This year I hired a coach with an eye on doing well at a few events.
I’ve been racing since college, and have written and edited countless training columns, plus talked at length with pro riders, physiologists and coaches over the years when I covered pro racing. All that to say, I think I've got a decent handle on how to train. But this year I finally took my own advice and got some pro coaching help with Frank Overton of FasCat Coaching. Here's what I learned.
1. Impartial reasoning is better than emotional decisions
Even if you know quite a bit (which I don't), you aren't necessarily the best judge of matters involving your own body, mind or ego.
"Okay, this was junk. Here’s why."
As I've done in the past, I bought a year's subscription to TrainingPeaks to upload and track my power-based data. This year, though, Frank would prescribe specific training based on my goals and the type of training I was already doing, then monitor whether or not I was sticking to the plan on the micro and macro levels, chiming in with commentary like the above.
He's called me out for doing too much on recovery rides and racking up junk miles — pedaling around too easily to reap training benefit — on what were supposed to be more rigorous days. The funny part is that I have given friends grief in person and on Strava for the same thing, yet I was obviously guilty myself.
TrainingPeaks is a handy tool for both plotting out training on the micro and macro levels and charting progress as you go
2. Make easy days easy, and hard days hard
This is a phrase I have written in training columns and advised others to do more times than I can recall. Yet… having a coach prescribe specific power- and time-based intervals was a wake-up call about what hard really feels like, and why it's so important to take easy days truly easy.
Frank has coached using power for many years, working with pro teams and the US national team along with individual pro and amateur athletes. With me uploading all my rides to TrainingPeaks, he can quickly assess the situation.
"Okay, I have a rule about recovery rides: they are one hour or less. Anything more and they become junk miles. Also, recovery rides occur outdoors. Indoors, no – just one ride closer to cracking on the trainer."
Or, rides that were supposed to be endurance zone 2 but were too easy got called out, based on Frank’s reading of TrainingPeaks metrics like Intensity Factor.
"0.56 IF = junk miles"
When you're training by yourself, it's easy to repeat catchphrases while not actually executing on them. Having someone hold you accountable, however, is effective.
This year I've had coach Frank Overton steer both the big picture and the specific workouts and intervals
3. Fun riding and training can be compatible. Sometimes
My training before hiring Frank was basically this:
- Monday – easy or off
- Tuesday – hard group ride
- Wednesday – long
- Thursday – fun group ride
- Friday – short
- Saturday – race or big ride
- Sunday – easy or off
I really enjoy the group rides with my friends, and didn’t want to give those up. Frank agreed to keep those on the schedule except for during the run-in to target events, where specific preparation would trump fun.
Whether you are training for a big one-day event like a gran fondo, preparing for regular racing or just trying to get fit, you need to do a mix of intensities and durations. Why not incorporate fun rides into that?
"Group rides are a wonderful training resource especially when the goal is to build a strong aerobic foundation," Frank said. "Following the traditional zone 2, tempo and sweet spot cycles, I like to put the final touches on an athlete's base by prescribing a group ride one to three times a week. What I like about power data from group rides is that it is immediately known if the group ride is good, great, or a waste of time for the athlete."
When doing my own training 'plan' in the past, I'd often set off with a specific goal, but then drift and default to following a group because that was more fun and mentally easier. The downside is that you're never (or at least I'm never) going to do all-out intervals with all-out recovery periods in the middle of a group ride. Further, if you're doing hard group rides often, you probably won't be fresh enough to do said all-out intervals properly. See #2.
4. It’s cool — and more accurate — to have a pro guide you
Everyone likes personal attention, right? I've joked that coaches for amateur riders are like paid friends. But really, a good coach is better than that; if your friends are like mine, they're probably much better at giving you a hard time than thoughtful training prescriptions. I've enjoyed having a coach not only cook up a custom plan for my specific goals around constraints and preferences, but also tweak things on the fly and explain why we were doing what. I found myself really looking forward to new workouts like mini challenges.
I also appreciated not having to worry about analysis or planning. As riders in 2016, we have access to a variety of tools, from power meters to SMO2 devices to TrainingPeaks' comprehensive Performance Manager Chart, but that doesn’t mean we really know what to do with these things.
I’ve found a pro coach to be like a doctor or a dentist. Sure, you can Google around and try to do some self-analysis, but it’s a lot more straightforward and probably more accurate to just go to a pro and get their opinion.
With TrainingPeaks (and with Today's Plan), you can plot out cumulative training load, rest and (hopefully) freshness. I enjoyed letting a pro coach take the wheel here, and just focus on doing the workouts myself
5. Lo and behold, it works
Coaching isn’t cheap. As much as we’d all like to have the best possible product and service for a super low price, that doesn’t often work out. For many people, it might be cost-prohibitive. But you could say the same thing about a new pair of Gucci carbon wheels. And I’d argue that good coaching can make you faster than said wheels.
There’s a reason why pro riders are coached. Even top athletes who know their bodies well benefit from expert guidance, whether that’s through planned periodization, monitoring and adjustment of training, or just encouragement and insight.
Stock training plans are available from a variety of sources, and both TrainingPeaks and Today’s Plan offer excellent platforms for self-monitoring. For instance, you can buy a plan through either, then upload your rides into the calendar and get instant feedback on how well you’re tracking against the plan. I’ve used TrainingPeaks’ plans when I was training for something I was totally ignorant about, like doing my first marathon or Ironman, and definitely benefited from the guiding regimentation. Today’s Plan has the cool option of specifying how many hours you have on each day to train, and then the software customizes your training around that. These are a far cry from handwriting my own plan back in college, using Joe Friel’s still-excellent The Cyclist’s Training Bible as a resource.
But even the best book or software can’t replace a good coach. Now, Frank hasn’t performed any miracles. I will not be competing in Rio or in France this summer. But I am seeing higher power numbers than I have for a while, I’m going into events and hard training more rested than I have in the past, and overall I’m just enjoying the whole training process more.