Working with a coach

When I first started cycling, the idea of a cycle coach is something I never really thought of.

  • I was racing for my own enjoyment, the need to win was not paramount. I never really envisaged myself challenging for national titles; I was happy just doing local races and occasionally going along to some national championships.
  • I didn’t train to win at all costs. It is more a case of – I enjoy riding the bike, and if that makes you faster that’s a bonus. Even now, if someone told me that 15 hours of level 3 on the turbo would make me a better time-trailist I wouldn’t be interested. I like cycling up hills on the open roads. I hope smashing yourself up and down Greenhow hill makes you faster – if it doesn’t at least I can enjoy the training ride! If I had a coach, perhaps he would tell me to take it easier in February – do more level 2/3, but I can’t resist the really hard hilly ride.
  • Cycling was expensive enough without paying for a coach. Why spend money on getting good quality advice on the best way to train, when you could spend a £1,000 on a new set of wheels which may save 1 or 2 watts?
  • Cycling isn’t always the highest priority. Apart from the hill climb championships, I do big races, so long as nothing else is going on. For quite a few years, my racing schedule was heavily dependent on what else was happening. There didn’t seem much point on getting a coach when there was no guarantee I would even be peaking for anything. This may change for the next couple of years, I may prioritise to try and do a few more championships to make most of the current form. But, cycling will always be one of several things I do – not necessarily the most important.
  • I’ve always fancied myself as my own coach. I’ve read a lot of articles (often irritatingly contradictory!). Even now I can still get confused at certain concepts, and a power meter is wasted on me because I don’t really know how to use it apart from looking at pacing. But, I still like having a go.
  • I like trying to take an intuitive approach to training. What do I feel like doing? This is not just a matter of pleasing myself –  it teaches you to listen to the body and try and work out what it can take, how much you can stretch yourself and when you need to recover. In a way ‘coaching myself’ is one of the attractions of cycling. (Yet, I would never like the idea of being a coach myself)

The Hill climb championship

Stang

The exception to this laissez faire attitude to training is the National hill climb championship. From 2010 onwards, I realised I really had the potential to win the title, and it became something I really wanted to achieve. After ‘winging’ a few 7th places on very little cycling (2006, 2007), the years of 2010-12, were perhaps missed opportunities. Despite dominating the open events and hill climb season, the results at the national were perhaps less than they could have been. Especially in 2011, where I went whole season unbeaten except a disappointing 5th in the national championship. I put that result down, not so much to lack of coaching, but wrong bike choice. However, with 2012, again a disappointment (11th on the Rake) I was again left thinking how could I best maximise result in one big race.

Just doing the training I felt like, was all very well, but I was getting a little tired of just hoping for the best and missing out. I was starting to think of how to prepare 100% properly.

I met Gordon Wright at a local 10 mile TT in 2013, I knew he was a good coach so asked him whether it would work to do both national 12 hour TT in Aug, and also to peak for 2013 national hill climb season. A slightly unorthodox question. But, the 12 hour TT never got done.

Then two weeks before the 2013 national hill climb, I sent Gordon an email asking if he had any ‘tips’ to peak for national hill climb in about 14 days time. Any coach will tell you, there’s really nothing you can do, given two weeks coaching time! Anyway, I tapered less than I might have done, and it worked out OK in the end.

2014, was the first time I would work with a coach properly, not just asking for ‘general tips’, but sharing data, listening to feedback and following suggestions of training. I was no longer in the mode of just riding for enjoyment or doing what I felt like. Now, my whole focus was to prepare everything properly; and having a coach helped that. It was something I’d never really done before. But, it made a good change from just ‘giving it a go’ – I wanted to see what it was like, if you left nothing to chance and tried to maximise in every aspect of bike racings. The coaching was only two and half months from mid August to end of October, and it was quite an interesting experience.

Firstly, the training sessions Gordon suggested, were quite similar to what I had being doing previously. If you want to train for national hill climb, it doesn’t take a genius to guess hill climb intervals are going to feature. But, there were subtle differences, which are significant enough to make a difference. But, it helped that if felt we were both on the same page – essential for any good coach / rider relationship.

– It was interesting sharing the experience with somebody else. For me cycling has been a solitary affair – which perhaps suits my personality, but it was different doing interval sessions with someone timing me at top of a climb and being able to talk about a race e.t.c.

– One thing about having a coach taking an interest and looking at data is that it gives you more confidence you are doing the right thing. When you’re coaching yourself you can be thinking mid-training – Am I doing too much  doing too little? When you leave the worrying to someone else, it gives you greater clarity to just focus on the actual training. This is something I’d not really appreciated before. I like the aim of keeping mind very empty during training. When you have a set plan to follow, it is one less thing to think about, and mentally slow you down.

– Gordon Wright coached Stuart Dangerfield to five national hill climb titles (’92-’93 and ’95-’97) (plus many more domestic titles too). Inevitably, the experience of training Dangerfield would often come up. With an interest in the history of hill climbs, / time trials, I enjoyed hearing these anecdotes. I think it is fair to say myself and Dangerfield are probably very different characters with different approaches to life, but that’s cycle racing – you get a real mix of characters doing the same races.

– Gordon took a much more scientific approach looking at power files on computer (it was also first season I’d used heart rate and power meter) The real key thing was identifying periods of fatigue and over-training. I felt the whole of September and October were a fine balance of pushing training as far as you could without over doing it. A very difficult balance to get, especially solely on your own.

Despite being no spring-chicken, I set seven course records in the 2014 season. Especially for 3-4 minute climbs, I think I had better form than ever before. Probably by a small margin, I was in better hill climb shape than 2013 when I won the title.

I was happy with the form I had in the national championship.  Perhaps the pacing could have been better, but I surprisingly enjoyed 4th place, and even now feel a little proud I was at the fastest over the last half of the course. (I doubt Stuart Dangerfield would have reflected in the same way, but then he probably would have won!)

Conclusion

Coaching is a very personal choice. I’m grateful for experience of coaching for hill climb season in 2014 – I feel it helped get a better performance at a time, when I wanted to see the real limits I could reach as a hill climber. At the same time, I don’t really have any regrets I didn’t get a coach earlier in my cycling career (except perhaps the missed opportunity of 2011!)

If you’re a young cyclist, bear in mind this is a very personal experience – for many young cyclists, I would feel coaching could be quite beneficial.

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3 Responses to Working with a coach

  1. Tamara Davenne June 20, 2015 at 8:17 am #

    Thanks for this article!

    I found myself in the situation although I started racing only few months ago. I’m improving fast, I want to target BUCS hill climb and/or national hill climb but I’m note sure how much I will benefit from a coach: am I ready to give up on chain gang and other rides with my mates?

    Wise advice 🙂

    Tam (Zappis women RT and OUCC)

    • tejvan June 20, 2015 at 8:19 pm #

      good luck with hill climbs Tam

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