The journey to Ironman Copenhagen; Anything IS possible with the right support and Coach/Athlete relationship

A coach-athlete relationship is most definitely rewarding and special albeit maybe volatile at times.  Whenever I begin to work with an athlete I always advise it takes at least a year for the coach-athlete relationship to really start to unfold and for results to happen. This is not only due to the fact that it takes time for results to start to show, it also takes time for an athlete to trust their coach, as well as understanding that is it is not just about working hard all the time. It is also about getting the balance between good quality sessions, rest and recovery, quality food, quality sleep and working in zone two!

Marcin first came to me in June 2015 on recommendation from another athlete I was working with, with whom Marcin worked professionally.

Marcin had a very specific goals but had plateaued in his training and performance over several months. He was training harder and harder, longer and faster and yet his times were getting slower.  He was more tired than ever before and his performance was definitely not where he wanted it to be.  Marcin knew he was capable of much greater things but was too subjectively involved in his training to be able to work out how to get there on his own. Thus the journey with myself and Marcin began…

Training and competing in an ironman distance event for the very first time is always very tricky to balance between work life and home life. The unknown is absolutely the unknown and it is difficult to remain objective between real and perceived tiredness. As a coach it is our job to ensure we manage the balance as carefully as possible. Our main aim as a coach is to ensure that our athletes can perform at their optimum on race day as well as remain injury and illness free whilst enjoying the journey to becoming an Ironman.

Marcin and I embarked upon this challenge during the winter months of 2015 and beginning of 2016. With Marcin’s key race being towards the end of August it was vital that Marcin understood the  bigger picture between his training, recovery and race performance.

The coach athlete relationship/journey was not completely pain-free. I am sure Marcin will remember a painful couple of weeks of ‘Coach-fury’ whereby he was very poorly having overtrained at higher intensity and higher volume than that I had advised. Fortunately Marcin and I have a very strong relationship and I was soon able to forgive him for having made this relatively slight error in comparison to the bigger picture of his training program.
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Once Marcin was fighting fit again we were able to progress with higher volume , higher intensity and race specific sessions.  These led him not only to his training race of the Outlaw Half but also working towards his training camp in the Alps in Morzine  as well as the Long Course weekend in Tenby, Wales.

Trusting in the process of coaching, training, recovery, and eating a substantial amount of food, has at times been quite difficult for Marcin.  This is not uncommon with athletes as very often they are emotionally involved with their key races.  Thus, our role as coaches is to reassure them, provide positive and objective feedback regarding their training as well as to guide them to training races or race simulation days which will prove (hopefully) that their training is going in the right direction.

I believe Outlaw Half in Nottingham was the first real indication to Marcin that we were most definitely going in the right direction and that he was most definitely on track to perform to his optimum at Ironman  Copenhagen. Seeing how well Marcin raced and recovered at outlaw half gave me the confidence as his coach to continue with certain training sessions but I also knew that we needed to challenge both his physical and psychological fitness if we were going to achieve his goals at Ironman Copenhagen.

As a coach this is the most exciting time for me as it makes me think outside the box and try new sessions for that particular athlete which may or may not provide the results that we are looking for.  Marcin’s feedback after the Outlaw Half was very precise and gave me a lot to think about with regard to the build up to Morzine, the Long Course weekend in Tenby and of course his Ironman. Some athletes unfortunately do not connect the importance of a race report. In my experience as a coach, some athletes feel that the race report is just to inform whether it was a good or bad race. However when an athlete of mine submits a race report with critical feedback regarding their race, their heart rate how they felt physically and psychologically on race day and what they feel they can improve upon.  This feedback allows me to objectively reflect and analyse my coaching, the training, and my athletes’ ability to perform on race day with everything considered such as training, tapering, pre-race day and during race day nutrition  and hydration. Fortunately Marcin understands this process and is always forthcoming with a very detailed race report with specific feedback regarding how he felt leading up to the race, on race day itself and 2 to 3 days after race day. This feedback has been the making of our coach-athlete relationship and has enabled me to tweak Marcin’s training on a monthly basis.

Marcin’s A race was always Ironman Copenhagen. However, in true Marcin style, of course he still wanted to perform well not only at the Outlaw Half but also at the Long Course weekend in Tenby and during his training week sportive in Morzine. Managing an athlete’s expectations is always quite tricky especially when you know that to perform well an athlete has to peak at a particular time. Peaking too soon means that an athlete trains exceptionally well and makes the necessary progress in certain key sessions however does not perform as well as expected on race day.  I have to admit that at the Long Course weekend when Marcin performed particularly well at all three disciplines I did start to worry ever so slightly…however we tweaked Marcin’s  training according to his feedback and again Marcin continued to make gains in training. He listened to my feedback regarding recovery, higher volume and intensity and delivered each session specific to the requirements of the training plan.

I think Marcin had a great sigh of relief when he saw taper weeks on his training plan as we reduced the volume and increased the intensity in time for Ironman Copenhagen. At last Marcin could relax a little and do the fun things he loved so much more; sessions requiring fast and furious.

I made the decision to support Marcin at his Ironman Copenhagen during our training camp in Morzine  in June. Not wanting to take anything away from any of my other athletes, I just knew that I wanted to be part of his final few steps of this very exciting journey.  Having spent several months working closely with Marcin to get him race ready I did not want to miss out on his final hour. I had also heard that Copenhagen is a wonderful place to be!

Myself and Steve met with Marcin on Wednesday before he flew out to Copenhagen the following day. We spent a good half an hour to 45 minutes discussing his race plan so that he did not overcook himself and ruin the journey and his race.  Having a race day plan is essential and talking it through with your coach is even more critical as a coach can be objective and not emotionally involved. Marcin listened and took both mine and Steve’s advice on board and changed a couple of ideas which he had of his own.  Marcin had not been working to power for his long rides but to heartrate so we made sure he was aware of the importance of not over racing above the training heartrate we had specified.  This was a key factor for Marcin  and enabled him to settle down before race day not worrying that he was going to overcook the bike and not have enough energy left for the run off the bike.

Race day conditions were superb and despite the early morning fog Marcin delivered a PB swim.  Marcin  stuck to the race day bike plan working to heart rate and not only did he deliver an amazing bike split he thoroughly enjoyed himself too. He laughed to himself at those chasing up hills as he spun up them easily not to burn his matches and smiled happily as he swiftly overtook said athletes who needed to recover on the downhills. As discussed we knew the run was going to be tough and we knew that Marcin would have to go into the hurt locker at some point. Whilst disappointed with his run split, as this was 20 minutes slower than Marcin would have liked, his overall Ironman time was exceptional. He delivered an amazing race, he excelled both my and his hopes and expectations but above all he smiled, he enjoyed and he laughed his way around the course! Needless to say, he made memories along the way both In training and during his wonderful race.
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I have already had several message conversations with Marcin and his recovery is superb. He did not break himself, but he worked exceptionally hard and he delivered the race that he was capable of in fact he delivered better, stronger, faster and harder!

I am absolutely delighted for Marcin as he has not only worked hard but he has learnt some invaluable lessons  regarding a coach-athlete; relationship sometimes the hard way hey Marcin?! 😉  He is a delightful athlete to work with and we are both really looking forward to sitting down and planning out next season. However, enforced relaxation and recovery first; and that’s just for me!… 😉

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