Meet TrainingPeaks Ambassador Taylor Thomas

Meet TrainingPeaks Ambassador Taylor Thomas

Taylor Thomas is the founder and head coach of Thomas Endurance Coaching (TEC). He’s a lifelong endurance athlete, writer, podcast host, and the head of business development at TEC. TEC provides expert level coaching to athletes of all ability levels, and specializes in evidence-based training science as well as a metrics-driven approach to endurance sports. TEC coaches guide athletes from around the world in all disciplines of both running and cycling.

TrainingPeaks: Where did you get your start in endurance sports? 

Taylor Thomas: I did the classic progression: I was an athlete in high school, I ran cross-country and track in college, and then got into longer distance running. I started trying to run marathons, which got me into triathlon, and ultimately I decided that I was better at the bike than I was at any of the other disciplines.

I started racing mountain bikes at a fairly high level, moved through the ranks, and did all the disciplines, and really my passion ended up being longer-distance stuff. I did the NUE series (think 100-milers) and I really liked the solo 12- and 24-hour races. I’ve essentially just kept doing longer and harder things my whole career.

How did that lead to you coaching?

I started coaching athletes with different training facilities and through my connections with athletes I rode with. I just kept getting certifications and new levels of training, and here we are! It’s been 15 years now! 

What was your first certification?

I gave out a lot of coaching advice before I was officially a coach; I would write out training plans, and hand-deliver them to the folks I was working with. I’d just literally write it down on a piece of notebook paper. I was prescribing percentages of heart rate, and dabbling in power and stuff like that. I even had a friend who was working at a training center and who could do some laboratory testing, so we could go to that facility and do lactate threshold stuff. But at the end of the day it was just passing out pieces of notebook paper. 

Eventually, I started thinking I should probably have insurance and a license and all that, so I got my USAC Level 3. I obviously had tons of exposure to USAC as an athlete, so that was the first place I turned to get my feet wet in the world of coaching and trying to be legitimate.

So what other certifications do you have now?

I’ve gone through all the USAC tiers of certifications, and a fair amount of certifications through you guys, like TPU level one and two. I also did a power certification and a bunch of strength certifications. I would really like to get more into nutrition, down the road. I’m actually trying to bring a nutritionist on board with TEC so we can offer that service in conjunction with our coaching.

I fully believe that if you’re not learning you’re dying. I’m always searching for whatever class I can take, or book I can read or podcast I can listen to. I’m a student of the sport, ultimately.

I don’t think that person will ever be me; I’m not going back to school or anything, but I fully believe that if you’re not learning you’re dying. I’m always searching for whatever class I can take, or book I can read or podcast I can listen to. I’m a student of the sport, ultimately.

What came after paper training plans? At what point did you find out about TrainingPeaks and start using it to coach? 

I first started using TrainingPeaks as an athlete. I was living in Flagstaff, Arizona doing some work at a high altitude training facility. I was racing bikes pretty hard, trying to progress and all that. Those were the early days of Garmin, when you’d need to stand there for like ten minutes to get all your stuff to sync up. 

At the time I thought using an Excel spreadsheet for coaching was a big deal, like “I don’t even have to meet my athletes in person to give them their training!” I had 3 or 4 athletes at the time and I thought that was a lot to manage.

I remember picking it up and thinking, “Oh this is definitely much better than my spreadsheet situation.”

Then as I grew my athlete base and started working more remotely, that’s where the newer iterations of TrainingPeaks started to become really useful to me as a coach. I remember picking it up and thinking, “Oh this is definitely much better than my spreadsheet situation.” Since then, TEC has only worked with our athletes through TrainingPeaks. 

And you use WKO also, right? 

Yeah I’ve used the WKO platform for a while. Right now I’m doing the new WKO5 the beta test, and it’s super cool. I’ve been nerding out on that a lot lately, it’s really fun. 

How do you use WKO in conjunction with TrainingPeaks to help your athletes?

WKO is like the next level of granular analysis. My general workflow is to use TrainingPeaks from a prescription perspective, like that’s where the training lives. It’s the platform where I meet with athletes and the first place I look for general compliance, like whether or not they met their IF or TSS duration goals. 

I always know what I’m trying to build from a metrics perspective, so I’ll go into WKO just looking to see if we’ve moved the needle on any of our goals.

Next I’ll go through their comments. We rely very heavily on post-activity comments, and I try to house any conversation about a workout inside of that workout, because then I can go back and use it to inform my prescription going forward. If a workout went poorly, we can talk about metrics or nutrition tracking right there; that’s what TrainingPeaks is great for. 

Usually that cursory overview in TrainingPeaks will spark some sort of curiosity that I can then take into WKO; I’ll wonder what a workout did for stamina or time to exhaustion or modeled FTP. I always know what I’m trying to build from a metrics perspective, so I’ll go into WKO just looking to see if we’ve moved the needle on any of our goals, and then I use charts to break all that stuff apart. 

Find out how this Montana-based ultra-endurance specialist went from hand-written training plans to running a multi-coach business.

The new iteration is great too. It used to be that if I wanted to write a workout specific to an athlete I’d have to go in and look at all their metrics and write the duration and intensity of each interval based on their specific PD curve. Now instead of manually calculating IF and TSS you can build a workout based on what you know about an athlete’s PD curve, and the software gives you the IF and TSS you want to accomplish. It’s really streamlined the manual entry stuff I used to have to do between WKO and TrainingPeaks. 

