The popularity of Ironman, Half Ironman, and other sanctioned triathlon races around the world has exploded over the past few years. This increase in participation has given rise to the field of triathlon coaching, where athletes work one-on-one with an experienced triathlete or fitness expert to help develop and execute a personalized training plan. What’s more is that the development of platforms like TrainingPeaks, used in combination with video chat and other online communication tools has led to the proliferation of online triathlon coaching. This means that you don’t have to count on finding the right coach for you in your area. You can now find and work with great coaches from across the globe to help you achieve your race day goals.
In this article I’ll talk about why you should definitely consider hiring a coach, the benefits of online triathlon coaching, and the components of a strong training program. I’ll also present a case study of the actual results that I experienced after working with an online triathlon coach for three months in preparation for Ironman 70.3 Lake Placid.
Should I work with a triathlon coach?
If you’re new to triathlon, or are experienced in triathlon but need help taking your performance to the next level, it’s definitely worth working with a triathlon coach. With all the time, money, blood, sweat, and tears that go into preparing, you want to ensure that you are giving yourself the best chance of success on race day. Hiring a triathlon coach is exactly the way to do that.
The thing that holds most people back is that they think it’s going to be expensive. However, you might be surprised at how affordable coaching can be, specifically online triathlon coaching. Between equipment, apparel, race registration fees, event transportation & accommodations, nutrition and other costs, you’ll be investing a fair amount of money in your triathlon season. Considering all the financial, temporal, physical and emotional commitments that go into preparing for a race, isn’t it worth working with an expert to give you your best chance at success on race day? For a fraction of the cost of triathlon, you benefit from personalized training plans, real-time feedback, expert race day advice and a whole lot more.
The Benefits of Online Triathlon Coaching
Many triathletes, both experienced or inexperienced, struggle with setting aggressive but achievable goals. By working with an online triathlon coach, your coach can help you determine your potential performance based on personal circumstances such as: your current fitness, your athletic history, your injury history, and your training availability. Having a well-set goal will help you sustain motivation throughout your training and exceed what you previously thought was possible on race day.
Customized plans for your goals
A quick google search for “Ironman training plan” and you’ll find a bunch of multi-month workout plans that will give you a week-by-week schedule of swim, bike, run, and strength workouts. Although these plans might give you an idea of how much you should be working out, they’re highly generic. A triathlon coach, on the other hand, will help you develop a plan that is personalized based on things such as your: current fitness level, race day goals, weekly availability, injury history and limitations, and timeline until the race. A personalized plan gives you the best chance to stick to your training, avoid injury, and achieve your fitness goals.
Progress faster by training smarter
One of the biggest benefits of online triathlon coaching is that you’ll be training smarter. Instead of just swimming, cycling, and running a lot, your coach will design each workout with a purpose – speed, strength, or technique. When these workouts are compiled over the course of weeks and months of training, the results will be drastically more impactful. You’ll be investing hundreds of hours in your training; isn’t it worthwhile to make sure that you’re getting the most out of each and every workout?
Stay fit, healthy, and injury-free
When it comes to training for an endurance race like an Ironman or Half Ironman, half the battle is staying healthy enough to keep up with all the workouts. For that reason, understanding how to fuel, hydrate, and take care of your body is paramount. Your coach will provide you with nutrition strategies for before, during, and after workouts, as well as stretching and recovery plans to keep your muscles happy and healthy.
Access to expertise
As you progress through your triathlon journey, you’ll undoubtedly have questions on a whole range of topics. Having access to an expert will provide you with invaluable advice for everything from swimming technique to fueling on the bike to how to approach race day. Get your questions answered and have confidence that you’re training, preparing, and racing in the best way possible.
Updates based on your schedule / progression / injury
One of the biggest problems with generic triathlon training plans is that people get easily derailed from the plan and lose all their momentum. Real life happens and workouts naturally get missed due to other commitments or injuries. But with a highly-regimented training plan, missing a workout can throw you off and it can be difficult to get back on track. Do you do a make-up workout for the one you missed? Or just move on to the next one? However, when you have a personal coach, your coach can adapt your plan to your schedule. Have a crazy work week next week? No problem. Your coach can restructure your workouts accordingly so that you won’t fall behind. Feel something starting to flare up in your hamstrings? Your coach can suggest workouts to do in the meantime while your hamstring heals.
Over the course of a long training program, it can be difficult to maintain motivation all by yourself. Whenever your motivation dips, having someone to hold you accountable is invaluable for keeping you on track. Triathlon training is a roller coaster of motivation and energy levels, so inevitably there will be days where you really don’t feel like working out. Being accountable to your coach in times like these will get you to do that workout and stay on track.
Components of a Triathlon Coaching Program
The beauty of an online triathlon coaching program is that it can be personalized to whatever you want it to be. You’ll typically have a kick off call with your coach to discuss what you’re seeking for and determine how you can work together. Here are some of the components of an effective online triathlon coaching problem:
- Workout Planning: Your coach will typically assign your swim, bike, run, and strength workouts on a weekly basis and will upload it to TrainingPeaks. Once you complete each workout, it’s advisable to add some comments in TrainingPeaks so that your coach can hear how strenuous the workout was, or if any potential injuries are flaring up.
- Weekly Check Ins: It’s good to set up weekly or bi-weekly checkpoints where you can discuss things like: how the training is going, how your body is feeling, if you have any scheduling conflicts coming up, and clarify anything you’re unclear on.
