It’s not about the race time, it’s about the finishing smile…

As we approach race season the working hours of a full-time triathlon coach become ever the more squeezed as athletes of all ages and abilities are keen to review their winter training, re-assess their racing goals, talk through their nutrition and hydration, racing strategies etcetera etcetera etcetera…
Being a female coach in a male dominant profession I have learned to ignore the side-ways glances and sneering comments regarding my chosen profession as not being a ‘real job’.  However, when exhaustion sets in after a heavy stint of 12 to 16 hour working days without breaks and still a home to run, a family to feed and my own ‘low-level’ training to fit in, sometimes I have to dig deep to remind myself of the many reasons why I have chosen to be a triathlon coach!
My coaching philosophy is centred around athlete enjoyment, self-fulfilment, enhanced self-confidence and empowerment as an athlete.  I deliver coaching sessions out of passion to make a difference to people’s lives, to support people in their own challenges; no matter how big or small, to encourage life-long participation in a truly amazing sport and to be able to stand back and watch my athletes smile as they achieve something new, chatter with their training buddies about their forthcoming races, produce a good time in training or cross that finishing line regardless of time for the very first time! That is why I am a coach and this 3 day weekend has been no exception to the energy I have devoted to my athletes to see them smile…
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Friday started at 06:00 as usual with a quick check of our recover to perform on-line athlete recovery programme to see if I needed to change any of my athlete’s training for the day; nothing too untoward to report so time to get a few session plans ready for the weekend of back to back coaching sessions.  By 09:00 I am out on the bike from West Bridgford heading over to East Leake in the biting, cold wind to meet up with two of my newbie athletes for a bike recce of the course.  Sarah and Nick joined me in the Autumn of 2015, both with a view to compete in their first ever triathlon this season.  Both of them shared their apprehension of training enough to be fit and ready to compete, especially in the swim.  I feel it is fair to say that Nick was a complete non-swimmer when he joined me and managed to swim a mile in the pool on Thursday.  Sarah was able to mix and match her front crawl swim with breast stroke back in the Autumn but was out of breath after every 50m.  Whereas now Sarah swims 2.5km regularly with me every Wednesday morning and finishes every swim with a glorious ‘I did it’ smile!!  Anyway, back to Friday’s bike recce…
It was cold, windy and a bit of drizzle in the air.  Nick very kindly talks us through the entire transition stage as he had been to one of the novice triathlon events; that is some run from the pool to T1 so we discuss footwear and manage expectations around T1 times and overall race times.  We then head off out onto the bike course with Nick’s first ever experience of riding in a ‘group’.  Again, this gave me great pleasure to be with him for this experience and it is something I intend to do more often over the course of the next few months.  We discussed the course profile en route, clothing (it was not a day for tri-suits I can assure you), hydration and nutrition, gearing and race tactics as the road is lumpy at times and not great for being on the bars in certain places.  The final 500m into transition I got Nick to spin his legs ready to have his run legs ready off the bike, not that we did this as we had to discuss who was bringing which cake to race day the following week!!…
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I left my lovely two athletes discussing bacon butties and coffee and headed back to West Bridgford for a much required yoga session.  I only started practicing Yoga this January and wish I had found it years ago! For anyone contemplating Yoga to assist in their suppleness for the sport I would highly recommend it, it is also very useful for calming the mind and practising mindfulness which comes in very useful for race day when it doesn’t always go to plan!  I have advised one of my athletes, Paul, to join in the Yoga session and already he can feel the benefit with his various aches and pains.  Following this session Paul and I sat down, over a rather lovely, nutritious lunch at David Lloyd to discuss Paul’s build towards the Outlaw Half.  Paul recently completed his first ever Half Marathon (One Step Beyond’s Cambridge Half Marathon) and is bang on track for having a very successful, but more importantly, enjoyable Outlaw Half race.  Paul wanted to talk through the build towards his key race as he needs to know how to make it work with his very busy business and family life.  Paul commutes by train to London an awful lot and has a very busy home life which means we have to be very creative and thoughtful to his training schedule.  After a good chat we feel we have a plan which will suit both his needs and my desires as his coach to get him to race day feeling ready and prepared to race!
