I've been working with my coach, Jen Harrison, since January 1, 2010. I had been doing triathlons for a few years at that point, I'd done two 140.6 races as well as a number of half Iron and sprint and olympic distance triathlons. I was part of a big triathlon team here in DC and had plenty of awesome training partners. I was investing a fair amount of time and energy in my training and decided I wanted to work one-on-one with a coach to see if it was possible to get faster and find a little more success in my races. I was usually middle of the pack, nothing fantastic, and my race goals were often finish without feeling like I was dying and enjoy the race experience enough that I want to do it again. I podium'd once in a blue moon, always at very small races, and I was terribly weak in my swim and my bike. Sidestroke, anyone? I used a training plan but was constantly altering it and changing it around and I probably didn't take recovery days seriously and I probably didn't work hard enough on hard days, I let everything migrate towards the middle of medium effort.
In order to find a coach, I turned to blogs. Yes, blogs. I had been reading a number of blogs and Jen's name kept popping up on many of them. And they were good athletes too. Fast. Maybe this Jen Harrison could figure out a way to make me fast. I also liked how in every single one of the blogposts I read, her athletes really liked her as a person and it seemed like she was a friend in addition to being a coach. I knew that I would likely mesh well with someone who I could feel comfortable sending an email or text to with a dumb question and know that she wouldn't make me feel dumb for asking it. So that's basically all the research I did (granted, I had been reading the blogs for awhile, at least a couple of years, so before I had even contacted Jen, I felt a bit like I already knew her).
Old habits were hard to break and Jen, bless her, put up with a fair amount of my crap for that first year. 2010 was not my best year, I was a hot mess. I was still moving workout around to suit what I wanted to do (oh, I do not feel like biking today, I will run instead or I don't think I have enough run volume, let me tack on some extra miles to my long run or - and this is the best one - recovery day is a perfect day to make up all those workouts I skipped earlier this week when I kept oversleeping). I was going out alot on weekends with friends and I did a few too many trainer rides in January and February 2010 feeling socially hungover. I ate the double-wide dinner (mac and cheese and hot dogs) at least 2-3 times/week My mindset was this: even though I've committed to a coach, even though I'm investing alot of resources into this sport, I'm never going to be super, super great so why bother giving up my social life and double-wide dinner for the sport? Why make huge lifestyle changes if I don't have confidence in myself and my abilities? I simply wasn't invested mentally in myself as an athlete and I had zero confidence.
Fast-forward three years and I feel like I am a different athlete and a different person. I won't get into the nitty gritty details because I've hammered most of them to death through various blogposts over the years. The short and sweet:
- I eat much healthier
- I understand the importance of recovery days and I leave them alone
- I don't screw around with my schedule - if it is in Training Peaks on an assigned day, I do the workout on that day
- Speaking of Training Peaks, I actually update it after workouts
- Positive self talk and confidence: they don't make you an arrogant jerk, they make you a better athlete (when done in moderation, obviously)
- You are supposed to feel like a suffering pig on a spit when you are out there, going fast is not supposed to feel good
- Nutrition is the 4th discipline. Conquer it
- Don't half-ass your workouts. Do hard days hard, easy days easy
- Do all strokes at the pool, not just free. And flipturn. And swim more.
So I wanted to say Thank You to my coach. Not just for helping me become a faster and more confident athlete. More valuable to me is the friendship/mentorship that has developed over the years - I value that more than any PR. I appreciate the small things - you always respond to texts/emails and always with thoughtful, positive answers (and you've also not let me wimp out on workouts when I've texted trying to weasel out of them). You always give good feedback in Training Peaks and always seem to know when I needed that peppy response or advice on a workout. I realize you coach ALOT of athletes, but you never make it seem like you are too busy for me or my questions. I feel like I'm your only athlete and that's pretty neat (and probably takes an impressive amount of juggling and time management on your part). Your swim workouts are the new definition of awesome. The annual Tucson Tri Camp is one of the things I look forward to most every year because of the camaraderie created by your athletes and the challenging workouts. You expect alot from me as an athlete and you've taught me to raise my expectations about myself too. Just from an athlete's perspective - coaching someone well seems impossibly complicated - there's the physical workouts and the mental fitness and how they come together and you have to figure out what makes an athlete tick in order to tease out the best mental and physical performance simultaneously. I know that I am still learning how to put those things together to create a little race-day magic, and I can't tell you how much I appreciate your patience and guidance and advice as I figure things out with every race.