Why You Need to Train with a Coach


So you have secured that entry to your bucket list event. The Cape Epic, Wines to Whales, Pioneer Trek or something similar. You have a R50 000 bicycle, R10 000 worth of kit and accessories, R5 000 worth of nutrition and to top it all you have spoilt yourself with a new Polar heart rate monitor, R7 500 for Christmas. Not forgetting the entry fee of R25 000 for the event, your total investment is in excess of R100 000.


You work hard and you have to manage your time well but you are 100% committed to this event. This is the one thing you have been looking forward to for a very long time. Maybe it’s a gift to yourself for a big achievement or a big birthday.


How will you train for this event? Your brother’s colleague Nick, who finished the Cape Epic in 2012 is kind enough to share his training plan with you. All sorted then? Well, maybe you want to consider the services of a coach. Why? Because the money you spend on the services of a good coach could possibly be the best way to yield a solid return on your (substantial) investment. It would probably save you a lot of time, money and agony.


Here’s why:

  1. To measure is the first step to improve. A good coach will do a proper assessment of your training needs. This, in the longer term, will save you time and money. How fit are you currently? What is your cycling history? How many events have you raced in the last year? How did you do in these events? How long have you been cycling competitively? Do you have any special dietary needs? How many hours can you commit to training in a week? Perhaps Nick’s training plan which he so kindly will share with you is not the right one for you. Maybe Nick is 10 years younger than you, and he has 20 years’ experience racing bicycles, versus your 2 years. Maybe Nick aimed for a top 50 finish and you want to finish “comfortably”.A good coach will follow a structured assessment of your current situation, condition, lifestyle and more in order to understand what you training needs are. You probably need a completely different plan to Nick’s.

  2. A good coach will give you honest and unbiased feedback with regards to your training needs, your time frame and your goals. Your coach will assess your lifestyle, training time available, health, current fitness level, your goal with your event, time available until the date of your event and more to form a picture of what is possible, if so, and what needs to be done to achieve that. He will not only look at your fitness levels but also your diet, medical history, skills level, and so on. He will then give you feedback and advice. Maybe you are a bit ambitious or even conservative. Maybe you need to drop 10kg. Maybe you need a lot more skills training than what you anticipated. Maybe you will have to consult with your doctor regarding your anti histamine medicine before embarking on a focussed training plan.

  3. A good coach will put together a training plan specific to your needs and goals. No internet downloads or generic heart rate zones. Have you seen the “predicted” heart rate zones calculated by some device manufacturers, or the “training plans” off the internet? How accurate and effective do you think such a generalized approach can be? I have seen “predicted” max heart rate of 174bpm for a person (on his state of the art new heart rate monitor/GPS) and yet when going flat out on our favourite hill he reached 186 bpm. Now he is, rightly so, confused about his training plan. Considering all the aspects and giving you time to reflect on the feedback, the coach will then begin to put together an effective training plan with your specific needs and situation in mind. Your input and feedback is paramount in this process. Scott Bugden, a British Cycling Level 3 coach and Track Coach at the World Cycling Centre, who has extensive experience in coaching groups and individuals from Grass-roots to Elite performers says the following: “Too many people focus only on a training plan with specifics like heart rate or power zones, intervals, endurance rides etc. They neglect to plan, test, implement, review and adjust. People seem to rush into a training program, and then just settle into it. The training program is only one part of the bigger plan. Nutrition, race strategy, technical skills level, and lifestyle are all factors that influence an athlete’s performance”.

  4. A good coach will facilitate continuous and dynamic feedback to you in terms of all aspects of your training and will make adjustments accordingly. A good training plan will always include dynamic feedback. “No training plan always works out 100% as planned. Life happens to people. They get sick, they change jobs, they might move to another place. A good plan must provide for feedback and adjustments” says Scott. Feedback should be summarised after each day’s work out and after each week’s training. Feedback should include your training history for that week, your general wellbeing or how you felt on the day, the weather, dietary issues and any other information that might impact on your training.

  5. A good coach will structure regular tests and observations to gauge your improvement and will make the necessary changes. You might need to improve strength, endurance and technical skills in order to achieve your goals. Another athlete might need to improve explosive power, racing tactics and speed to achieve his goals. A good coach will distinguish between these needs and he will know how and when to test these components.

  6. Nick’s training plan stipulates a week of long hours in the saddle with a few evenings of strength and conditioning training thrown in. But it’s your daughter’s birthday or you have to finish your annual sales report this week and it inevitably invades family time and training time. What do you do now? A good coach assists you in finding a balance between life demands and training.He will guide you in terms of the other elements that might impact on your improvement and your racing such as lifestyle, bike set up, nutrition, race strategy, motivation and how to cope with injuries. Good coaches understand that a good training plan is not the only factor influencing your results. They know that life happens. People get sick, they move to other places, they have jobs and family and pets. Your coach will help you find the time and balance to achieve your goals.

  7. After 6 weeks on Nick’s training plan, you know you are stronger and you are definitely fitter. But how much stronger and how much fitter? A good coach will develop a clear and simple plan with measurable goals and objectives. Why do you have to suffer twice a week through 10 x 1 min max effort intervals? Why do you spend Saturday afternoons riding through cones in your back yard? Because your coach did a proper assessment of your situation, condition and goals and because he or she involved you in the process.You will understand why you are doing things and you will know by how much you have improved. Simple, clear and effective.

Nick is generous in sharing his training program with you. But it is most probably not the correct training plan for you. Considering that you are investing a lot of money and time in your race, you might as well be smart about it. You do not want to be in a situation, two months prior to your bucket list event with an injury due to incorrect bike set-up or still not able to improve on your time up the big hill or constantly having to abort your ride due to a stomach bug. You do not want the uncertainty that comes with not being sure of what you are doing or weather you will be ready for your race. You do not want to have wasted lots of money on expensive drinks, energy bars and gels, because “Nick said so”.

You want to be confident and sure knowing that what you do is part of a smart plan. You want to know that you are going to enjoy your event. You want to know that your goals are realistic and you have a fair chance of achieving it. You want to find the perfect balance between your training time and your family time. And you want to know that you will get a good return on all these investments. Get a coach! Train with Purpose!


Article written by Marcel van der Poll, UCI certified Level 2 mountain bike coach, and founder of VeloWorld ZA. Contact him at fastmarcel@yahoo.com


With recognition to: Scott Bugden is a certified British Cycling Level 3 cycling coach. He has extensive experience working across different cycling disciplines and levels of athletes. Scott is also the owner of Fit in no time, a cycling coaching business. Find out more at www.fitinnotime.co.uk





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