Andrew Simmons is a distance running coach who came to the endurance sports through a life transformation of his own. Find out how his experiences have informed his coaching philosophy, and how he finds balance as an athlete.
TrainingPeaks: How did you start coaching?
Andrew Simmons: At the age of 20 I was a much different person—between then and now I’ve lost close to 85 pounds. So it started with a personal investment in myself, and then I wanted to understand how I could become a better athlete. That got me into triathlon, ultramarathons, track running, and eventually transitioned me into endurance sports.
The art of running is something I’m just really interested in on a personal level—coaching came into my life as a hobby in pursuit of that personal passion.
After that first season of triathlon, I found that I’d really fallen in love with running. The art of running is something I’m just really interested in on a personal level—coaching came into my life as a hobby in pursuit of that personal passion. A lot of other athletes had started asking me questions, and I was spending a lot of time writing plans for free. Luckily I had some great mentors who pushed me in the direction of coaching as a full-time job, and realized I could pursue this as a career.
How does your personal experience change your coaching style?
I think that really comes down to how my personal experience informs my leadership style, and I like to say that I lead from my mission. My personal mission is to help athletes to get to the highest version of themselves, and I hope that by guiding athletes to the application of small details and helping them take ownership of the final outcome, I’m inspiring them to become that highest and best versions of themselves.
I have an athlete who started in the sport as a way to test himself. He’s at a different stage of life than I am (he’s older), but he’s been able to find a transformational experience both by losing weight and by growing his confidence. I look back on his very first marathon, and I can still remember that phone call so clearly. I coached him almost as much emotionally as physically. That’s really what allows me to have an impact on my athletes, knowing how they need me to deliver things for them to take that information in.
How does TrainingPeaks fit into your coaching philosophy?
I like to say data alone is black and white; it’s the comments and feedback you can gather in TrainingPeaks that really bring color to the picture. When an athlete starts to use TrainingPeaks for the first time, you can see it bring color to their training.
TrainingPeaks is what allows us to combine objective and subjective information to be effective.
Suddenly we can pinpoint what we want to train for next time, or see what’s working because we saw it happening in the big picture. TrainingPeaks is what allows us to combine objective and subjective information to be effective.
What are your big coaching goals for 2020?
The number one thing for me as a coach is to continue learning and continue to push forward my mission. Whether that’s group training or one-to-one, just continuing on my mission. As we grow our team at Lifelong Endurance, we’re seeing people are really aligning with what we’re doing, so we’re not going to do a whole lot of craziness, at least for the foreseeable future. We just want to stick to our mission and really try to cultivate that team.
How does TrainingPeaks help you with your business?
TrainingPeaks is one of the best in the game; it’s kind of become something of a requisite for us as we define what our business looks like. I also love working together to put out content; one of my big things is to eliminate frustration through education, so I love being able to contribute to the TrainingPeaks blog because it gets my knowledge out into the world and helps people trying to gain knowledge.
What is your most memorable experience as a coach?
It was pretty amazing to watch an athlete finish a 200-mile race very shortly after coming back from bilateral hip surgery. I got to be a part of his comeback as an athlete, and also a part of his crew and the team. It was also pretty phenomenal to have an athlete shave 30-plus minutes off a marathon. That was a life-changing event for him, and it was incredible to watch the effects of coaching change his confidence. As a youth coach, I’ve also gotten to see a team come together and believe not just in themselves but in the team as a whole—and then win a national championship!
You coach a lot of different athletes, what is a constant for you as a coach?
When I get feedback from my athletes, which I ask for pretty frequently, many of them say that I build trust by listening and listening first. I really try to understand where they are coming from, and how they see things, because if they don’t understand what my goal is for their workout, or if I don’t understand what their goals are for the season, then we’re gonna have a mismatch. Communication breakdown is, 9 times out of 10, what leads to the dissolving of a coach-athlete relationship. The common core across every sport is communication.
What advice would you have for a new coach?
No matter how frustrated you get, you are making an impact—and that is good work. I think you also have to be somebody who is hungry to learn. If you stop learning, or picking up things that challenge you, you’ll stagnate. If you have a position on something, know why you have that position; exploring and understanding it will make you a better coach.
There’s the athlete and then there’s the person they are the other 20 hours a day—and often it’s the person, not the athlete, who you really end up coaching.
I would also suggest that when you’re not growing your knowledge of your sport, to read articles or listen to podcasts about mental training and personal cultivation. There’s the athlete and then there’s the person they are the other 20 hours a day—and often it’s the person, not the athlete, who you really end up coaching.
How do you find the balance between your life as an athlete and as a coach?
I would say that the balance comes when you can still do your own things. For example, I still love to go get a workout at the gym, but it’s really hard (as someone who teaches classes) to feel like I have a space where I can go and not have to be an expert. I might go to a gym across town because, one, I get to learn new movements and see new things, but two it’s really nice when people don’t know who you are. It’s nice to just go somewhere and be an athlete myself.
I think that’s something you really have to do intentionally as a coach; don’t take all of your free time and make it about training and methodologies. You’re supposed to be into it, but you have to do other things too. I’m a huge fisherman, it’s probably my biggest passion outside running and hiking, so that’s where I go to get lost and refresh and renew myself. Those are the things that I do to create that space for my job. Coaching can be something you take very personally, but you have to have separation or it will consume you!