What Are the Problems with Coaching Yourself?

There are a lot of reasons to get a coach. I’ve heard people hate on getting a coach if you’re not a super crazy fast professional, like why hire someone to direct you for a “hobby.” I think that’s sort of silly. Just because someone likes running or triathlon or racing, doesn’t mean they want to become an expert in physiology or training mechanisms. I like to eat, so I pay people to make me food at restaurants; I have no desire to become a chef.

The main reasons people seem to hire a coach are:

  • They simply don’t know how to train for an event and they’re buying the actual scientific knowledge required.
  • They (and most of us fall into this category) do a terrible job of self-regulating and self-directing. They may have the knowledge, but they couldn’t apply to themselves.
  • They need some kind of accountability/motivation.

I mostly tend to fall into the last two, though I also like having someone tell me what to do when I’m trying a new event and have no idea how to approach it. Right now, though, I’m coaching myself. Like I mentioned before, there are a few reasons for this. My schedule is in flux right now — how am I supposed to expect someone else to keep track of all my different, constantly-changing obligations? My injury situation is in flux — how am I supposed to expect someone else to keep track of all my different problems and how I feel any given day?

Mostly, though, I just didn’t find the person I wanted. When my first choice was busy, no one else seemed like the right fit. I have some time-sensitive plans and goals right now, so I don’t feel like getting to know someone new. While I do have (tons and tons) of friends who are coaches, man, I really dislike mixing friendship or relationships with telling me what to do. Not that some of my coaches haven’t become friends, but I get the sense I’m probably difficult to coach and, also, just difficult, so if we’re friends first and you haven’t experienced that, then we may not be friends after. That narrowed down the options and then, well, I don’t have unlimited money. So, coaching myself it is. And, anyway, I’m not half bad at coaching myself at something I know (meaning I may have to find someone to tell me what to do for Ironman, because I don’t know shit about that) — as long as I don’t fall too hard into a cycle of self-hate, overtrain, exhaustion, cut all my workouts, repeat.

There are some problems with coaching yourself, though.

1. Cycle of self-hate, overtrain, exhaustion, cut workouts, repeat.

2. Yesterday, I had on the schedule 2:30-3:00 ride with 3 x 10′ at half-Ironman pace (170-175W for me, I mean I think, who knows, I haven’t done a half-IM in two years). This seemed logical because I’m trying to transition from triathlon training to marathon training for CIM, but I’m also doing a cross-training-heavy marathon approach, because I don’t do well with high run mileage. And, I’m laying the groundwork for Ironman training post-December. So, many 3-hour rides with some tempo work both builds up my bike fitness and base, while training my aerobic capacity at that sort of effort level.

But, my legs were feeling heavy yesterday and after the first 10′ I wanted to cut it down to 2 x 10′. Why did I pick three times? Would two be good enough? Or would I miss the whole point of the workout with just two? I wanted my legs to be ready for the actual hard run workout Wednesday morning, was I pushing them too hard in a not key workout? Or not enough? If someone else had written 3 x 10′ on my schedule, I would have just done it. I would have assumed they had a reason and knew what they were doing. Maybe they would know what they were doing, or maybe they had just picked three times the same way I picked three times. But, I would have believed.

You lose the ability to not look behind the curtain when the wizard is you.

3. Today, I did a Coach Mario run workout. (I don’t usually like to give away other people’s workouts, because maybe they feel protective of them, as if the workout itself is the secret. But, of course it’s not. There is no secret. Mario doesn’t seem to care, though, in fact he’ll tell you workouts to do if you ask him — or buy his book. Because, why hide the real secret: that you still have to do the work.) The workout was 4 x [4′ at 10K pace (6:20), 1′ rest, 30″ hill sprint, 3′ rest]. It’s shockingly hard. And, halfway through of course I wanted to stop. I knew no one would care if I stopped. There was no coach to tell me I needed to toughen up or to hold me accountable. It was just me, by myself, on a path off a road you’ve never heard of. So, I had to be my own coach at that point. I said: Suck it up; there’s no cutting this workout, you just have to do it, all of it and you have to nail it.

And, that was that. I did it, all of it.

4. Sometimes you need to listen to your body. Sometimes you need to ignore what it’s saying. And, there’s no one else to tell you which times are which. So, you better not lie to yourself.

