I got an email this week that really got me thinking. It was from a good friend and CTS Athlete, Irv Tremblay, about his son’s victory at a recent 100km gravel race in Saskatchewan, Canada. Now, in a week where fellow CTS Athlete Ty Magner won the first stage of the Tour of Utah and Robin Carpenter is leading in the UCI Americas Tour (both coached by CTS Coach Colin Izzard), you might think I’d be more focused on the pros, but Marc Tremblay’s win stuck with me because he’s been coached by CTS since he first started riding a bike.
Many, if not most, cyclists who sign up for coaching have been riding and/or racing for some time before they get a coach. Over the years I think that has led to the belief within the endurance sports community, including runners, triathletes, and cyclists, that you need to train and learn on your own first before you “deserve” or are “good enough” to benefit from a coach. Marc provides a great example of what’s wrong with that mindset.
Endurance sports are one of the only places where athletes seek out coaching or instruction after starting out in a sport on their own. Beginning skiers get lessons, as do novice golfers. Youth sports and scholastic team sports all start out with coaching and instruction. Yet in cycling, triathlon, and running, athletes for some reason stick to this belief they have to learn on their own before seeking instruction. Here are some of the benefits of following Marc Tremblay’s lead.
Establish good training habits early
Experienced endurance athletes usually have a list of training mistakes they made when they were starting out. Riding without water bottles. Going hard every day. Never taking a rest day. Riding with the wrong gear. We look back at those errors now and chuckle. But how many athletes quit an activity they may have excelled in because those mistakes robbed kept them from making progress and made those activities difficult and painful? How many athletes took two or three years to achieve performance improvements they could have enjoyed in their first season?
Whether they are good or bad, habits are hard to break. Starting out with with a coach means there’s someone to teach you good training habits right from the beginning. Over time these habits become ingrained and automatic, enabling you to move on to more advanced skills and events sooner.
Skip the Setbacks
One of the hardest lessons to learn as a novice athlete is when to rest. We live in a fast-paced world that lionizes people for working harder than the next person: “Sleep is for losers.” “While you’re resting someone else is out there working.” But that mentality doesn’t translate to endurance sports. Yes, you have to work hard in training, but you only make progress when you rest. Overworking is a recipe for exhaustion and injury, and novice athletes fall into this trap year after year.
All athletes deal with setbacks, whether from injury, illness, or competing priorities. Starting out with a coach reduces the frequency and duration of these setbacks because you are working with a professional who has the experience to see where you’re heading and guide you to a more positive outcome.
Dial in nutrition and hydration routines
Every season I talk with athletes who have been endurance athletes for 20 years and still haven’t figured out how to keep themselves properly fueled and hydrated for optimal performance. A lot of this goes back to the habits I talked about earlier. They started out eating and drinking a certain way and stuck with it. “It works for me”, they say. I typically ask them to try it my way for three weeks and then see if they still say that. With rare exception they agree their old way wasn’t really working as well as they thought.
The biggest change I recommend for people is to drink more and eat less. It’s not that cyclists shouldn’t consume calories during rides; it’s that they typically overestimate their caloric needs and underestimate their fluid needs. By focusing on hydration in your bottles and calories in your pockets, it encourages athletes to drink more in response to increased temperature and workload without inadvertently overloading the stomach with calories.
Get fit enough to learn
There is a critical transition that happens in any endurance sport when the basics become automatic and whole new side of the sport comes into view: strategy. For endurance athletes this occurs when an athlete progresses past the point of constantly worrying about keeping up. A novice cyclist is so consumed by the effort and actions required to stay on a wheel, stay in the draft, take the corners, and ride in close quarters that there’s no time or capacity left to think about positioning and tactics.
There comes a point where that novice’s fitness gets to the point where being dropped from the group is no longer a significant risk, and that’s when a rider becomes a racer. That’s when a rider who isn’t interested in competition gains confidence in the group ride and starts having a lot more fun. That’s when the century rider starts taking in the scenery instead of staring at the wheel in front of him or her. It’s hard to learn skills when you’re struggling to hang on, and working with a coach accelerates the timeline so new athletes can make this transition sooner.
Marc Tremblay experienced all of these benefits from working with Coach Kirk Nordgren right from the beginning of his interest in cycling. It cut down on the time it took for Marc to go from a novice to a competitor, and from pack-fill to winner. So, if you’re reading this and just getting started as an endurance athlete, it’s time to drop this antiquated idea you have to reach some arbitrary level of fitness or performance, or that you have to look a certain way or have any specific equipment before you deserve or would benefit from working with a professional. There’s no minimum qualification for seeking improvement.
CEO and Head Coach of CTS
Images used with permission from Lewis Images