Monday, September 1, 2014

A Coach or No Coach.... is that the question?

When I was about 7 and started playing football I realized that I was not as big as the other kids but that didn't mean a thing to me.  As I continued to get older and grow it was noticeably not at the rate as the other kids and it wasn't long before I was the smallest kid on the football field.  I was slightly disappointed.  Not because I was littler than the rest but because my professional football career came to a screeching halt.  I realized that I would never make it to the big show as a player.  My dreams and thoughts then changed to ...."How else can I make there?"  Maybe I could be a team physician or better yet a COACH."
In college I went on to study Sports Medicine took all the Physical Education requirements of Exercise Physiology, Kinesiology, Anatomy and Physiology, Nutrition, Conditioning and Fitness...yadda yadda yadda.  I went on to own a business that specialized in coaching athletes and certify Coaches.  I ran Development Camps, Coached at all levels from High School to University to Men's & Women's Leagues.  I became certified in all sorts of training modalities.  I was a personal trainer and taught everything from yoga to spin to strength conditioning to cardio kick to step aerobics with seasoned hardened athletes to  those lovely blue hair ladies in my aqua aerobics classes.
I have been a Director or a Ski & Snowboard School and I also taught Rock Climbing for a time.  So you might say I know a thing or two about coaching athletes.

In 2011 I decided to run in my first marathon.  Without any real track or running specific coaching background, I immersed myself in the field and coached myself to multiple marathon and half marathon finishes.  I sought out training groups and coaches from time to time but it never really clicked or felt quite right. I continued to work with myself and the knowldege I had and the training readings I would get from Runner World and continually bettered my times each race and became a stronger runner.
Crossing the finish line in my 1st Marathon

In 2013 I decided to jump into the world of triathlons and Ironman Racing.  I had never really swam before.  Except the doggie paddle and hadn't a clue about riding a TT bike.  Once I entered into Cozumel Ironman I began researching all about training for an IM.  I watched tons of You Tube videos on swimming and read every from the couch to an Ironman in 6 months kind of articles and books.  I wasn't sure if I was going to get a specialized triathlon coach or not.  I'm not the kind of guy that hires a coach.  That is for the serious athlete.  I'm, well, I am just me.  Will a coach want to take me on?  I am not trying to win an age group or make it to Kona.  Am I going to get stuck in a groups of fellow smoes like myself and just run around the reservoir for hours like I have seen while out on my own runs?  How and what I am I going to do?  So I decide to take a masters swim class at my gym.  Surely they will be able to teach me how to do this.  I go a few minute early to the class because I want to speak with the instructor to inform them that I am a brand spanking new and I was not sure how advanced the Masters Class was.  After his initial shock of me just jumping into an IM in under 6 months without knowing how to swim or ride a TT bike and being made fun of for wearing board shorts to my first day of swim the very next thing I was asked....."Are you going to hire a Coach?"  "Yes",  I said not really knowing where this would take me as only 10 minutes earlier I hadn't a clue.  "That's very smart and probably the best decision you can make.  Do you have any candidates in mind to interview?" Huh, me interview for a coach??  I guess that is a great idea and suggestion.  "Well, I have a few leads I say".  "OK, well I can suggest a few if you'd like"  Most definitely is my reply and I get a list of 3 or 4 local coaches. And off I go interviewing.  I do some more research and dwindle it down to about 6 names that seem like might work for me.  Finding a coach in Boulder is certainly not a difficult thing to do.  Around every corner is someone lurking to make a few extra bucks and saying they are a coach.  This was a weird process for me as I felt that I hadn't a clue as to what I was looking for in a coach.  It can but doesn't have to be a daunting task.  Some of the folks I interviewed laughed at me and didn't have the time for a newbie like me as they looked down their noses at this guy who's #1 Goal was not qualifying for Kona.  I understood what they stood for and hold no angst about them.   I knew virtually nothing about triathlons and nothing about 2 of the 3 disciplines about it.  But I know people and I know what I like and dislike and I refused to be intimidated by a process.  
Timber Point Elementary School & My Kindergarten Class
Would a kindergartner not go to Elementary School because they don't know the alphabet yet? Heck no.....and I was not going to not hire a coach because I was afrad to make a fool out of myself because I didn't know much about the sport.  I continued interviewing and I narrowed it down to two candidates.  Both of whom were recommended to me.  Both who didn't seem to care if desired to come in first or just cross the finish line, both who seemed to understand that I have an absolutely crazy work schedule and both who just seemed to care that I got out of it what I wanted no matter the level and would work with me to get there. Both who I thought would make a great coach for me.  They both had different training methods so I chose the one that seemed like it was more fitting to what I was currently aligned with.
My Coach ~ Eric Kenney w EK Endurance
I narrowed the choice down to one and have not regretted a minute of it.  Well, maybe sometimes, particularly during those COLD December early morning swims.  Deciding to hire a coach,  besides my beautiful Bella Nera Cannondale Slice was the best decision I could have made for myself and the wisest choice on how to spend my money.  I often hear folks say, "I can't afford a coach"  I get it, seems maybe like a luxury, but I wonder and think, you can't afford not to have a coach.  People will spend thousands dollars to get a faster bike.  Spend hundreds on an aero helmet or a streamline wet suit.  Those are cool and all but a coach can cost less than that bike and hlmet an wet suit and get you a much faster overall time.  Besides it is tough to race if you are injured and a good coach will help you get where you want to go injury free.  It felt like I had some naggin injury every other week while marathon racing and I am now on my way to a 3rd Ironman in a year without any "real or substantial" injury.  I know I could not have done that 

