Thursday, January 19, 2012

on coaching and training and other gibberish

You'll remember, dear friends, because I just won't let you forget, that back in July I signed up for an ironman. One of the first decisions I made was deciding that I wanted to work with a coach.  I went through the highly scientific process of harassing the crap out of everyone I know, including the internet, for recommendations, and then spent a bunch of time asking the same questions to people over and over again on the phone before I settled on someone who I thought was the best match.  He set fire to my entire life, my race schedule included, told me to trust in the process, and we hit the ground, erm, well... running.  


August is a pretty tough month to begin HR training, and I get that.  I started out with my coach by doing a max HR test, and he created zones and numbers and training from there.  I trained using those numbers for a few weeks and something just wasn't right.  So he adjusted my numbers, and adjusted them again, and again and again.  And instead of seeing progress, I was seeing that I was getting slower and less efficient across the HR board.  When I asked questions about what was happening, I was presented with a complicated series of baffling graphs that were supposed to "prove" that I was getting faster even though my watch plus the earth were saying otherwise and in the end, I was essentially told to just do my workouts and not try and understand ("Hush, silly girl, let the big people talk.").


Fast forward to Waterman's, where I didn't have a great day for a lot of reasons, almost none of them related to my level of fitness at the time.  In an attempt to salvage value from the day, I pulled together some questions I had about events that occurred on race day (other than crashing my bike) and sent them off to my coach.  This led to a series of interactions that solidified the decision I had been considering making for the last several weeks: to search for a new coach, one with whom I was a better match.  I was hesitant to do so only because I've seen others bounce around among coaches, never sticking with one long enough to actually see any progress, and I'm not a quitter, I don't give up on things.  But it suddenly became very clear what the right answer was.


In my original search, I only looked for local folks because I believed that it was important to be working with someone nearby, just in case I needed to bang on their front door at 4am with a burning question about EFS or lock laces.  In the three months I spent with my first coach, I learned that location was really not all that important, especially in a city like DC where there is a glut of triathlon resources, and certainly not as important as finding someone that I could have a good relationship with and not be too terrified of to ask questions.  So I carefully crafted an email and sent it off to one of my super duper triathlon girl superstar crushes who I had been stalking through twitter and the blog world for quite some time.  I squealed with delight when I got a response (I still do this sometimes, sorry, Sonja) and after lots of discussion with the mafia and the poet and the rest of my support system, I was in.


We decided that I'd take November off from being coached entirely to see just how much of a mess I could make in four weeks and I'd start at the beginning of December.  I gleefully went back to my old ways of running lots of miles all the time as hard as I could without much recovery and ran myself through a half marathon PR and right into a fatigue hole.  I essentially collapsed on her doorstep on December 1 puking and raving.  Try and make this pile of slobbering Katie into an ironman, aaaand good luck with that.  And I'm now about halfway through month two and I can say, without a doubt, that this was absolutely the right decision for me.


I felt back in August, and I still feel, that one of the best parts of being coached is that it removes so much stress from my training life.  I'm a hamster on a wheel.  I wake up, check Training Peaks, do what I'm supposed to do and that's pretty much that.  Someone else is making the giant spreadsheets and figuring out when to push and pull based on my races and my recovery and the schedule of my life, and I'm so relieved that it's not me.  I'm a young athlete - I can swim without drowning, ride mostly without crashing, and run without falling down - and I'm training for my first IM, so all I have to do is what I'm told and I'll probably get there all right.  That part isn't really rocket science - although getting anal-retentitve type-A athletes to do it (and nothing more!) probably is.  I'm not sure that I've ever had someone in any facet of my life tell me, "you're not working hard enough."  And while I love being a TP-robot, I also like understanding why I'm doing the things I'm doing.  My coach is awesome for about a billion reasons and I will sit you down and make you listen to all of them, but I think that one of the best things about our relationship is that I feel like I'm being heard - which is all people really ever want.  I send her somewhere between two and forty-seven emails a day asking all kinds of bizarre questions, and she always finds or has the answers without making me feeling like I'm a babbling idiot.  I've followed her for a long time as an athlete, but what I'm learning is that she invests just as much of herself into coaching, at no apparent loss to either. 


One of the other parts of working with her that is so fabulous is that she takes a very holistic approach to training (as in, you can't compartmentalize; not as in, go live in the woods and drink dirt), and that is meshing really well with how my outlook has been changing over the past several months.  I can't remember the last time I felt this at peace with my training.  I used to be obsessed by numbers, I used to post weekly recaps of my training that showed everything I did all week, and in the late spring, for a number of reasons, I stopped doing it.  I think that by posting my weekly dallies, I was focusing on what I was doing compared to everyone else instead of focusing on what my own progress looked like.  That's a really hard mental game to play.  I was also constantly comparing my training load to the load of those around me and wow, does that get tired and old REAL fast.  I don't need to prove that I'm the biggest bitch in this playground, that I can go harder or longer or faster than anyone else.  Because I'll never win that one, and even if I did, who cares who wins on a training day?

