About a year ago, I began working with Coach Howdyshell. You might be thinking, “A coach? Geez, you must be a serious athlete.” I’m not a professional and I don’t make money from racing, but I do identify as an “athlete”, perhaps a bit more serious than the average weekend warrior. I also get a great deal of satisfaction from seeing what I’m physically capable of doing in the mountains. I want to set goals and then optimize my life to attain them; it’s something I seem to have naturally done my whole life.
I had big thoughts and big goals for the 2016-2017 ski mountaineering (“skimo”) race season. My sights were set on 3-4 races, which was going to be my most ambitious winter of racing to date. “Training” in previous seasons had been pretty loose, with logging mostly unstructured time in the mountains and maybe some intervals thrown in to hopefully get my body race-ready. Not much structure; not much planned progression.
This year, I wanted to experiment a little more with a training plan; something I could follow and track whether or not my performance improved. Rather than just “do it on my own”, I decided to take the plunge and spend the money to hire a coach. Looking back on last year’s work, it was worth it: I learned a great deal, was well-prepared for my races, and had a whole lot of fun during the season.
Here’s the Top 5 reasons that I decided to work with a Coach (and maybe you should too):
It may be obvious, but it’s worth saying: the number one reason to work with a Coach is for the accountability. When you create your own workout/training plan, as I have done in the past, you’re dependent upon your own will power to then follow the plan and do the workout. With a coach who is going to be looking at my uploaded workout, they were going to know if I didn’t do what was scheduled or blew up halfway through the intervals. That for me was enough motivation on some of those hard days to get my butt out of bed and get after it.
2. Trust in the Plan
I look at training and racing as one grand biology experiment (yes, I know, I’m a bit of a nerd). You choose the inputs (training) and get to see how your body adapts and what are the results (performance during an activity or race). That being said, I don’t seem to have a whole lot of time. So when I do something, I want to know that I’m doing it right. Having a knowledgeable coach who’s been around the block can give you the assurance that your training plan will be based on solid principles, both theoretical and experiential. This helps me to relax and not worry so much about the quality of the program, and put more energy into training and recovery.
3. Learn Training Strategies and Racing Tactics
As much as I enjoyed turning over the development of the training plan to a coach (see #2), I still wanted to know what was going on “behind the scenes.” Howdyshell was willing to answer all my questions and share with me much of the literature upon which he was basing my plan. I learning about heart rate zones, lactate threshold testing, periodization, why recovery is so important, race warmups, skimo transition tips and tricks, and how to pace my training intervals (and subsequently my races). If you do work with a coach, find one who is willing to teach you the principles behind the programming as I believe it will improve your overall development as an athlete.
4. Keeping things Realistic
“Life” happened and it was hard to stick with the plan during large portions of last autumn. Plus, some travels took me to lower elevations. If I had been following my own training plan, I feel as if I would have become frustrated with my inability to continue the training progression. Howdyshell helped me keep things in perspective: “Don’t stress. Get in whatever you can, and then once you get back and settled down we’ll re-work the plan” and “With the extra rest, you’ll probably feel a bit shitty for the first couple workouts, but just ease into ‘em nicely (maybe get out for something nice and light today instead of a day off), and then rock and roll!” (actual text messages from Coach).
This reason goes hand in hand with item #1. However, whereas accountability can be on the negative side of things (Coach is going to know when I don’t do a workout), I believe encouragement is an even better form of motivation. Examples include feedback when a workout goes well (“Man, you’re really getting the hang of those intervals”), a text the morning of a hard workout encouraging you to crush it, or a reminder of your potential as an athlete to improve and reach your goals. Often, these are things you know to be true already, sometimes it just takes an outside perspective to really make it sink it.