Right now! Seriously! And I know a really good one! Okay, kidding aside, we do get asked what the right timing is to hire a coach, and it really does vary according to athlete. It is a sliding scale around three major questions:
1. What is your time worth?
2. How confident are you with your knowledge?
3. Are you still progressing as an athlete?
What Is Your Time Worth?
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 in both hours per week and number of months training to race. Most athletes have a limited amount of time to train each month and want to make sure they 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 regularly or don’t have time to spend researching races and building a yearly training planner, let alone executing it, then having a coach can help with these activities. You just have to get out of bed each day and do what’s on your plan.
How Confident Are You with Your Knowledge About Endurance Sports?
Another reason to hire a coach by the half ironman and full ironman distances is because these races are the first ones where you stand a genuine chance of not completing the race without proper training heading into the distance. A good coach helps make sure you don’t have any 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 get to the start line uninjured. Now knowledge of zone based training, periodization, and nutrition have greatly increased the success rates at these races.
Besides 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, and free coaching seminars. However, for some things, such as cycling skills, run form, and swim lessons, one on one coaching is the best way to obtain the knowledge for these technique-based skills. I am always amazed when people buy a top of the line wetsuit but won’t invest in swim lessons.
Are You Still Progressing As An Athlete?
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 can keep your workouts fresh, hold you accountable, and make sure your plan is right for your experience level.