You see plenty of athlete’s blogs after a race but you don’t often hear an Ironman prep from a coach’s perspective so I thought I would share my Cairns IM experience in full honesty.
It is pressure to perform yourself but try when you have someone contacting you for your coaching services to tell you that they only have 20 weeks to give you for the prep & it will be their one & only one chance to do an IM. You understand the commitment, the pressure, the investment & the sacrifices they are making & you want their prep to go as smooth as possible. The main thing I want is for it to be injury & sickness free.
The thing is, 20 weeks is only enough if you come to see a coach to prep you with a good fitness base already. I am talking you are training at least 10h per week for at least 3 months. If not, you will need double that time. We are coaches, not magicians. I have said “not possible” in the past to people asking me to produce miracles with an IM prep. If you are new to the sport & you want to prep for an IM in 20 weeks, then good luck to you! Of course, you can always finish in 16h & walk the marathon, but you don’t need a coach to do that.
There is also no such thing as a perfect prep. Perfect is not missing one session, no niggles, no injuries, no sickness & no need for program changes. It just does not happen. The best thing a coach can do in bad patches is to support the athlete the best they can, comfort them, calm them, constantly change their program but also be realistic & honest to what the setback will mean in terms of performance on race day. No point keep telling someone that their goals are still realistic if they miss one month of regular training for example. It is the hard part of the job, but you then need to discuss new goals with the athlete. Same if someone tells you they want to break 10h but them keep missing their key sessions. This is when I will feel the pressure as a coach & I often push the pressure back onto the athlete by telling him/her that we will will need to change the goal if missing key sessions keeps happening. If you love & are passionate about the job, then you feel pressure. If you care about your crew, then you will worry about them like your own kids. You need to be honest & realistic as a coach in sharing goals with athletes & you need to accept as an athlete that the goal will change depending on how the prep goes. You also need to accept that the bigger the goal & expectation, the more pressure & expectations will be put back into you as an athlete. If you are being a tourist, not training much & not putting in the work, then I will change your goal to “just finish” whether you like it or not.
Our job is also to recommend the best people in our network to help our athletes get over & improve on whatever the issue is. I think it is a big mistake to try & do it all as a coach. Even if our knowledge in anatomy, psychology, bike mechanics, bike fitting & nutrition will improve & become quite good over the years, we will never be as good as a physio, a psychologist, a bike mechanic, a bike fitter or a nutritionist. In IM prep, you create close bonds with your athletes, you become a tight unit through those very hard & long sessions where you help & support each other. There will always be an athlete having an off day & that is when the team & coach will come in. We will all push, help & support that person & we will also make sure they do not give up or pull the pin. I loved how closed we became during this year’s IM Cairns prep. It was such an awesome group & great camaraderie. The fact that I got to coach 7 IM Virgins was very exciting & rewarding. Even if I must say, it comes with a lot more questions & fears than an experienced IM athlete. When I left in a hurry for QLD, I felt shattered when I realised that 7 out of our 21 GPC members who were supposed to race would be stuck at home due to the new Covid lockdown. It cut me deep & I know it is only a sport but I felt a high level of injustice for myself as a coach but mainly for them as athletes after 3 months of hard work & sacrifices. Before the race, I felt very nervous for me & for my 7 IM Virgins. It was my big comeback & I felt the pressure I put on myself to perform & try & win my first AG IM title. I knew I was not at my best yet, especially on the run. I felt like I was at 90% of my best after a year off & after putting on 12kgs. It resulted in my 5th time AG IM runner up. The most pressure I felt was from my first timers. There was many freak outs, many questions, many “what if’s”, a few “can I do this?” & a lot of insecurities. They called me Daddy I felt that & It got to me a little. I doubted myself a bit but then I knew I always prep my crew well, physically, mentally & nutritionally. Final results, they all nailed it, we got 100% finishers & we got 5 of our IM Virgins under 11h which I am really proud of, especially on the brutal & windy day that race day was. I hope you enjoyed my take on coaching & what it means to me. I am very excited that I already have a dozen athletes locked in for IM Busso in December & I am also excited to give the AG win a go. After a good winter, I will be back at my best by then. Train safe everyone