I’ve been dumping a bunch of data in there for modeling. That’s actually what I do when I can’t sleep; I go work with WKO for a couple hours. It’s really cool to see if workouts are moving us in a particular physiological direction.

How would you describe your coaching philosophy? 

From the very beginning I was always really focused on staying in my wheelhouse. I’m not necessarily bad-mouthing coaches to do this, but I’ve seen a lot of people coach a discipline they’re not passionate about or don’t know a whole lot about. The only reason I ever started coaching athletes is because I enjoy it and it connects me to the sport. I don’t race at the same capacity that I used to, and I’m not physically as involved in that world as I once was, but being connected to these athletes is what keeps that passion alive for me. 

At the end of the day I just stick to what I know, and I know big burly days that last way longer than you think they should. I really can say with all honesty that I’ve never strayed from that. 

Whether I’m really fired up on the events they’re doing, or just think they’re awesome person, I’ve also got to be invested in the athlete somehow. I really value having a long-term connection. I think that that’s the most productive way to do it, and I also just want to see how that athlete evolves over the course of several seasons. 

At the end of the day I just stick to what I know, and I know big burly days that last way longer than you think they should. I really can say with all honesty that I’ve never strayed from that. 

How many coaches do you have now at TEC?

Four altogether, and we all have different focuses. Because I’ve been so staunch in my approach to working with athletes, I’ve brought in other specialists to address athletes’ other needs. I think there’s a lot of value in other disciplines and approaches, even if they’re not necessarily “me.” So we have a triathlon coach, a road cycling coach, an ultra distance road guy, and then I’m kind of like that the like outlier offroad guy; lately I’ve been working with a lot of Tour Divide and Dirta Kanza racers. 

Taking on assistant coaches has only added work, but it’s a long-term play from a business development perspective. You have to invest in your staff at the front end for the payoff on the back end.

We’re trying to make sure that we have a really qualified coach for everybody who’s interested in working with TEC. We’re also trying to afford all of our coaches the opportunity to keep learning and growing, in an effort to make sure that we can always give the highest and best level of service to our athletes.

How has the workload distribution changed now that you’ve added assistant coaches?

I really, really like building and growing a coaching business, even if it’s not just me working in my pajamas at my kitchen table anymore (though that still happens a lot). Taking on assistant coaches has only added work, but it’s a long-term play from a business development perspective. You have to invest in your staff at the front end for the payoff on the back end, so I am very available to those coaches. We talk on a rotating schedule, at least bi-weekly and sometimes more.

We also do quarterly staff meetings, which is a video call where we all sit down and go through business development stuff. I make sure they’re keyed in on the growth of TEC and what we have going on in terms of opportunities. We’ll also talk about their challenges with athletes, any concerns, and how we can streamline things. I’m always open to their feedback, and working to make their lives easier, whether that’s the onboarding process or the administrative stuff how we handle payroll. It’s definitely more workload, but it’s workload that I enjoy.

What would be your advice for someone considering taking on assistant coaches or growing their business?

It’s pretty easy to be a good independent coach, but it is a much different thing to be a business owner. I’ve talked to coaches who are thinking about this or who have already expanded, and the thing that gets left out a lot of the time is the administrative aspect. Like is your insurance in place? How are you going to handle payroll? What’s the tax situation going to be like when you do pay those coaches? Are you working with coaches outside the country? What does that look like from a tax burden perspective? Do you know how to protect yourself, your employees and your business if something goes wrong?

We needed to have a TEC way of doing things and not just a Taylor Thomas way… you want to make sure the experience is seamless for both your staff and your athletes.

A great example was our onboarding documentation. In the beginning it just me sending out an email, but with more coaches and athletes we can’t do that anymore. It needs to be a standardized process that’s built out across TEC; we need to have a TEC way of doing things and not just a Taylor Thomas way. We want every athlete to get the same experience, and we want that to be clean, we want it to feel safe, like it’s not fraudulent. They need to have terms and conditions and privacy policies, and we need to make sure the website conveys all that information. That prompted a full rebrand of the TEC website, and that was before I ever talked to the first coach.

I also wanted the coaches’ experience to be good. I tell the coaches, their job is to coach athletes and I’ll do everything else, meaning at the end of the day they can just work with athletes and produce content around their coaching expertise. I view that as my responsibility as the business owner and head coach. 

So that’s my advice: step back, get those procedural things in place, and make sure the experience is seamless for both your staff and your athletes. That takes a big step back from a normal coaching workflow, and you have to have more of a CEO mentality vs. just being a coach writing training plans. I think you can straddle that line, but that’s kind of like where I’m at day-to-day. Like, what’s our five-year plan!?

What is your five-year plan?

Well, we just launched Endurance Minded, our new podcast covering the emotional and psychological facets of endurance sports. We all spend a lot of time talking about the training and metrics, and while those things are important, they only tell a small part of the story. On the podcast we’re going to talk to regular athletes and coaches, as well as world-class athletes, simply about what it is that gets them out of bed in the morning. You know, what gets them excited to train and gets them through the hard times. There’s always that piece, you know? You can train really hard but if you don’t have the “why” locked down, it’s all gonna fall apart. This is something that I’m really excited about, and we’re already getting great feedback. We’ve got more episodes on deck already so stay tuned!

Lydia Tanner

Lydia Tanner is the athlete content editor at TrainingPeaks. She was formerly an editor at Bicycling Magazine and contributor to Bike Magazine, Mountain Flyer, and RedBull. She is a two-time collegiate national champion in XC MTB, and raced the World Championships as a U23. She is perpetually curious about physiology and human performance.