Adjusting to Life with a Coach

In this blog Race Team athlete Elaine Garvican writes about what it has been like for her adapting to life with a coach. Elaine is the newest member of the Tri Training Harder Race Team and before January 2016 had never worked with a triathlon coach.

At the beginning of 2014, I wrote about why I didn’t have a coach and didn’t intend to get one for the foreseeable future. Earlier this year, I joined the Tri Training Harder Race Team, and I am now coached by Philip Hatzis. It’s been a big change, and not one that’s been all that easy for a rebellious, Type A personality who isn’t all that good at following orders. Although I still agree with most of what I wrote 2 years ago, a part of me wishes I’d not spent quite so many years going it alone (albeit with some extremely valuable mentoring advice which I can definitely credit with a step up in performance from 2013 onwards).

There probably aren’t that many people who start working with a coach for the first time after qualifying twice for Kona, and in their 8th year of the sport, but maybe the following advice will have a broader applicability to those moving onto a fresh coaching relationship, or, like me, new to the whole experience of having someone else setting your training plan.

1. Learn to speak French
Coaching is a team activity. It’s not a question of doing things “my way”, or “Philip’s way”, it’s “our way”. WE have plans, WE have goals, WE will train and WE will achieve things together. We, we, we. Ok, it’s spelled differently, but bringing in a basic level of French to the way you talk and think about training is fundamental for a successful coaching partnership. Coaching at its best isn’t about robotically completing the sessions that drop into your Training Peaks’ calendar, battling with the friction of who wants what, when and how, or of living in constant fear of reprisal. It’s about finding someone with whom you can build an athletic dream, who will shoulder the workload with you and – corny as it sounds – equally share in that journey.

2. I’m not really a control freak, but can I show you the right way to do that?

Giving up control of my plan setting was a fairly major issue for me at the start. I’m highly autonomous in my career and I run my own business, so handing over the lion’s share of day-to- day decision-making was not easy at first. As much as I tried to jump fearlessly into the deep end and immerse myself in trust from the word go, there were aspects of training I held onto pretty tightly – and several I tried quite hard a couple of times to take back! However, as I get to know Philip and the rest of the Tri Training Harder coaching team better, my trust is no longer blind. The more I trust, the faster and more significantly I see positive results, which means it’s easier to trust on bigger and more important issues from then on. No doubt there have been some fruitful long-distance coaching partnerships in the past, but spending time getting to know everyone out in Portugal (in a social setting as well as a training environment) has been key for Philip to learn what type of coaching cues I respond well to and what just confuses me, how I process new information, how I race and how I act when I’m tired! Doing so in the beautiful settings of Tri Training Harder’s summer base in the Algarve, Portugal doesn’t really represent a hardship either!

Coach Philip offering words of advice to Elaine while
on the bike in the Algarve, Portugal

3. Dr Pepper, Nothing Better

Having trained myself through 9 Ironman starts and 8 finishes, I was fairly confident I knew what worked and what wasn’t necessary when it came to training. Or rather, I had my opinions and thought I would rigidly stick to them, using my power of veto if push came to shove, particularly in the pool where I was the most out of my comfort zone. As it turned out, this attitude wasn’t all that conducive to developing a partnership, Tri Training Harder coaches aren’t in the habit of setting pointless calorie-expending activities, and my veto existed mainly in my imagination. This knowledge didn’t prevent a couple of toddler-style tantrums on my behalf (especially over me swimming butterfly) and many a lengthy, slightly heated discussion over a training session – or even just a section of a session – would end with Philip advising me to “Try it; you might like it” and “What’s the worst that could happen?” I am yet to drown and I can now admit with no residual grudge that he was right on every single occasion. Maybe Dr Pepper’s advertising executives were onto something too.

4. A problem shared is a problem two people know about

Training for triathlon – whatever distance – is stressful. That’s the point of training, to progressively, steadily stress your body, stimulate adaptations and allow recovery which ultimately makes you fitter. Training, for me, is also a de-stressor, endorphin-generator and an excellent opportunity to process things I need to mull over or creatively solve. So although I highly value, and prioritise, my training time, it’s important that the physical stress my plan calls for on a weekly basis is in balance with any extra emotional or intellectual stress in the rest of my life. If Philip doesn’t know I have a big work deadline, that I’m worrying over a particular task, or that I’ve barely slept all week, we risk him asking for more than I may have the capacity to manage and that’s likely to lead to poor performance, negativity and suboptimal recovery. Your coach doesn’t have to be your shrink, but you might find their fees are lower. Thankfully, when it comes to balancing my nutritional demands, Strength and Conditioning program, mental health and physiotherapy, I also have an integrated team at the Bosworth Clinic who regularly talk about me and my progress and make sure no single aspect is overpowering.

5. Joking aside

Philip’s jokes are funny. Honestly. Not many other people seem to agree, but then some days the only other person I can find to laugh at my jokes is Philip. It’s a perplexing mystery for us both, but at least between the two of us we can always raise a smirk.

By no means am I claiming to be a model athlete, or to have all these lessons fully locked down just yet. But we’re making a good deal of progress and I’m excited for what we’re going to achieve this year.