- Testing: It’s good to do some testing throughout the training program to establish your baseline and monitor your progress. Your coach will likely want to schedule some tests every 4-8 weeks to see if you’re progressing according to the plan. From there, they can assign workouts to develop your weaknesses and ensure you’re on track.
Case Study: Half Ironman Training Plan
I’ve experienced firsthand the impacts of online triathlon coaching. In July 2019, I completed my first Half Ironman in Muskoka, Ontario. I was satisfied with my race day performance; however, I found that the generic training plan I’d found and then frankensteined to fit my schedule wasn’t getting me the results that I desired. It was clear to me that I was leaving a lot on the table in terms of the marginal progress I was making based on the substantial amount of time I was investing.
For 2020, I wanted to unlock this potential and see just how much I could progress with my fitness if I trained smarter. To help me achieve my goal of finishing in the top 10% in my age group at Ironman 70.3 Lake Placid, I decided to work with an online triathlon coach. I worked with my coach, Jess Cooper (more about her below), over the course of three months, from April 1st until June 30th. I was amazed with the results.
Over the course of the three months I got significantly stronger and faster, all at a lower heart rate and with better technique. The biggest difference for me was that Jess’ prescribed workouts focused on developing specific aspects of my fitness, and then all combined together to drive drastic improvements. Whereas I used to just vary the length of my workouts – long run, short run, long bike, short bike – she had me working on all kinds of strength, speed, technique, and endurance within my workouts.
To help quantify just how much I progressed over these three months, I’ve dug into my TrainingPeaks. You can find all these workouts on my Strava to verify for yourself, if you don’t believe me 🙂
Note: this training occurred during the Covid outbreak, which is why I haven’t included anything about swimming. That’s also why I don’t have my final race results to share. Originally scheduled for September 12, 2020, Lake Placid 70.3 was cancelled at the end of June 2020.
For starters, let me say that I’ve never considered myself a strong runner. But through online triathlon coaching I was able to get significantly faster, crushing both short and long runs feeling stronger and more confident. A few weeks into training I was frequently shocked when I would check my pace during a “relaxed run” and see that I was running at a faster pace than I ever had before.
In the table below you can see how my running times for various distances improved over the course of the three months, from April to June. I’ve included my best times from the end of the three months and compared them to the start of the three months, as well as to my previous personal bests.
As you can see, I shaved 3:27 (15%) off my 5k, 6:55 (14%) off my 10k, and 21:38 (19%) off my half marathon. All while running more comfortably and at a lower heart rate! I am absolutely thrilled with the improvements I’ve made with my running.
Through a combination of indoor (Zwift) and outdoor cycling workouts, online triathlon coaching helped me become much stronger as a cyclist. While cycling is the strongest of the three disciplines for me, I found that working on specific aspects like cadence, technique, power, and endurance helped me drastically compared to how I used to just “go for a ride.”
As you can see, through Jess’ training program I was able to go from a 238 watt FTP to 308 watts – a 29% improvement! For those who are unfamiliar with FTP, I thought I’d also share my improved performance on a mountain climb that I do quite often. I’ve linked to the Strava segment if you want to learn more about the climb.
As you can see, I decreased my time by 8:16 (15.5%) over the course of the three months, and even beat my personal best by 5:04 (10%). It’s worth noting that my previous personal best was set two weeks after I did Ironman 70.3 Muskoka and was in great race shape. The fact that I crushed this time by 10% in early July (aka 2 months before being in peak shape for a September race) speaks wonders to how much more I benefited from a structured, well-designed training plan through online triathlon coaching.
Online Triathlon Coaching with Jess Cooper
Through online triathlon coaching, Jess helped me take my running and cycling to new heights. After just three months working together, I am smashing my previous personal bests. Beyond elevating my fitness, she provided me with invaluable advice on the topics of nutrition, technique, recovery, and injury prevention. These are paramount to sustained levels of intense training. Unfortunately, my race was canceled due to Covid-19, but I have no doubt in my mind that after another two months working with her I would have had an outstanding performance in Lake Placid. An age group Top 10 finish was definitely within reach.
About Jess Cooper
Jess got started with triathlon at 17 when she competed in her first sprint with her dad. And she never looked backed. Through joining her University Triathlon and Cycling teams she grew more in love with training, the camaraderie, and day in and day out grind of becoming stronger and faster. She quickly realized she prefered long distances and raced her first Ironman at 22. Since then she’s competed in a wealth of long distance races, including:
- 5 Ironman races (PR 10:37)
- 25+ Ironman 70.3 races (PR 5:06)
- 2 Ironman 70.3 World Championships
She currently lives and trains in Denver, Colorado, where she is a member of the Vixxen Racing triathlon team and virtually coaches athletes across North America.
Jess’ coaching style and training philosophy is the culmination of what she’s learned from several coaches over the past 10 years. She’s pulled in the best traits from each of them that has allowed her to become an athlete-first coach, specializing in working with beginner and intermediate triathletes. Jess typically works with her athletes by creating weekly or bi-weekly plans built around your schedule, history as an athlete, and goals. Not only does she provide the training program, but she also shares invaluable learnings that she has garnered over her years of racing. Beyond that, she has plenty to teach when it comes to gear choices, optimal nutrition, and mental strength.
Interested in working with Coach Jess?
From experience, I can tell you that working with a coach will help you get substantially more out of your training. I was shocked – and thrilled – with how much I progressed in just three months under Jess’ coaching. If you want to learn more about how you could work with Jess to achieve your triathlon goals, submit your details in the form below. She’s currently taking on new clients and would be happy to connect with you over a free consultation.