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4 Great Reasons to Start Working With a Coach This Winter

BY Rob Lee

Winter training takes focus, commitment and insight. Here's why you shouldn't wait until spring to enlist the help of an expert coach.

As a coach, my year goes through two distinct phases: periods when things are stable and periods when athlete numbers are either increasing or decreasing. The decrease in athlete numbers typically follows the end of a race season; and the periods of increase are typically autumn and spring, when many of us decide on new goals for the summer months.

While I personally believe that there is never a “wrong time” to seek support for your goals, it is my observation that there are advantages to starting your work with a coach early in the season, especially when your goal is endurance-based and has a deadline. Here we’ll go through some of the main reasons why.

Analysis and Planning

There’s an old saying in sport: “Trophies are won in the winter and collected in the summer.” This basically means that those who value their goals start making them become a reality long before race day. So you come off the back of your race season, take a well-earned break, and then what? It’s time to look back and assess the past season while also looking forward to the big things ahead. Until you start this process, you cannot know if you have sufficient time to make your dreams become reality. 

Starting in autumn or early winter will give you the most time for adaptation in training and, in many cases, even improve over the previous season. Working with a coach is valuable at this point because they can help you make smart goals, drive analysis of data, and look at it all without bias or preference for training. They often see the things that are too obvious to us as athletes to see about ourselves. Just starting with a coach right now could be the difference between an entire winter spent developing to a new level or a winter spent chasing a red herring. 

Tailored Base Training

Yes, I know what you’re thinking: “Here we go, another coach who is going to tell me how important it is that I do base training.” Well, kinda, but not really! When we talk about an “aerobic base,” I like to think about what that might mean to each individual, especially in relation to how much time they have to train, the type of riding they like and the events or reasons they have for training. A pro endurance athlete, for example, might do lots of long-duration, low-intensity training; while a more time-crunched athlete, or one targeting a shorter, faster event, might actually need some early season intensity. 

Our potential for speed is mostly dictated by the size of our aerobic engine. We measure and track aerobic capacity using Time to Exhaustion (TTE) and Functional Threshold Power (FTP). TTE is defined as “the maximum duration for which a power equal to FTP can be maintained” and FTP as “the highest power a rider can maintain in a quasi-steady state without fatiguing.” Of course, there are many other metrics that dictate performance, but these are two of the most important for developing your aerobic engine (which is mostly what we’re talking about when we talk about base training).  

A coach will use their experience to help you decide what mix of workouts your base training should contain to develop these two metrics because, again, it can vary hugely from athlete to athlete. Having an expert to help you build the best early-season workouts for your physiology and goals can make a huge difference when the spring rolls around. 

Moral Support

We’ve all had dark times. What, you haven’t? Count yourself amongst the lucky ones! Winter can be a tough time for many athletes; days are shorter, weather is usually more challenging, infections are prevalent, and friendly company is harder to come by. All these things can, at times, combine to make training much harder to do. It’s easy to feel a bit lost, fall off the path and lose our way. I find that working with a coach is more important in these times of need than when everything is easy.

I have athletes approach me every spring looking for motivation, having just had the most horrible winter. Yet at the same time, I have helped numerous athletes stay on track through the very same problems and very same time frame, and they usually come out much further ahead. When it comes to coaching and the darker winter months, a problem shared is often no longer a problem at all. Darkness, weather, sickness, and time become simply hurdles that we cleared together on the way to a great Summer. 

Confidence in the Process

The psychology of sport is well-researched, and there are many exercises, tricks and training we can undergo to make ourselves stronger and faster. I find that for many athletes, the biggest gain to be had in this area is often the easiest to attain and, ironically, the most overlooked. Knowing that you are training when most of your competitors are not, or in the case of more advanced athletes, knowing that your coach is ensuring you are making the best use of your time whilst your competitors are not, is a huge advantage to have. 

This feeling is slowly but surely cultivated; through all those cold months, the dark solo sessions, and nights on the smart trainer, it builds. It’s powerful, you don’t even have to know you are working on it, and it’s free! Getting winter right is massive, and knowing you have a coach to make sure that every stone is being lifted, that you are avoiding distractions, and staying on a path, can take so much of the stress out of the season. It makes me wonder why anyone waits until spring to start their coaching journey!

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About Rob Lee

Rob Lee is a TrainingPeaks Level 2 coach with more than 20 years of coaching and mentoring experience. Based in the UK, he supports athletes worldwide across most cycling disciplines. He is a former elite athlete in two areas of mountain biking, multiple record breaker, and an inductee to the UK MTB Hall of Fame. Rob runs his own coaching and performance business: RL Performance, and Aero-Fit sessions for World-leader in cycling aerodynamics Drag2Zero. His training plans for self-supported racing can be found on his TrainingPeaks page.

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