Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Coach? Wow, expensive tastes!

I’ve been threatening to write more about coaching for a while now, and I’ve been putting it off. One of the big reasons that I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I have a cycling coach. But I’m finally talking about it because I know now it’s one of the best cycling decisions I’ve made. Why the embarrassment?

1) I'm not racing. And have no immediate plans to start. I might, in the future. But racing's not the reason I signed the coach.

 2) What are books and the internet for? So many people buy Joe Friel's bible, a few DVDs and seem to train extremely effectively.

Thinking it through, the whole “I’m not racing" is a bit bogus, frankly. If I’m not racing, why do I have an aggressively set up road racer with components that are built (and priced) for lightness and precision? Why do I use Speedplay Zero pedals with road cleats that have a deathgrip when on the bike, and make me waddle around like a hobbled penguin when off it? Why am I so obsessed with my average speed and heartrate? Why not just tootle about on the Volpe with its relaxed geo, Crank Brothers Candy pedals and Tiagra components--all perfectly adequate for anyone who isn’t paid to win races--and just be happy with that?

And as for the second (still doing that ‘thinking it through’ thing) it's great that some people can train from books. Perhaps they are more motivated and have an instinctive understanding of what is needed, as well as excellent proprioception. I’m not as good about being motivated to do LT tests, time trials, hill repeats and workout planning. 'Above average, but not particularly good' is my default landing zone, and I really need a bit of a kick to get me going. (Another thing to consider is about how much better those skilled self-trained people would be if they had a coach.)

Cheaper than an upgrade
Coaching has been expensive, at least for me, but looking back I realise that I don’t regret any of the expense. It is still cheaper than a set of light wheels or a carbon frame (the logical upgrades for someone who has a CAAD9 frame and RS-10 wheels). More important, I’ll bet the cost of frame and wheels together that coaching has given me vastly more speed, power and efficiency than BOTH the upgrades would have done. What’s the point of doing the same rubbish I’ve always done, just that my bike’s a bit lighter?

Thanks to the coach’s relentless focus on pedalling technique, my efficiency has gone up drastically, making me faster at a given HR. Also, it’s made my climbing so efficient that I now actually look forward to battling gravity (something I used to dread). I recently climbed 2,300m over 90km, and felt just fine. I remember how it used to kill me to climb half that over the same distance.

Also, because of the coach’s long hill intervals and constant emphasis on LT and that “lactate feeling”, I’m able to control my effort and therefore the level of tiredness during and after rides so much better. I’m now on a strength training programme, and because it’s cycling orientated and I’ve been shown exactly how to lift, I’m more motivated and confident, not just to stick with it, but to push it a little and challenge myself. (I’ve been know to hurt myself in the gym before. Nothing bad, but enough to put me off.)

And finally, it’s a huge relief to have someone who knows you and your skill level to turn to with questions. It’s here that the coach’s experience really shows, and he is able to get to the heart of problems very quickly. Very often, some of the best advice you get is stuff you knew (or kind of knew) all along--you just needed someone else to see it/qualify it/confirm it.