Right now! Seriously! And I know a really good one! Okay, kidding aside, many athletes wonder about the right timing to hire a coach? The answer—it really varies according to the athlete. It is a sliding scale around three major questions:
We find by the time most athletes start training for their first half ironman or full ironman, they begin to look at hiring a coach for at least a training plan. While many do it much sooner (some before they step foot out the door for their very first run); the ironman and half ironman distance races take a considerable time commitment not only in hours per week but also, number of months training to the race. Most of us have a limited amount of time to train each month. We want to make sure we are focusing on the correct things.
Canned plans give you general proficiency in each discipline but don’t work on your weaknesses or capitalize on your strengths.
Each athlete has different skill sets and backgrounds in each of the three disciplines. You may end up with a lot of “junk miles” that are a waste of time and increase your chance of injury. If you are going to put in a lot of time to the sport, you should make sure it’s good quality training. Researching races and designing a smart training plan leading to the race are just as important as executing it. If you have things in your life that require you to deviate from a canned plan or you don’t have time to research all your races to build a yearly training planner, let alone executing it, then having a coach can help with these activities. All you have to do is get out of bed each day and do what’s on your plan.
Another reason to hire a coach for any distance, but certainly for your first half and full ironman distances, is that these races are the ones where you stand a genuine chance of not completing the race unless you have proper training throughout the required number of weeks. A good coach makes sure to assess and satisfy your knowledge holes or blind spots.
A poorly designed and executed training plan for any distance race can lead to a very uncomfortable and potentially unsafe day. Back in the old days, it took most people three or four attempts to complete an ironman, IF they could even get to the start line uninjured. Now, knowledge of zone based training, periodization, and nutrition have greatly increased the success rates at these races.
In addition to training plans, coaches offer a wealth of skills and knowledge about their sport. If you have a lot of time to do research, you can glean a lot from the internet, your training partners, or free coaching seminars. However, for some things such as cycling skills, run form, or swim lessons; one on one coaching is the best way to obtain the knowledge for these technique-based skills. I’m always amazed when people will buy a top of the line wetsuit but won’t invest in swim lessons.
There are a lot of things that can lead to lack of progress as an athlete. Some people over-train and either never let their body recover enough to step forward or constantly injure themselves having to take large training breaks. Some do the same workouts at the same effort level over and over, week in and week out. Some people change training regimes every few months and never stick with one thing long enough to progress. Some skip ahead and try to do training at a level that is beyond their experience, again setting themselves up for injury and/or burn out. Coaches will keep your workouts fresh, hold you accountable, and make sure your plan is right for your experience level.