June 22, 2017

Coach (Me) Gets Coached

With Ironman Cozumel looming and my fitness level being challenged as I approached TransRockies, I started to contemplate enlisting the help of a coach to guide me through the final weeks of my TransRockies preparation and help direct my long-term Ironman training.   By the third weekend of July (as I headed off to participate in the Beaver Creek Mountain Championship XTERRA), I decided to seek out a coach.  For many years I have respected and worked with Steve Pye with Practical Coaching and he was the obvious choice (I currently offer coaching services through Practical Coaching); however, I wanted to gain another perspective on training and coaching methodologies that I could share with my clients, so I purposefully looked for someone that I was unfamiliar with.  My initial thoughts turned me to “Chuckie V” (the coach that both Sonja Wieck and Michelle Ford had used to propel their respective triathlete and coaching careers forward); however, this was not to be.  As I later found out, after reaching out to “Chuckie V” via every way that I knew how … he picks you, you don’t pick him.  Ok, I get it.  Needless to say, I did not hear back from him (however, I have enjoyed following his coaching efforts on his blog which now, is only accessible to “invited users” … Chuckie V is a bit of an enigma).  However, a quick Google search for “Chuckie V” will still provide you with access to some of the writing he has done for other outlets (here is a link to an article concerning “recovery”).

I have reprinted a bit of the e-mail that Sonja kindly exchanged with me concerning my prospects of being picked up by Chuckie V (thanks, Sonja):

Part of Sonja’s response as I attempted to enlist the help of Chuckie V.

As it worked out, I found a coach while I was in the wake of the Beaver Creek XTERRA race.  While bobbing around in the pool at the Beaver Creek Westin, I met Michael Hagen.  Apparently my wife had been chatting with Michael’s wife  (Michael’s wife Eva is also a competitive athlete) who indicated that Michael was a coach.  I chatted with Michael and we more or less entered into a coaching arrangement on the spot.  You see, I had found a coach with a very different perspective.  Michael is a native Austrian and a US Army veteran and as recently as 2004 (?) was the  commander of the Army’s “World Class Athete Program” based in Fort Carson, CO.  Hagen has earned his label as a “superstar age-group triathlete” as he has earned FIVE 2nd-place age-group finishes in Ironman Hawaii (Kona, the Ironman World Championship race).  Michael’s experience and no-nonsense, straightforward approach was exactly what I needed.  By the end of the month Michael had laid out nearly four months of swim, bike, and run workouts on my Training Peaks calendar and I had completed field-based time trials in all three disciplines.  I have set out the my initial HR training zones and paces below (these were subsequently adjusted over the course of the coaching relationship):

My initial swim send off times (used when rest intervals weren’t specified or if I fell short of my programmed time goals), the goal was to move to the row above the yellow highlight as training progressed.

My initial bike HR zones.

My initial run paces and HR zones.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reflections and Results of My Coaching Relationship

From the outset, I let Michael know that I was primarily interested in a plan that was based on my current level of fitness and one that would appreciate the fatigue that would surely come as a result of the TransRockies event.  Michael provided that and then some.  The principle benefit of working with Michael was that I had my workouts planned for the upcoming training cycle.  I simply looked at my week’s work and went out and did my best to execute the programmed workouts.  Michael provide a rational and reasoned plan that lead me to a successful outcome in Cozumel and for that, as well as his friendship, I am very grateful.  But our relationship required a bit more, as of the start of October (and really through the entire month) I felt exhausted during my workouts and I was unable, despite my best efforts, to get my HR into the higher training zones.  A visit to my very capable sport-medicine physician, Dr. John Hill (Dr. Hill is an exceptional doctor who works with elite/professional athletes, including Tour perennials, as well as the team physician for the University of Denver—he is also an accomplished athlete in his own right, a veteran Leadman) yielded some surprising results: I was beginning to show the signs of overreaching, if not slipping into the more problematic state of overtraining.  (Note: this is rare in the non-professional athlete; however, my “symptoms” seemed to match up).  As I completed some self-analysis, I felt as though that I had underestimated the  cumulative fatigue wake of training and participating in the TransRockies event.  I have set out the heart of the e-mails that I exchanged with Michael as we worked through the potential overreaching/overtraining issue below:

 

Early-October, my first acknowledgement that something wasn’t quite right.

My training response after Michael had modified my training volume and intensity downward for October.

Michael’s assurances that all was not lost.

The week off seemed to help and I returned to my final weeks of training with a renewed sense of intensity and commitment,  I approached a final 16 and 1/2-hr. training week before heading into the IM taper and completed 15 and 1/2 hrs. (I felt like the week off may have “saved” me).  An excerpt of part to that final high-volume week is shown below:

Excerpt of final “high volume” week prior to taper (marked the first week back following a self-imposed week of rest).

The two weeks of a non-linear taper followed, with 12 and 4 hours of training, respectively.  Throughout our relationship Michael and I spoke on a weekly basis and exchanged frequent e-mails.  Michael reviewed and commented on my daily workouts (I uploaded the Garmin files on a daily basis via TrainingPeaks).  Michael encouraged my best efforts and redirected me when I fell pray to distractions.  In the end, I headed off to Cozumel uncertain of the race outcome, but certain that I had followed a sound training plan and that I had done the work.  I especially appreciated Michael ability to make adjustments as my training deteriorated during October.  Ultimately, I felt that we worked together to achieve a positive outcome.  I learned and have continued to learn from Michael (he continues to provide informative training articles and responds to my ongoing questions).  And, now with the benefit of hindsight, the results were positive.  I improved my IM time by better than 2 hours.  Thanks, Michael.

More for my own records than as for the benefit of my entry, I have included some video analysis of my swim technique that Michael captured in early-September (notice that I need to place more emphasis one streamlining, keeping my head “in” the water, and concentrating on maximizing the catch and pull phases of my stroke)—I came to the swimming game late, i.e., not a swim team or collegiate swimmer:

 

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I have also shared  (with permission) an informative piece that Michael the all-important “catch” and swim technique: