Ironman triathlon training: being coached vs self-coaching

Preparing for an Ironman and thinking about hiring a coach? Ironman pro Lucy Gossage and coach Nick Dunn debate the pros and cons


A personal trainer and head coach at Tri Camp


Hiring a coach will be great not only for your performance but also to help you monitor your training and progression. A coach is someone you can bounce ideas off and discuss long- and short-term goals with, that all-important person who will not only assist you physically but also mentally in the lead-up to the big day. A coach should…

Be there to listen to you when things are going well, but also not so well. Training for an Ironman is a long road, so this support can be crucial in keeping you motivated and on track.

Understand your lifestyle and plan with you to create a training schedule that excites you but is realistic and achievable.

Look at your training feedback regularly and use that to plan the next block of sessions so you can both monitor improvement.

Ideally have seen you training or racing, or seen footage, so they can analyse and offer technical advice.

Picking a coach is a very individual choice. You might pick the most qualified person you can find, or the athlete who has done it all and can pass on that knowledge and experience. Chat to several coaches and find out what they think they can do for you and how they work. The right coach for one person won’t necessarily be right for another.

Once you’ve started working with a coach, to know if they’re getting the best out of you talk to them about the numbers you’re achieving. Are you training well and feeling healthy? If not, question the reasons with your coach. A good coach will be monitoring you and/or setting short-term goals, so ask them regularly how you’re matching up against those. Make sure you’re always being challenged and happy with the training they have you doing.

is a GB triathlete and multiple Ironman champion

Unlike the majority of pro athletes I’m mainly self-coached. I have several trusted advisors who help me decide how to get the best out of myself and help pull together rough plans, but I structure my own training on a week-by-week basis. This gives me the flexibility to fit my training around friends’ days off (I always train better with company), to swim with a club, and to monitor my own fatigue and modify my training plan accordingly. So you can do pretty well without being formally coached!

The most important thing is to find someone who knows what makes you tick, and who will adapt your schedule around your lifestyle, your family, your job, and how your body responds to different kinds of training. Anyone can write a generic training programme and sell it online, but a good coach will tailor your plan to your needs on a weekly basis. Some people need to do tonnes of short, hard sessions, whereas others need longer, endurance-based sessions. Some need to run lots, while others can get by with lower volume.

I wouldn’t even consider being coached by someone unless you’ve got to know them, ideally in person but at least on the phone, and are sure they will offer you regular contact and mutual feedback. It’s essential you find someone you trust unequivocally. Remember: a good coach doesn’t necessarily have to be a good athlete.

How do you know whether a coach is getting the best out of you? If you’re enjoying working with them, trust them, find the training they set is challenging but fun, and are continuing to get faster, then you’ve probably got a good thing going. If you’re just being sent a generic plan that doesn’t take into account the rest of your life, perhaps you should think about saving your money and joining a tri club so that, with the help of like-minded friends, you can work out a plan that works for you. To find a UK triathlon club near you click here

Download Ironman 70.3 training plans and full Ironman training plans



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