By Ben Turits, The Endurance Collective

The internet is awash with coaching plans for your next marathon, Ironman, or bike racing season. For under $100 you can sign up and download the framework for your upcoming event. Why then would you want to spend double that each month to hire a coach?

Because life is hard: The generic internet plan you buy might be a great plan on paper, but it fails to address one major component of training: Static training plans cannot manage the challenges that life throws at you. Those of us who are not professional athletes spend most of our week doing something other than preparing for races. Inevitably your child will bring the flu home from school and spread it around the family, your boss will throw a last-minute project at you, there are any number of reasons why your plan might come off the rails. As a professional coach, my job is to manage training around your life.

The first thing that happens when I meet a new client is that we sit down and talk about the outside stressors, the life components that will impact your training. I want to know what your profession is, how is your family life, why have you chosen the event or sport you are participating in? This is not because I want to be your new best friend. I need to know the parameters that you, as an athlete, will be working within. My job is to create a dynamic plan to work within your life. Despite all the information you feed me, the plan will inevitably need to change because let’s face it, life will happen. This is what an internet plan cannot manage.

Each athlete responds in a unique way to stimulus: I might give 5 athletes the same workout and each one will have a different response, I always need to adapt everyone’s training according to how they react individually to their workouts. Some athletes might need longer rest intervals, they might only be able to handle a specific intensity or their planned recovery might be too much, an internet plan cannot manage these variables. Because the athlete is often consumed by the details of their training, they can lose perspective and make hasty training decisions that have long lasting negative consequences. It is important that your coach helps you distinguish between “overreaching” and “overtraining”. One will push your limits, the other will dig a hole that can sometimes be the end of your season.

Picking the right coach is key: A great coach should develop a two-way relationship that fosters the athlete asking questions and challenging their coach to manage these training components in an active and engaging manner. Coaches will challenge you to push yourself harder and provide objective feedback on your progress. A great coach will tell you when it is time to take a break and reassure you that rest does not equal weakness. We will help you connect the dots between life and training and help you to remember that your identity is not the sport you participate in. I will always encourage you to set “Realistic Goals” – Picking targets and being pragmatic about training and racing plans is an essential component to becoming a successful athlete in any sport.

One of the most valuable lessons that I have learned as a coach is that great racers don’t always make great coaches. I can say that I was an average racer but I was always a student of the sport and was dedicated to learning as I raced. My advice to you as an athlete is to encourage you to pay attention to credentials! Just because your coach crushes the local crit scene doesn’t mean he or she knows how to manage your training plan. Look at what they have done in past careers, were they a teacher? Did they work in a management position? These are all factors that can help a coach develop key skills sets that will benefit your training.

Wrapping up: Hiring a coach may not be for everyone or for every budget. But for those considering coaching, it is important to know the potential benefits over the alternatives. Coaches can help maximize the effectiveness of your training within your busy life, they can help provide objective feedback on your progress, and provide motivation and reassurance along your journey toward your goals. For some, the right coach can be the key to unlocking an athlete’s last bit of untapped potential. However, select your coach carefully. Check his/her credentials and reputation among his/her athletes. And last but not least, have fun!

Good luck this season, and thanks for reading.

Benjamin Turits is the Owner and Head Coach at the Endurance Collective, as well as Head Coach of the Duke University Cycling Team. He is a Licensed Massage Therapist and a USA Cycling Level 2 Coach, based in Durham North Carolina.

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