After my chat with Paul I head home to pick up an array of coaching equipment; fins, pull buoys, ladders, cones, batons, skipping ropes etcetera and head off to one of our junior club training hubs; Bingham Leisure Centre to meet with a young, developing athlete to discuss his current training and to prepare him for his forthcoming races as a TriStar 2 athlete.  I have been coaching Will in the club for around two years and he has shown great enthusiasm and dedication towards both his training and racing.  As a result of this Will joined me and my newly formed Absolute Tri Junior Development Squad in September to train more regularly with myself at a variety of training venues.  My role with Will is to develop him as a triathlete to enable him to race to the best of his ability but also to be part of his holistic development towards a healthy, balanced life-style.  Will, his dad and I sat and discussed his training thus far, the squad as a whole, his racing aims for this season and my future plans for Will and the squad.  These one-to-one meetings with my Development Squad athletes are proving to be invaluable as they concur with my core philosophy regarding athlete-centred coaching.  The athletes in my development squad range from the age of 9 through to 14 all with a variety of ideas on how I can make my coaching provision and their learning experience outside of their training even more fun and beneficial to themselves. I have already implemented some of the ideas from some of the one-to-one meetings and will endeavour to implement more as we move forward to race season and beyond!

Following my meeting with Will we then both walk up chatting to the run track where Will is greeted by his fellow training buddies and BOOM, off we go for a full two hours of run, bike, T1/T2 and swim coaching!  Friday was a busy evening as always for the club with around 36 athletes training in different guises for different goals.  The staff at Bingham Leisure are very supportive of us a club and very tolerant as we stand around in reception area with bikes, muddy shoes, helmets and cake!!  I have a quick chat with several of our parents regarding their juniors, forthcoming races and am made aware of a couple of issues regarding behaviour within the session and then I head home, eventually arriving back at 8pm.  Ordinarily I would then flop on the sofa with a large plate of stir-fry and head off to bed but decided for once I would be sociable and head out with my 18 year old daughter for a meal in West Bridgford.  Truth be known I could not be bothered to cook and my teenage son had a couple of lively, larger than life, friends over for the evening so ‘escape to WB’ seemed like a great plan!  Taking advantage of the fact that my 18 year old wanted to straighten my rather unruly looking, crazy poolside curly hair before going out, I sat and replied to a backlog of emails I had not had chance to even read, let alone action having been out with athletes for the best part of 11 hours.  After a mean pea and goat’s cheese risotto from the Mud Crab in West Bridgford and a cheeky, yet well earned, glass of rose, I eventually return home and fall into bed at 11:30pm! Alarm is set for 06:00 as I have few home chores to do before I set off for an exciting morning of Duathlon racing at Clumber Park…

My arrival at Clumber was timed to perfection and my first thoughts were “wow, the racing field has doubled since last year”…One Step Beyond are masters at their own trade and it is always a pleasure to support my athletes at their races as you know they are going to be well organised, smoothly ran and that Erdinger is available as the post-race drink!
It was flipping freezing but not quite as windy as last year’s race so I was keen to see how my athletes faired in the weather conditions.  I had two personal athletes racing; Vicki who joined my athlete team in November whose key race is Outlaw Half and Aaron, who started being coached at my Wednesday morning swim after Christmas and has been fully coached by me for around a month.  Both were using this race as a training race for their Outlaw Half and both had been suffering with lower limb niggles, aches and pains so managing race expectations had to be key with them so as not to scupper their bigger picture.  There were also another couple of  Absolute Tri Club athletes racing; all looked very sexy indeed in their bright orange and black tri-suits!
