After years of endurance sports learned from books and one year of online tri coaching, this year I decided that it was time to get a real coach.
I had no idea what this would involve, with my only reference being 1980’s PE teachers! I had images of cross country running across icy fields while some guy in a matching Adidas tracksuit screamed at me.
I searched in the local area and narrowed in on a coach, Mario Huys, who was based about 30km away with a medium sized training facility. Mario has extensive Ironman experience, held the double Ironman world record and had raced as a pro in Kona many times… so his CV was more than fine!
On the first session we did a quick run on a treadmill followed by a functional fitness test. During the treadmill run, Mario identified that my form was not great and I was pushing my body to run using willpower rather than good technique.
The functional fitness test followed which identified some pretty basic tests that I could not complete. These were related to some weaknesses in my neck, lower back, knee and ankle. The result was that my form was changing to compensate for these weaknesses and getting out of balance. This probably explained years of injuring myself.
Following this was a consultation about my goals and what I would need to do to get there. We also discussed training philosophies and taking a holistic approach. This was really good to baseline me and keep reality in check!
My weight was fine and I had been plant based for some time, so diet was not a focus. Similarly, I had already completed an Ironman, multiple long distance runs and swims so endurance was not seen as an area for development.
We agreed that improving my basic strength and technique would make the largest difference and that training would focus around this. We would use swimming as a major improvement tool. This would also reduce my risk for injury.
Mario then created a training schedule, which he revised and released every Sunday using an online tool. This detailed every workout and allowed for feedback. As I was training for Challenge Roth and a long distance bike race as my A events, I had a training load of 15hrs per week plus or minus 5hrs.
A typical training week has 3x 1hr strength sessions, 3x 1hr to 90minute swim sessions, 3-4x runs and 3-4x cycles. The long cycle on the weekend was up to 5hrs, the long run maximum 2hrs. Each workout had a clear definition and an outcome.
There was a clear emphasis on developing a feel for my body, and many workouts focused around technique and holding the correct effort zone, cadence or form.
As I trained, I would normally meet Mario every 3-4 weeks and go through specific topics. We also had sessions where we looked at swim technique and did bike fits.
As the A list races got closer we went through race plans and strategies to get the best possible time.
So, dit it work? I think the numbers speak loudest.
Ironman Time 2018 (before coach) – 11:57
Ironman Time 2019 (with coach) – 10:18
13% improvement in time.
The 10:18 in Roth could have been faster, however I messed up my pacing on the marathon! This was a rookie mistake and against Mario’s advice. I still have lots to learn.
If you had asked me in March this year, if I would have taken a 13% improvement in IM time, for sure yes!
The same can be seen on my overall training load score from Strava. The total fitness according to Strava’s algorithm was about 26% better. This was really driven by the plan allowing me to train day after day without fatiguing or injury. I also observed the same trend on Training peaks.
So a pretty good outcome, and someone I can reach out with all questions and also enjoy chatting with about everything triathlon! Downsides – I need to trust someone with my health and wellbeing, that is a big leap of faith.
As you read this, you are probably thinking, so what about costs? This cannot be for free.
Mario is not a being paid to watch your every work out, however, he spends a few hours or so every month working with you and is preparing personal plans every week. Special sessions more than this cost extra (e.g. bike fits). This worked our at 150 euros a month, Details here (Bronze)
In a sport where a single race can cost 500 euros entry, plus everything else… a bike can cost over 3000 euros and swimming costs minimum 50 euros a month. This represents about 10-20% extra cost. If I factor in the cost of travel to races, this percentage drops.
My point of view, is that preventing injury and improving performance while getting older is massive for me. I could easily spend the same money on a better bike, wetsuit or running shoes. I doubt I would have got the same return!
Is this a luxury for an age-grouper… maybe? I take the point of view that if I am going to spend 10-20hrs a weeks of my precious free time training, I want to get the best from it.
I think an experienced coach is a great idea, if you can find one you are willing to learn from. I would find someone specific to your discipline and make sure that you trust the advice you are given. I would not recommend randomly choosing some guy in a cookie cutter fitness centre.
If you asked me to go back to online training plans and self coaching, I think I would not… It is simply too difficult to coach yourself and there is no way to easily see your technique objectively.
If you happen to be in Tirol, Mario can be found here, I highly recommend him if you are serious about getting better and share his passion for improving yourself. Be prepared to do the work though!