I look back at over the course of the last year and my triathlon training and competition of two Ironman races.  And in every race and more than a few training session, I hear my coach's voice inside my head.
Coach Eric and I before my 1st triathlon
From quick one liners.....
"push it but don't burn yourself out and then give it all at the finish line."
 "Finish strong, be tired at the end and don't hold back" 
"Run as flawless as a race as you could and run a race, not do a workout." 
"Don't be distracted. Be the distraction"
"Don't stop moving, keep moving"
"slow is smooth and smooth is fast".
"the bike is the only part of the race you can still move forward without doing anything and coast and catch you breath.  Though I am not saying you have to coast if you don't need to, then keep peddling" 

To race Day Strategies......
"hill coming out of the park, don't power up it and burn yourself out at the start."
."Now at the end of the bike it is a sharp turn with rubber mats and it is easy to get caught and stuck and wipe out"
"Dump water on your head in this area as the day will definitely be heating up by the time you get to the run section and there will be 3 water stations"

To setting the game plan.....
Swim: steady and long in the swim
Ride: steady!  like you did in the TT loop is pretty good. bike pedal around 170 watts. coast when you can on down hills etc.  
Run: find your rhythm in the first mile then try and run faster each mile to the finish! 

To settling pre race jitters and doubts....
There was the time I was standing in FREEZING cold water before a race, wondering why I was not in my bed back at home...Coach Eric must have caught my body language as I step foot into the water as soon thereafter he was by my side.  "Marty, this race is not about time or distance.  You swim 5 times longer than this in training.  This race is about how you as a racer handle the elements and what gets thrown your way and how you handle that adversity.  That is what this race in the cold is about.  Can you turn it off and still race or will the elements get the better of you?"  I think to myself...the elements almost already won while I was still in my nice warm sheets until I texted you. "Cozumel will be hot and humid and will potentially have some nasty cross winds.  You will have to contend with them."  

To trying to prepare me mentaly & physically for what was to come....
This past week my coach had a training session in the pool where he put 4 people in my lane and then hopped in the pool himself.  He was grabbing my feet.  Ripped my goggles off of my face.  Pushing and pulling on me all wile I was trying to swim laps.  I laugh now when I type these words but I so truly appreciate him trying to recreate for me what I may expereince and to mentally prepare me for whatever may come my way.  From....

To Hydration...
"Never pass up an opportunity to fill up on water"  Definitely saved Esra, Susan and I one hot July day on  along bike ride.

Take 2 bottles of water at each aide station, put one in your jersey immediately, grab another and refill your aero bar waterbottle dump the rest over your head, legs ad down your back....along with Purchase those wings if you can it'll help you cool yourself down and provide UV protection.  Were two Boulder IM Race Day Saviours.

I can go on and write 20 pages of words and stories and notes and antidotes from my coach and the experiences I've had with him over the last year.  Many of which saved my ass out on long rides, in races and in my head.

Do I agree with everything my coach says?  Nah.  Do I drive him crazy at times with my newbie questions and 11pm texts?  Probably......ok yes.   Coach Eric gives me a kick in the behind when needed and tells me I've done a solid job when I deserve it.

My team of fellow triathletes w EK Endurance Coaching
The best, smartest and single most impactful decision I've made when jumping into the world of triathlons was to hire a coach.  Would I have finished my first,  IM in Cozumel without hiring a coach?  I'd like to think so.  Would I have had a much more difficult time?  Most definitely.  Would I have continued in the sport and have had as much enjoyment in what I am doing right now?  This, I am not as sure.  My triathlon journey at times has been painful, scary and unsettling.   I could only imagine how much worse it would have / could have been if I didn't have a coach to guide me.  But that is not the case, I am loving and enjoying each and every step of this journey largely due to the mentor that I have and for that I will be forever thankful.
Crossing the finish one of my last races.

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