In 2004 I began my career as a triathlon coach and through the past ten years…. I have learned more than a PhD program could have ever taught me.
Coaching is both an art and a science. In truth I find the science part the easier part. Protocols, heart rate, power zones are relatively concrete. Once you determine the type of athlete you are working with (aerobic, anaerobic by nature, experience, injuries, time available, experience…. too many factors to even list) the science is applied. As a coach you keep up on the latest and greatest by attending seminars, webinars, surrounding yourself with the coaches who not only teach well, but are successful in life and with their athletes. (Notice I said nothing about their own athletic performances).
The art piece, for many… is the harder part. It’s my favorite part and for me it’s the bread and butter of what I do.
I learn my athletes and I do it creatively. Initially when possible I meet them face to face, or we talk on the phone. I need to hear their voice. In their voice I can sense enthusiasm, burnout, dedication, vulnerability. The human voice is a powerful door opening tool to a human’s soul. So are their eyes. When I meet with an athlete I can tell a lot by just making eye contact with them. Often in that initial interview I can predict their entire season.
I get a good sense of an athlete through communication. My communication is largely through text and email and through training logs. I look to their comments before I look at their workout data. I read between lines and pick up on whether they are fatigued, excited, I can tell a lot about how they are really feeling that way.
Some of my athletes have challenging lives, and are going through some personal hell. I am there if they need a friend, a listening ear. More often than not they don’t need or want me to know every detail…. they can just say “I am going through some shit Mar.” and they know that no matter what, I have their back.
Data is important to back up what’s going on. Using that combination I can forge ahead in a way that builds upon our previous work. At the same time I have a few athletes whose data seems to never pick up…. and I love to sense their reaction to it. Initially frustration usually occurs. Then they settle back and realize that they know their body better than a heart rate strap does. They go out and feel their paces and realize if on race day satellites don’t connect that they know what to do.
I love watching my athletes progress throughout the season. Both physically and emotionally. I don’t need to get deep into their shit to be on that journey with them. We all have a cross to bear of some sort. Sometimes we don’t need to know what the cross is we just need a “Hey, I get it. Let’s just freaking run.”
I love watching my athletes manage their expectations. Sometimes they are unsure, not confident. Then comes that time they confide in me…. heck maybe I can do X, Y or Z. I want them to dream. I want them t aspire. I never want an athlete to feel like they are incapable of something because an authority figure in the triathlon world told them that they weigh too much, or don’t have enough volume.
Every day athletes smash those myths. Never give any so called authority the ability to diminish your beliefs in your abilities and what you can achieve.
No matter where your place is in the hierarchy of what you define a good, so so, or elite athlete to be … measure where you fall. Dream big. Aim big. Go for it. Let the authority on what you dream of accomplishing…. be you.
I love when I can come along for the ride. I am merely the guide. I am there to help you through the maze. Sometimes I put a brick wall up to see what you do. Do you let it hold you back, do you admit when you just can’t climb it? Do you see it and stop? Or do you take a deep breath and conquer it.
A friend recently posted something to the effect of …. as a coach I am never at work yet I never stop working. How true.
I hold my phone close specifically because of my athletes. They text, call, email me. I am available for them almost all of the time. I scroll through their training logs while I lay in bed at night before I fall asleep and I scroll through them at 3:55am when I wake up (I love that hour of the day. LOVE IT.). I often wonder if they know how much time I spend reading, watching, planning, looking at HR and power. I spend a lot of time (just ask my husband!).
Coaching never feels like work, it feels like a passion. It is. It is a passion I can’t get enough of. I get more excited for their finish lines than my own. I draw such insiration from them, they have no idea how much. If I am experiencing a low in my day or season all I have to do is open my email and read their training logs. Their words mean more to me than they will ever know.
For me it’s a constant blend of art and science. Sometimes the art is listening about a boyfriend, or a family member’s death. Or just a really crappy day. When I attended my USAT Level I coaching certification at the NTC so many years ago Alan Lei was the speaker. He said “These are people’s lives you are dealing with.” and it’s such an honor they share their lives with me.
The lessons they learn in a particular workout are applicable to life. Sport bleeds into life and life bleeds into sport. Triathlon isn’t the end all be all but for so many of us it’s the lifestyle we choose to exist in.
And I freaking love it.
Every year when I coach Ironman Lake Placid…. I find a spot on the grassy hill. I sit there and I wait. I wait until all of them finish. I need to see them round that oval. It’s not the journey from start to finish that matters, it’s the 365 days that went before it. It’s emotional. It’s beautiful. And it’s why I am a coach.
Thank you Valor Triathlon Project. You teach me more than I could ever teach you.