manageable! Be proactive! Include enough time to guarantee that when you get on your bike you want to be there! That you want to crush this interval and that maybe, even though you know at some point it is going to be uncomfortable (like sitting on a couch for five days without riding because you need to get hungry to ride!), that it will take you one step closer to your long term goals. The most important part of your “training” is that you believe that today’s “training” is productively building your capacity to crush fools and “take it” come race day, no matter what the “training” consists of!

If you don’t believe, change your plan.