Do you coach yourself?

20 thoughts on “What Are the Problems with Coaching Yourself?

  1. OH I LIKE this topic, Kelly – as you can well imagine!
    I do think some athletes can most definitely coach themselves…for SURE.
    However, I think most cannot. I cannot. I would over-train and swim,bike and run every day …and the coach adds (if they are good) enough specificity to the program for the athlete’s key races.
    I understand your mixing business & pleasure comment…but for some – again, not all, it can work. I coach some good friends and it works. Now, I do have a rule that I cannot coach someone I am sleeping with or vice-versa, so that would be Jerome. I love him but NO way I can listen to someone who I want to lay on the couch with & eat ice cream!!!

    Good luck with your self-coaching! Just plan enough rest! 🙂

    1. Most definitely can’t self-coach. It’s too hard to manage yourself. But, sometimes, you end up having to self-coach for different reasons, so here’s hoping it works!

      And, I love the no sleeping with rule. Hah. Whenever Steve gives me coaching advice I’m always suspicious that he’s just telling me to skip a workout, so we can go out 😉

  2. My coach works for McMillan Running. Check it out. Definitely worth a look. They also have training plans if you don’t want full on coaching

    1. Teams and groups are a good way to go when you’re starting out, especially if they’re structured around the same goal races you’re working towards and the coach/person leading them has a plan.

  3. Self coaching for me (with exception to swim training as my crawl was awful).
    I managed to train for my first Half IM alone (as well as other type of events), I love the solitude that comes with bike, run and brick training.
    It depends on the individual of course, I can self train and easily maintain the motivation as I have a few things to prove to myself, I use it to feel good about myself (both physically & mentally), collect medals, bragging rights, maintain general fitness, keep my weight down and to be honest, show that I can look good at the age of 43 :o)

    With my self motivation in mind I also have another reason why I train alone. I don’t like being a slave to someone elses time schedule and/or ideas. I know a coach would help but I can sometimes decide off the cuff to step out the door on a cold snowy morning and do a 20-30k run (I live in Sweden). I don’t take advice well, I learn by my mistakes (makes me stronger) and I do alot of research online for anything I am unsure of, or think I could improve on (God I love Youtube).

    I think my biggest challenge to date is the support of my wife. I will be the first to admit that my training has caused some friction. Luckily for me, she enjoys to run and bike too but not at the intensity that I enjoy. I think I will have to wait at least 2 years before I even begin to train for the full IM, I know for a fact this will be a hard pill to swallow for my wife.

    Well, after this long reply, I will finish off with the news that I successfully completed my first half IM in 6:01:53 which was just under 30 minutes quicker than I expected. It’s amazing what the mind and body can do on race day compared to when training.

    Nice article too :o)

    1. It definitely depends on the individual and the circumstance. Solitude can be nice, but it gets old after awhile!

      Nice job on your first half. And, maybe your wife will come around if you involve her more? Like run with her or get her to help you out?

      1. Thanks Kelly, I realise now that my reply was the complete opposite of what you asked people to comment on. I didn’t state any problems with self-caoching :o)
        As for involving my wife, I do join her for a run at her pace sometimes, I treat it as an easy session. I will also run the Disney Marathon & a Half challenge (Goofy) with her Jan 2014 which at present could be a long run as she has been injured for a while.

      2. Well, there you go. Even if you don’t run the same speed, like I’m nowhere need my husband’s speed, getting the other person involved and asking their opinion seems to go a long way.

  4. I’m currently in the self-coaching boat, and I’m pretty bad at it. Of course right now I’m still blaming the new work schedules (mine and the bf’s) and a couple health issues and hopefully when things settle down I can get more consistency. It’s also hard for me to find a coach I can work with after working with supposedly one of the best in the world, with all his quirky training philosophies. But I’m probably focusing on short course racing this next season, so it’ll all be different anyway!

    1. You should just channel Sutton and yell at yourself and then go make yourself like run on a treadmill in a sauna for five hours.

      Short-course is fun! Painful, but fun. You get to go fast!

  5. The story of my life “Cycle of self-hate, overtrain, exhaustion, cut workouts, repeat.” I’m rehabbing a torn patella tendon because of it. Frankly it is amazing that this is the first injury that I have had in 15 years of racing and coaching myself. Perhaps it is time to get a coach…

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