I chronicled my attempts to learn how to swim in my last post, and how that led to having a 1:1 private swim instructor for ten weeks. This week I completed my fifth week of that instruction, and I can honestly say that although I’m still nowhere near ready to tackle 375 to 400m in open water, I have seen a huge improvement.
In those five weeks, I’ve gone from flailing my way through single lengths to flailing and swimming my way through 20+ lengths. But best of all, my confidence in the water has increased, and the swimming has started to feel more natural. Not entirely natural, but more natural.
And I firmly believe that’s the profound difference coaching makes. I’m receiving instruction from someone who’s pushing me hard, but also building my confidence. Someone who’s letting me prove to myself what I can do, rather than letting me fear what I can’t. There are major and minor corrections to be had each week, but more and more, those are minor tweaks.
As someone who grew up playing team sports, always coached, I benefited from the instruction and guidance of those coaches. I can still remember small tidbits from just about every coach I’ve had — not least of whom was the grade school track coach whose siren call led to the title of this blog.
“Hard all the way” to the finish line. Don’t slow up because you see the line ahead.
But duathlon for me has been a solo sport without coaching. I’ve done what I can to learn about training, about both the cycling and running disciplines, racing strategy, gear and form. I’ve learned from race experiences, from mistakes and from seeing others’ successes. From research and reading. From doing.
However, after my suprisingly decent freshman and sophomore seasons, I knew I wasn’t making much more headway on my own. I was training harder, but making no further advances from a sometimes-third-place to a usually-third-place or even higher. And mid-way through my third season, ie last year, I felt I could even be losing ground. So I wondered if perhaps I ought to be seeking some coaching.
After looking around at the various models of coaching available, I dismissed that option. It didn’t fit into the budget, but more so, I told myself that coaching is for those competing at higher levels than a “front-of-the-middle-of-the-pack” age-grouper.
So imagine my pleasure when my lovely wife, Team McKnapp’s Chef d’Équipe, gave me my birthday present (early) last month, which was three hours of coaching from Mike Coughlin, of Discomfort Zone Performance Coaching.
Mike is an ultra-distance guy, who has competed and continues to do so in a variety of disciplines. And with quite a record of success. His coaching is based out of Guelph, and has caught my eye a few times over the last few years.
The approach was to set two sessions, at 90 minutes each. I was terrified before my first session, in the way that someone is scared of something while also excited for it. Having someone help me sort out whether my running and biking was causing injuries, provide guidance on correcting any issues with biodynamics and reframe my training approach would be amazing. Having someone scrutinize all of the above could also be mortifying.
I had nothing to fear, of course. Mike showed up for our first session and put me right to work on the bike on the trainer, getting me to spin while we talked through background and hopes for the time he had with me. We then hit the roads for a ride together and the track for a short run. He was able to given me quick tidbits and observations on the spot, but promised more during our second session the next week.
Best of all, he reassured me that I’m not a thundering rhino on the bike or when my feet hit the pavement/track. Which is what I am in my mind. Well, maybe more of a cross between a thundering rhino and a charging bull.
Long story short, Mike’s second visit to Team McKnapp headquarters brought some running drills to help me perfect my technique and train my body to a higher performance level. But best of all, he gave me valuable insight into a more effective training regimen, and a few “reframing” thoughts that helped me shift my thinking.
I look forward to joining Mike and the DZ denizens on some of their group rides — which must sound odd to anyone who knows me and my introverted nature — and I suspect I’ll be tapping into Mike’s coaching more along the way. We didn’t even touch on the swim, after all.
Between this swim instruction and the performance coaching, I’ve had quite an uplift in my psyche, which is a great way — an amazing way — to enter the final phases of pre-season training.
And that’s what a coach can give you. Perspective, constructive feedback, a few tips and tricks that will stick with you for life. A boost, a push, a gentle kick in the backside. Whether it’s a firm voice from behind the bench in a freezing cold arena at 6am in 1986; or in 2017, up on the pool deck, shouting down to me at 8:00am as I flounder my way from “aqua-useless” to “was that a dolphin?!”; on the street in front of my house at 7:00pm on a drizzly evening showing me some drills; or, perhaps, later, sitting at my dining table encouraging me to reframe my thinking around my training volume and intensity… it’s feedback and perspective that sticks.
So while I am enjoying the particular challenges of a sport that is largely solo in nature, I’ll be making sure that I don’t end up viewing this as a requirement to go it alone.