‘Tis the Season

So, it’s that time. Early bird pricing for 2013 races are happening – if not already over (which reminds me – have you signed up for Rev3 Knoxville/Quassy/Williamsburg yet??) Those of us with fall races on the horizon  are entering our big pushes in the last of the training blocks, trying to maintain focus on these races while simultaneously planning for next season. It was also around this time 2 years ago where I finished my second iron distance race, and I knew something had to change if I ever wanted to go further in this sport. Flying home from Madison in 2010, I had some time to think. I knew in my heart that I was good. Or rather, I was arrogant enough to believe that I was good even if I didn’t have the results to back it up. But, I also had the realization to know that I couldn’t take myself to the next level on my own. When I got home that week I e-mailed Hillary Biscay.

Looking back, I am so glad that I took the leap of faith and, after talking to her more throughout the weeks, committed to being one of her athletes for the upcoming year. I am writing this blog now because I believe that there could be some people out there reading this who have had that lingering thought in their mind that they should get/want/need/would like to have a coach. For me, that thought was there for about 2 years before I actually acted on it. Back in 2008 I had graduated college and moved to Baltimore, with my first IM on the horizon. I had a couple of friends who pointed me in the right direction and I reached out to handful of coaches. For a few reasons, I never followed through. The financial commitment, not really feeling a connection with the coach, or whatever it was, I decided I could do it on my own.

And then there I was in 2010, still stuck at square one. Two years later though, I’m happy to report that I am leaps and bounds from square one.

Since I am a huge advocate of getting a coach, here are my tidbits of advice for those who are in the market:

Do your research. There are plenty of (current and former) pros and elite age groupers out there who are coaching. Follow them. Go back to as far as you can see results for them and see how they’ve progressed. Find out who coaches them. Find out who they train with. What are their strengths? Weaknesses? When you approach a potential coach, you should know as much about their background as you do your own.

Have your crap together. Don’t just shoot an email and say you’re thinking about getting a coach. Guess what – many of them probably get multiple of those e-mails a week! As much as you should be thinking about if they would be a good fit for you, you also need to make sure you are selling yourself to them. Triathlon is about to become a second job, treat it as such! I have a running/triathlon resume that I keep more up to date than my corporate one. Send that with your inquiry. Make sure they know that you are serious.

Don’t just jump at the first person you can afford, or who is accepting athletes. While Hillary is the best coach for me right now, it doesn’t mean she’s the best for everyone. And it doesn’t mean that she would have been the best for me 2 years ago, or will be in 5 more years. We don’t know that. The important thing is finding a coach for where you are right now. It should be a process, complete with interviews and conversations. Ask them questions, and they should be asking you questions. I went back and forth via e-mail with Hillary several times, and met her in person for coffee. This took months! Be patient, but more importantly – give yourself time to be patient! Start the conversations now if you want a coach for next season. Be honest with them about your expectations, and make sure that you completely understand what they’d expect from you.

Once you have found a coach, go all in. Commit yourself to their plan, and don’t question it. Give honest feedback, but give them all of your trust. Don’t expect results in days, or weeks. Evaluate progress in months and years. If you work hard, you will earn their respect, and you will also earn the respect of everyone else around you who is watching. Enjoy the process, and focus on that – results will come in time.

When you suddenly decide to commit yourself to this sport, it is going to change things, and people will take notice. Suddenly you won’t be going to all the happy hours you’re invited you. You will show up late to parties with wet hair and goggle marks. Your tan lines will never match the bridesmaids dress, ever. All of these things will happen because training will be your priority. And, while many may never say it, people will admire and respect your dedication to your goals. One of the most poignant moments where I realized this was last winter.  After about a year of working with Hillary, the company I was working for began layoffs. Ten percent of the company was gone in a month. As we all know, having a coach is a huge financial commitment, and it was one that I am lucky I afford. But, if I lost the job, I wasn’t sure I could keep being coached. One night I was talking this through with a friend, explaining how nervous I was now everyday going in to work, and how afraid I was of having to sacrifice something that I love and that has made me who I am. This was a friend who knew nothing about triathlon, but always would listen patiently when I talked about my races, and would politely ask how they went after I raced. This was a friend who, prior to working with Hillary, I hung out with about once a week. That dropped to about once a month – even every other month – when I put triathlon at the top of my priorities. After listening to my concerns, my friend looked at me and said “you know what – if you lose your job, I’ll pay for your coach in the meantime. You can pay me back eventually. But this means a lot to you and I believe in you, so don’t worry about that.” I will always remember this gesture by my friend and it was in that moment it became clear that while it is easy to think of pursuing this sport as the most selfish endeavor in the world – you have to think beyond that. My friend didn’t care that I rarely saw them, or that I was usually in bed before they even went out for the night. They cared about seeing me be happy and pursuing my goals. This also goes hand in hand with building a tribe of people of who support you and can be positive influences while you train. You don’t need a huge tribe, but at more than one time has the phrase “it takes a village” come to mind when I reflect on my training.

 How do you prepare for the realities and the unknown? Hopefully you have a mentor, a Bowerman who pushes you at that critical time. A time when someone has a belief in your future more than you do.

-Geoff Hollister, Out of Nowhere

I can’t say enough how happy I am that I finally made the decision to commit to this sport, and step one of that was getting a coach. If you have any other questions, please feel free to reach out to me!

Published by Alyssa Godesky

Alyssa is a professional triathlete who has logged over 8,000 miles in competition of swimming, biking and running across five continents. She came to triathlon from an ultrarunning background and over the last few years has found success back on the trails: in 2018 she set the female supported Fastest Known Time (FKT) on Vermont's 273 mile Long Trail in 5 days, 2 hours and 37 minutes. In 2020 she set the women's supported FKT for climbing the 46 High Peaks in the Adirondacks in 3 days, 16 hours and 16 minutes. She is a triathlon and running coach, and also enjoys spending time guiding hikers out on the trails. Alyssa is based in Charlottesville, VA with her dog Ramona.

0 comments on “‘Tis the Season”

  1. hey, so when I tried to interview coaches to decide, I didn’t really know what to ask them. I had specific training questions, but answers were across the board kind of ‘well, it depends on the person.’ and, I just didn’t feel like there was some massive illuminating moment where I knew who I wanted. (I actually loved my last coach, just not the process of finding one.)

    1. Hey Kelly. That’s a good point! For anyone who is curious about all the questions I ask, I think mine were split between training questions and personality/style ones. For training, I was interested in if they coach via time or mileage, heart rates, power, etc. Do they give rest days, or how do they structure recovery in general? Are the big build periods high intensity, high volume, etc? How many athletes are they coaching at once? How often can they be contacted by me? What method of communication can I use with them? How would they structure a race season? Do I need to swim with masters? Can I still attend certain group rides, etc that I like?

      In my experience with Hillary, I guess I was lucky in that she did not give me any sort of wishy-washy “depends on the person” type of answers, and that was what was part of what drew me to her. She was very upfront about her style of coaching, and the type of training philosophy that she believes in. And maybe she would give another athlete a completely different feel, I don’t know. But I do know that she looked at me, my background, and what I was telling her my goals were, and said “this is what I want to do with you, this is how I think we should proceed.” I was looking for someone to take that kind of control, not a coach who would put the ball back in my court and let me pick how they would coach me.

      That said, it was like finding a needle in a haystack, and maybe part of the reason I gave up on getting a coach years prior was because the process was not fun.

  2. Awesome post. Getting a coach was the best decision that I ever made for my triathlon career. You made several great points and I hope that if people are on the fence – just jump over and find the right coach for them!

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