There is a place in training for checking in with numbers, to make sure that progress is moving in the right direction.  That's a MAF test on the track, or a TT in the pool, and once it's not 30ยบ out it will probably be a TT outside on the bike.  In seven weeks I've been surprised by the progress that I've seen at these checkpoints, but I'm not going to lay it all out so you guys can tell me how awesome I am, because that doesn't matter either.  I'm not running at a 4 minute/mile pace or swimming hundreds on :45 seconds in the pool, I'm not cycling at 25mph while playing the banjo and not breaking a sweat, I'm not changing the world, I'm just training for an ironman.

So I'm going to sit back and just keep on keeping on.  I've been trying to quiet my mind and my training and draw it all inwards to hang onto this peace that I've found.  I'm working so hard on letting go of all the noise that surrounds me, and there is a lot of it here in DC, as there probably is everywhere.  Lots of noise telling me that I'm not training hard enough or fast enough or that I need to be spending piles of money on fancy equipment, and boy oh boy is THAT one of my soapbox topics right now, wealthy assholes throwing their wallets around instead of looking in the mirror and facing the work that needs to be done.  So letting go is a process in itself, but I'm trying.  Trusting in the fact that I am on a good path that is straight and true and will lead me to have the best possible day on June 24th.  But I'm even learning that while race day is special and magical, it's still just one day.  Sure, I'm darn proud of the PRs I've set and I'll be excited to set more, but what matters more is when I have the days like I did on New Year's Eve - where I've done the work that will let me go out and just explode with joy because I'm moving and sweating and breathing and I'm surrounded by friends and love.  I'm going to cross a lot of finish lines in my life and if I can cross every single one as happy as I was that night, as happy as I was at Philadelphia last fall, then that is really all I need.  That's why I'm here.  I got a good strong reminder of what really matters, and I just dare you to try and convince me that it's numbers on a clock.  

38 comments:

  1. love this post and I am so glad you are feeling the way you are!

    and if you can find someone who can ride 25mph while playing a banjo, please let me know. i would hire them to ply for my birthday or something!

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  2. This is a really refreshing post, and a good one to read as someone who is easily caught up in that numbers game. It seems like everything in DC can turn into a rat race, tri training included.

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  3. I think you should do the IM playing the banjo. Including during the swim.

    (and I agree on the coach removing a ton of stress)

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  4. I like this. Not as much as ice cream, but a lot.

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  5. Wow. This is a great post, Katie. I'm really glad to hear you found a coach that works for you and that you've come to peace with your training. You're going to perform much better in the IM because of it. (Do people say perform? Do? Race? I'm sorry I don't speak Ironman)

    Also, let me know what kind of mileage you'll be hitting around the end of February. I'm gonna be in town with some miles to get in and would love someone to run with =)

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  6. Actually, I'm surprised you don't mention the IM more often!!! Sounds like you made the right decision... trust in the plan only if you understand it. I'm such a control freak that instead of getting a coach I went to Co. Springs and got certified to be a USAT Level I Coach just so I could come up with my own training plan. So I know what I need to do the trick is making myself stick to the plan. I need an accountability partner, ahhhh! Keep it up and keep us posted!

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  7. I love this post. First, I'm so glad you found someone you can work well with. I feel I'm so lucky that the first time I tried a training group on, it fit.

    Second, I rarely put times or distances on my blog, because it's only relevant to me and having done this forever, a couple bad workouts or races doesn't necessarily mean to you what it means to someone else. I mean, we all have days (dare I say weeks) where it sucks the big one and then there are magic days where you have no idea where THAT came from. Of course, it came from the dark crappy days you pushed yourself through.

    ANYWAY, what I'm trying to say is I think blogging is a socially amazing thing, yet sometimes I think it can work against the confidence when too much info is imparted. I'm glad you are focusing on the feeling and final outcome, as opposed to each day or weeks results. :)

    You are going to do amazing at IM!

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  8. What do you mean you're not running a 4 min/mile pace? I thought you won the trials by a boob?!?

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  9. EVERYTHING in this post. Yes. Every emotion, revelation, break-through and turning point. You've hit them, you're becoming the best version of you. And oh my god, you're saying things like "holistic approach" and "just numbers" and "face the Real problems, don't just spend more money". I could hug you, 50x over. ;)

    The words here are those of an experienced, growing, intelligent, inspiring & curious athlete. You know what the bigger things are, you seek them & grab them. "I'm not changing the world, I'm just training for an ironman." That's the 'badass' hat you're wearing.

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  10. Great post. I am really looking forward to (and have enjoyed) following your training. IM training fascinates me. You people are amazing.

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  11. It's good to change coaches every once in a while. You get used to the one way of thinking, we all pattern our behavior roughly the same so making the change can take you to the next level. I'm glad you found someone you like.