The racing field was unexpectedly much bigger than last year, probably as a result of it being a Duathlon World and European Qualifying race for 2017.  However, our Absolute guys held their own and had great races all round.  We are still awaiting the official results but I believe all athletes achieved a PB this year which sets them up well for the season ahead.  I have a sneaky suspicion that we may even have a qualification place too but we are awaiting official race results…I had a fantastic morning supporting not only our athletes but also athletes whom I know very well from other local tri clubs.  I had time to sneak a coffee and bacon buttie too whilst they were all out on the bike, shhhhhh, they think I stood there the whole time waiting for them to come in to T2!!  I had athletes whom I had never met coming up to me thanking them for cheering, clapping and smiling at them as they raced! They said how much it made a difference to them to see me smiling and encouraging as they had to dig deep on the run. You see, it’s all about the smile!…
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After a very quick chat with one and all I was off to Harvey Hadden Sports Village to coach our junior club athletes for two hours in the cold, windy conditions with my fellow assistant coaches.  Again, our 40 juniors aged 7 to 15 were concentrating on their Duathlon skills in preparation for their first race of the season; Scampton Duathlon on Sunday, 10th April. Many of our young juniors are racing for the first time so it will be a great day out for all concerned.   Yet another long day at the office but a very rewarding one with lots of smiles and learning all round.
Sunday I had booked in a transition training morning for both our club and coached athletes to provide some skill work around T1 and T2 for novice and established triathletes.  We were blessed with a beautiful sunny warm morning the National Water Sports Centre which enabled me to provide a great technique session without braving the elements for a change!!  All athletes brought along their ‘race box of goodies’ complete for their first race of the season.  We had a great morning with quite a few laughs as I insisted they run bare foot, had water splashed on them to emulate their run out the pool/lake and wear goggles.  This session received great feedback from all those who attended but more importantly, it gave all our athletes an opportunity to talk through their race queries with other like-minded, dare I say it nervous, athletes regarding racing.  It was lovely to listen to our more experienced athletes reassuring our novice athletes that their nerves and anxieties were all quite normal.  Not only that, they were happy to provide some great race tips regarding transition and overall race pacing.
Following this I stayed outside for a further hour out in the glorious sunshine with our junior club development squad athletes as well as some of our Academy athletes to deliver a bike specific session.  This was great fun as I am developing their skills as young riders to eventually ride out on the open road.  We spent an hour learning to ride close to the wheel in front whilst delivering specific hand-signals as a small chain-gang.  We also worked on riding side by side at a good steady pace.  Still some work to do with them but I don’t think it will be too long before we can head out from the safety of the National Watersports Centre to find a local café complete with delicious cake!
After what seemed like an endless three days of coaching I was able to get home on Sunday afternoon to put my feet up and chill…
Yeah, righty hoe!! Not quite!! I still had a number of athlete plans to review and change on Training Peaks according to the feedback I had received by a number of my personal athletes.  However, at least I could do this in the comfort of my own garden in the sunshine!
Three full days of coaching, supporting my athletes and admin work did not leave many hours to train myself but then that is why I consider myself to be a coach first and foremost and myself as an athlete has to take second place!  It is upon writing this blog that I reflect on my chosen career as a female sports coach in a world where it is still frowned upon to do a job you love and  for overwhelming satisfaction rather than a high profile job for monetary gains.  I have a wealth of knowledge and expertise in my field as well as the academic underpinning to earn a substantial amount of money in another field of work but I chose, rightly or wrongly, to make a difference to people on a daily basis.  So, the next time you think about engaging with a coach, maybe you should consider why that particular person is a coach, is it for monetary gains or is it more to provide an experience so deep that all you want to do when training, racing, recovering or thinking about your next race is smile?!
Easter weekend to follow so I am bound to get four days off right!  Mmmmm, think again, a coach’s work is never done, especially when East Leake Triathlon is on Easter Sunday! Now there’s another blog…

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