The Conflict Between Coach & Athlete

I have often battled with myself and it comes in the form of – Coach Alan vs. Athlete Alan. I entered the world of running, triathlon and now duathlon five and a half years ago. This came after a history of playing football and baseball in my early years before transitioning to adult softball until I made the switch here…best move ever! Coming into running and triathlon I had no idea what I was getting myself into and joined the local club, RunVie Racing…now Total Fitness.

I learned so much from my original coach, Dan Berguson. He is an elite runner and duathlete as well so I listened to everything he said and asked a ton of questions along the way. I could not get enough information. I just loved learning everything about this new world of sport. I’ll never forget Dan telling me it would take years for me to learn how to race meaning I would need to go through the training and race experiences time after time to learn about my body, mind, and competition (race strategy). That statement was so true and I’ve loved everything about the journey including the failures.

After a year or so after I joined the club Dan and his wife, Joette, moved to Chicago and then entered the wonderful coach and world champion multi-sport athlete, Celia Dubey, who now owns and runs the club under the name, Total Fitness. I have trained and raced with the group since and began coaching for the team almost two years ago while gaining my USA Triathlon Coaching Certification along with it. I remain addicted to learning about the sport covering running, swimming, cycling, nutrition, training, and psychology.

Along with Dan’s reference that it would take years to learn how to race it would also take years to learn how to train…effectively. There are so many facets. I learned a lot early on by trial and error along with the group coaching I was soaking up. When I decide to do something I’m usually all-in and this sport simply came to me at the right time. I was coming off being unhealthy and learned so much through the loss of my mom about health through her final years I wanted to be healthy. I love competing so it was a beautiful marriage of desires.

Being all-in, early on that meant I pushed the limits to how much my body could handle from a volume/work load perspective. Sometimes I went a bit too far. I wouldn’t change that experience a bit as I learned my boundaries from intensity, volume, and periods of training. Oh I learned my lessons… As I continued to consume more information and gain experience it led me to be train and race much more effectively and then enable me to coach.

My professional experience has been learning and development and talent management for over 23 years so the skills I have picked up over time sparked several ideas to use in this space. I love helping people reach their goals and that means what they want to achieve, not me. Anywhere from coaching overall wellness and fitness to elite athletes have been fantastic!

As a coach I ask a lot of questions and it continues through our engagements. Circumstances change with people all the time including external factors so it’s critical to not make assumptions. I felt confident in my approach to coaching except for coaching one person…me.

When it comes to me, the Athlete Alan sometimes can be a bit hard headed. The Coach Alan usually hits it on the mark. On occasion Athlete Alan thinks he’s smarter than Coach Alan and will try something a bit much… sometimes coming off of an injury or the transition from a break between seasons or pushing on a workout when it was designed as recovery. I do consider myself fortunate as I have not missed an “A” race in my five and a half years racing. I’ve had a couple injuries that have shut me down but they have been timed well and if I had to race I could have.

So what do you do when you are both the coach or designing your own training plans and the athlete? What I have found effective is to first be aware of that dynamic. You have to be honest with your opportunities and where you are failing or have failed. You also have to know what your strengths are and use them to your advantage. I have my circle of resources I go to for inputs to training and reflection. I also seek new sources of information where I need help and meet with my doctor on a regular basis whether I’m injured or not.

It’s nice being in the sport now for a few years that I know the people I want to go to for insights and if I’m not sure I’ll ask someone if they know somebody. I read, watch and listen to content in this context daily and seek information that will help both the coach and athlete. I meet with Dr. Gerard Bogin now every 4-6 weeks depending on my situation and both of our schedules. He is absolutely phenomenal in diagnosing issues and then treating them. He does a great job consulting, understands the demands of athletes and their pressing desire to return to action as soon as possible.

Where Dr. Bogin has helped me greatly is having a very specific return to action plan that is progressive and full of tests to pass before moving to the next phase. I now see him to prevent injury in addition to treating me after injuries or issues that pop up from time to time. He finds things every visit that I didn’t even know existed and treats them. We all have them…it’s just where, what, and then treat it = prevention.

In my last return from injury that I’m still working through we agreed to a plan that started June 6 where I could begin running for 10 minutes every other day – three times. If I passed the test after that sequence I progressed to 15 minutes doing the same thing, then 20 minutes, then 30 minutes, then 45 minutes and so on. I have not broken my promise to Dr. Bogin and myself to stick to the plan. It was tough in the early sessions to run for such short durations. Coach Alan was 100% on board with this and would not allow for any variance unless it was a pull back and that did happen once prior to the June 6 start date. I am so happy I stuck to the plan to keep me moving forward…progressively.

I have learned to listen to Coach Alan over time. Athlete Alan has full control within a training session and a race to deal with stuff that happens and push the limits when warranted but Coach Alan has control of the plan and sets the guidelines.

I have two “A” races remaining in 2020 with the first being the USAT Duathlon National Championship (Standard Distance) on October 17 in Lake Havasu, AZ and the 2nd, a month later on November 15 in Miami, FL. That is the USAT Duathlon National Championship (Long Distance).

The map of the training plan is in place to get me there. I share my race plan with Dr. Bogin every visit to ensure the plan is appropriate for where my body is and where it will need to be. This includes the tune up races along the way. I’ve also consulted with a new resource as I want to make a few adjustments for the long distance race in Miami.

I leave you with some things to consider as you navigate your plan:

  • Identify your goals and/or “A” races are for the year and break the year into chunks; by breaking up your year it makes it easier to manage and helps you identify where you can give your body and mind a break before heading into the next segment.
  • Present your goals and plan to a coach to get their insights; they can help identify potential hazards and provide suggestions to meet your goals
  • Be very specific in your training plan; sequencing training, recovery, periodization, nutrition, etc. These are critical to mitigate risk of injury, burnout, and overtraining while having you performing at your peak come race day; work with a coach to do this or at minimum consult with one
  • Listen to your body; the more you train the more in tune you will become when your body is giving you signals; knowing when to push or pull back is critical; consulting with physicians and coaches can help tremendously from a prevention perspective
  • Join a fitness group; there are so many benefits training with others; you can learn from each other’s experiences, find accountability partners, push each other, and enjoy all the social aspects from being around people that enjoy the same activities
  • Ask a lot of questions, be vulnerable and a continuous learner; it’s enjoyable to learn things around your passion and when you share them with others it makes you feel great on top of it

If you are coaching yourself, watch out for that Athlete persona. It can be stubborn at times… I hope this helps you in some way to mitigate risk from injury, burnout and overtraining while reaching your goals. I would love to hear your ideas and experiences.

– Add Health to Your Life

Featured Blog Photo:

  • Left – Coach Alan connecting with Dylan Nolan and Dan Radde prior to the Best Damn Race earlier this year
  • Middle – Coach & Athlete Alan reflecting on a workout. What did I learn?
  • Right – Athlete Alan pushing it in the moment at the 2019 USAT Duathlon National Championships in Greenville, SC


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