In terms of building your physiological fitness on the bike, there are a range of approaches people gravitate toward. These differ in the amount of structure they place on the time spent pedalling, how they fit in with the bigger picture of our lives, and how they help us reach our personal goals.
As far as targeted, structured training is concerned, a good cycling coach is hard to beat. As the December 2 ride date for L’Etape Australia gets closer, it’s nice to be in a place where I can start using that time in a more focussed, efficient way. Time, sculpted by science, with a specific and exciting challenge in mind.
This blog is not about the benefits of a good coach or the shape of a good training plan. It's about some of the things to consider when choosing someone whose style and approach meshes with your own. As I wrote last week, form comes from lots of places. When following prescribed efforts is concerned, working with someone you trust is as important as the work itself.
“The most important thing is fit,” said Matt Borg from Sydney-based MLB Coaching, who I contacted about a training program for L’Etape Australia. “It's important to have a coach that gets you and will help you go the extra kilometre.”
Borg sees motivation as key to whether a training program is successful, but I like that he also sees training for people like me (who have zero aspirations to reach an Olympic start line) as something that needs to fit in with a full and balanced life.
Different coaching approaches and relationships work for different people. Australian tech start up Today’s Plan are an obvious recommendation due to their nation-wide appeal. They offer a breadth of services and analytics depending on the amount of personalised contact you want. At the more general end of the spectrum, some events have a specific training plan outlined on their website or published by accompanying media.
Members of your local road or mountain bike club are likely to have some good, local recommendations too. “Ask your friends as they may know the coach's style and attitude,” said Borg.
Tips for choosing a coach
Before finding a coach or a training program there are a few things to consider. What are your goals? Does this coach have the skills to help you meet them? How much time do you want to commit? Can you balance this time with other life commitments? What types of coaching personalities do you respond to? And how does your personality respond to being coached?
What compromises are you prepared to make regarding the amount and type of training you’re prepared to do, or the amount of time and energy you’re prepared to commit? Do you want to “be your best self”? Or just be strong enough, or well enough prepared, to enjoy a particular experience or goal event? Are you happy with the level of personalised interaction provided for the budget and time you’re willing to commit?
When seeking out the services of a coach or training program, be clear and honest about your goals. Address any fears and concerns up front and know that you don’t have to make a commitment if you feel a particular coaching style or personality doesn’t mesh with your own.
While some people are happy with remote coach-client relationships, an in-real-life relationship works better for others. Borg runs regular group rides not far from my home, which makes his method one that works well for me.
When thinking through my own goals I like that Borg has developed a community of riders I can share the training experience with, in my area. He’s a keen mountain biker, skilled mechanic and runs a women’s road race team, Team Arenberg, which means he speaks my language when it comes to other parts of cycling that are important personally. So much so that even in our early conversations he had me believing I could train for some tough mountain bike stage races, like the Pioneer in New Zealand and the Cape Epic in South Africa. In starting a training program for the next two months there were suddenly longer-term goals in mind, which are their own source of motivation.
But what about being too motivated? “Will you get mad if I skip the odd session in favour of extra sleep or a ride with friends that sounds like too much fun to miss?” I asked, as much for myself as for the audience of this article. I’ve seen a lot of people run themselves into a massive fatigue hole by feeling like they couldn’t say no to a prescribed session, or because they keep riding when they're tired, and have been there myself.
“No! It's important to rest and have fun in life and training,” said Borg. “The benefit of having fun and being well rested will show in your training and for the most part we're not training for World Champs so we can afford it.”
In terms of finding a good fit, this response is the most important of all, at least to me. “You can do a lot with eight hours,” added Borg, meaning the commitment doesn’t have to be huge.
By the end of our conversation, I felt 10 per cent fitter just by making a commitment. I’d picked some goal events, had started breaking down the smaller, and very achievable, steps toward them, and eased any anxiety about skipping the odd session or the training taking over my life. I felt curious about what some structured training might do to my form, my cycling experiences and, as a freelance media professional and researcher, how it might provide some shape to unpredictable work weeks.
But before the training can start, we need to get a measure of where my fitness is at already: the Functional Threshold Power (FTP) test. Stay tuned for a report on that one, and some strategies for getting through it, next week.