    I coach a few people in everything from weight loss to ultramarathons. it's fun and I don't charge anything, I just do it because I like it.

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  12. "I'm not cycling at 25mph while playing the banjo and not breaking a sweat, I'm not changing the world, I'm just training for an ironman."

    Soooooooooo unsubscribing from this blog. Lame.

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  13. If this were a webcam blog you would see the smile that I have. What a great post.

    That mindset is why you will be successful at this IM thing you never mentioned before and I bet when you finish those 112 miles you will have a banjo and barely sweating because you'll be smiling from ear to ear at the same time.

    So happy that you found the right match.

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  14. its soooo hard not to judge how you're doing compared to others! I get passed by every other jogger out there, so its easier for me to not look at the numbers - I'd be last! Although Tuesday I was running on the sidewalk and started trying to race to catch up/pass one of those guys in an motorized wheelchair. Gotta take what you can, right? :)

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  15. I love this coming from you!
    Maybe, things are changing now that you're healthy and no longer have to fight just to do what you love (run) on a regular basis. Whatever the reason, it seems like you're finding a new balance that will surely get you all that your little fist-sized weapon desires. Here's to your best year ever!

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  16. So glad that you are happy and content with your coach, training, Ironman decision, life, etc. :)

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  17. wonderful post Katie and I agree with you 100% about Sonja's awesomeness as a Coach and human being. You squealed too huh?? :)

    So happy to hear that this training is going in such a positive direction-your attitude sounds SO HEALTHY and that is great to see!!

    wishing you nothing but the best in 2012

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  18. There's a sense of peace and faith (not in the Tebow way but in the trusting-yourself-and-those-you've-brought-close way) that really comes through in this post, and it's lovely.

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  19. YES! Coaches rule! I never thought I would like someone telling me what to do regarding my training... but holy shit it's the best! and stress free!

    Yay for coaches!!

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  20. I'm glad you found a coach who is perfect for you. The idea of having a coach stresses me out just about as much as the idea of not having a coach.

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  21. you. are. awesome. and i'm glad your coach is too!

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  22. I really loved this post – so honest and relatable. Thanks for sharing. :)

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  23. This might possibly be my most favorite blog post, ever. It's so real and refreshing.
    I LOVE to see that other people feel like they are in competition just from posting their workout logs, but also to see it's just another form of comparing yourself to others, which none of us should do.
    I do love following your training- not because I want to compare anything, but because it's exciting to follow your journey. So glad you found the best coach for you, too!

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  24. I love this post as well! I'm so glad that you have a great coach that you feel good about. It was also interesting to me to hear that some people consider posting their workouts, etc as bragging! I have been keeping a log of mine for my own reference as well as for others who are curious as to how much work goes into training or want to see my approach. Personally I think everyone's training plan will and has to be different and there is no reason to ever compare yours to anyone else's since we're all unique in our strengths and weaknesses, preferences, recovery times, etc.

    Can't wait to hear more about this coach! If I decide to do a second Ironman I may consider getting one!

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  25. Great post! Choosing a coach is such a personal decision, and you need 100% confidence in them or it's not going to work. So glad you've found the right person. Good luck with your training!

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  26. Aw, this smacks of "happy Katie" and I like to hear that! Finding someone you trust is so important. Finding someone who believes in you and makes you squee? Even better!
    You are going to dominate this training - because you give your whole heart to everything that you do.
    Including being a friend.
    So excited for you!

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  27. This is full of awesomeness. I'm hoping your peace with training radiates to every other facet of your life this year.

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  28. LOVE this post! You can just feel the excitement, happiness and joy spilling off the blogpost - I'm thrilled that you are so thrilled and excited about all aspects of training! I agree on all points about finding a coach - mine has helped me this past year in so many ways to figure out how to become a better athlete. And I agree with the not comparing stats - it can get old and depressing and in the end it doesn't matter anyway. What matters is the progress you make yourself, not compared to others. Happy Training!

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  29. Congrats on finding a coach! She's one of my crushes too since she is so REAL! Your gonna do great!

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  30. good for you listening to your gut feel and going with what you know is right for you in order to reach that IM goal.

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  31. Great post, and I know exactly how you feel! Keep up the solid work! :)

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  32. I want to stand up, wave one hand and point to this post with my other hand and say: "YEAH! THIS!" You've got exactly the right philosophy for working with your coach, and it sounds like you've found the perfect coach to work with your own personal training goals and desires. The best sign that you're doing ANYTHING right is how you feel inside, and it's hard to beat "peaceful."

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  33. Glad the coaching is going so well. I am definitely jealous and need to find a coach of mine ASAP (or when I get my finances together...) I would think finding someone you clicked with whether they were in town or not would be the most important thing. I love the idea of being a hamster on a wheel and just doing what you are told.

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  34. Just found your blog and this post is fan-freakin-tastic. Good work!

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