This week I had the pleasure of being the guest speaker at my running clubs (Spa Striders) coaching seminar, hosted by my coach Ben Parkinson.
The seminar was on the principles of designing an effective training plan, looking at training plan phases, weekly structures, key weekly sessions and supporting sessions. It was super interesting to see and hear the thought process behind my own training plan and the importance of looking at the overall picture with A, B and C races.
Having been coached by Ben for almost 2 years, with the focus being on the European Duathlon Championships in Ibiza last October and the World Duathlon Champs in Pontevedra this April, was asked to talk about my views on a structured training plan and the benefits of having a coach. So I thought I would also share here!
Initially, Ben gave me a few questions to consider when I was planning my slot, the first was my thoughts on having a structured training plan...
I would say having a structured training plan is essential regardless of your ability level. A well designed training plan greatly increases the return you get on your training investment, and also reduces the risk of overtraining.
However, many beginners (I have done this too!) base their training plans on pre-written plans from the internet. Don't get me wrong, this is a great start and I am not knocking that at all as it is a good first step to effectively planning your training for a key race. But they are most likely not written for you - to fit in with your strengths and weaknesses, your day job (if only we could all be full time athletes...), and your other responsibilities. And often they are not at the appropriate starting level for an individual - the training volume of the plan may be too high or even too low for their abilities. This is particularly relevant to multi-sport athletes, as an individual will be starting each element at a slightly different level - for instance someone new to swimming, but competent at cycling and running would pick up an off the shelf triathlon training plan and probably would be fine with the bike and run sessions, but may not even be able to complete the swim workouts prescribed!
So this is where a coach can come in handy - to assist with tweaking and flexing a plan to suit you at the beginning and then throughout its duration as life challenges come along! For me, some of the key requirements of my plan for the 2019 season were:
Strangely I came across this quote the Monday before the talk which pretty much sums it all up in my opinion!
There are a few reasons why this resonated with me when I saw it! But simply.. it is so true. A coach acts as someone to bounce ideas off - they offer that second opinion on what to do and what not to do when it comes to training and even race choices, and they can help tweak and flex your training plan when needed. We may all think we know what we should and shouldn't be doing, but how many times have you thought back and realised you may have realised you may have made the wrong decision - I certainly have, thinking I can run through a niggle as I didn't want to miss a session and it made it worse!
So having coach, they act as an objective person who can give you that secondary viewpoint, giving you advice and keeping you on track.
It hasn't at all been plain sailing, and both Ben and I can tell you that we are always learning - every person's body responds differently to training. You can't expect that your first ever training plan will be perfect - it is only by testing and tweaking a plan can you fully understand what works and what doesn't work for yourself.
This last season has been a particularly tough one - at the very beginning of the season I was plagued with shin splints, then I caught the Noro-virus in February and then badly sprained my ankle in the summer.... and this is where a coach can be so beneficial and why I stress the importance of adaptability, flexibility and acceptance of change.
Unfortunately, rubbish things happen but you need to accept these and make the best out of the situation. So whilst I had shin splints for instance, Ben was able to give me alternative bike sessions to do instead, and then later on I was able to adjust my training plan post Noro-virus to slowly and carefully get me back up to the training hours I was doing pre-illness.
Ultimately, most of us are doing this for fun so make sure you are enjoying it! Never become a slave to your plan. Your training plan is just words on a paper, or in a spreadsheet or wherever, but the way your body is responding to the training will determine your success.
If you're constantly tired, injured or lacking mojo, your plan might be too challenging for you, and maybe you should consider scaling it back.
If however, you never feel challenged at all and your performances in races and training have plateaued, then maybe you're not challenging yourself enough - it does have to be a little bit hard!
I am certainly no expert in this, nor am I qualified coach so cannot offer detailed advice on setting your training plans. But if you aren't able to have your own coach then there are plenty of resources out there on the internet and in books that can help you tailor your own training plan to suit your own circumstances - just remember to keep it fun and listen to your body!
This is one of my all time non nut butter sweet treats (I know.. they do actually exist!)