The bike racing bug sunk its claws into me in 2013. After jumping into two races on a whim late last season, I was hooked. Fast forward to 2014, and my race number collection has grown ten-fold, from two lowly sheets of Tyvek to nearly twenty between road time trials and cyclocross. I placed just outside the top 10 in the NJ Time Trial Cup and I went well beyond what I ever believed I could achieve in my first year of real competition. But as much as I’d like to say I did it all on my own, I couldn’t have done it without a little help from my cycling coach, Coach Brian Lariviere of BJL Coaching.
According to USA Cycling (USAC), there more than 1,400 licensed coaches operating nationwide. After going through an extensive educational curriculum and certification process, USAC-licensed coaches can begin working with athletes to help them unlock their potential.
Coach Brian is not only a USAC-licensed coach, but also has many years of racing and coaching experience in the disciplines I wanted to compete in. That knowledge and experience made him the natural choice for me. As a bonus, he happens to be local, but a coach doesn’t have to be based in your area to be effective.
With Coach Brian’s help, I can confidently say I’ve made the transition from enthusiast rider to competitive bike racer. I also learned a few things about riding, training, and myself. Here’s my top 5:
1. Know Your Goal
Last December, Brian and I met over coffee to start creating my training plan. The first question he asked me was “What are your goals?” I knew the answer to this question, since I had committed myself to compete in the NJ Time Trial Cup. A lot of people considering enlisting a coach may not have a clear goal in mind.
American writer Bill Copeland once said, “The trouble with not having a goal is that you can spend your life running up and down the field and never score.” Put simply, you don’t need a certified coach to put rides or workouts on a calendar for you. Anyone can do that, even you.
A good coach, however, can make sure that each and every one of those workouts counts towards achieving your goal. That goal should be more concrete than just “ride faster” or “get stronger”. Whether your goal is to complete a metric century or win the Tour de France, a coach can ensure you’re doing the right things to get there.
2. It Isn’t All For Fun Anymore
Before I started working with Brian, my “training” consisted of whatever I felt like doing and however hard or long I felt like doing it. Fun value was high but training value probably wasn’t.
That all changed when I started my training plan. Brian warned me up front that there will be times when the scheduled workout might not necessarily be what I feel like doing, or that my rest day might be the only nice day of the week (see #5). Either way, sticking to the plan is essential to success even when it’s tempting to do otherwise.
I’ll admit, hill repeats in the driving rain and frigid winter base miles aren’t what I call fun. Neither is begging off social rides with friends to suffer through threshold intervals all alone. But no accomplishment comes without some sacrifice.
3. Data Matters
A training plan is like a custom-tailored suit. Without measurements, it will never fit. Your coach will need performance data from you in order to maximize the effectiveness of your training, and you must have the tools to provide it. A cadence-equipped cycle computer and a heart rate monitor will do the trick at the very least, but using a power meter is the best way to give your coach all the data she needs to unlock your potential. There is simply no better way for your coach to track your fitness level, make your workouts repeatable, and extract maximum benefit from your training plan.
Training with power involves a lot of numbers. Thankfully, I had a math teacher in my corner (Brian also happens to be a high school math teacher). Brian introduced me to the plethora of metrics involved in power training, how to interpret them and how to use them during training. Seeing my FTP (Functional Threshold Power) increase over the course of the season was a major motivator for me to keep working.
4. Recover Just As Hard As You Work
Once my race season started in earnest this April, I was surprised not by how much training I was doing, but by how much recovery was in my schedule. Easy rides and rest days totally off the bike are just as important as hard workouts, and you should take them just as seriously.
It’s just as easy to over-train as it is to not train enough, and finding the right balance of training and recovery is often challenging to do yourself. The objective eye of a coach can help you find the ratio that suits you and your fitness goals, allowing for proper recovery and eliminating dreaded “junk miles”.
5. It’s Not All About Fitness
A good coach and a good training plan will improve more than just your physical fitness. Depending on your discipline, your coach might also provide skills training. Brian is a top-level cyclocross racer and having his expertise and experience on my side while we practiced cyclocross skills (mounts/dismounts, hopping barriers, etc.) really paid off on race day. Below is a shot of Coach Brian’s homemade practice barriers that we used to sharpen my hops. (Yes, we met and practiced before dawn. Remember what I said about sacrifice?)
— BL (@BJL_Coaching) October 15, 2014
A good coach helps train your brain as well as your body. You can train your body all you want, but if your head isn’t in it, you won’t get far. For a discipline like time trialing, your mental fortitude is as important as your power output, so Brian’s advice on visualization and self-motivation were key to my success.
An athlete’s body needs fuel, so a good coach will also help optimize your nutrition. Much healthier hydration and fueling habits, both on and off the bike, have become a part of my daily life now thanks to Brian’s advice.
You don’t need to be a pro to access the expertise and knowledge of a cycling coach. All you need is a goal, a will to reach it, and the tools to help you along the way. A USAC-certified cycling coach like Coach Brian can build a plan around what you bring and help you achieve success.
You can also find out more about USA Cycling’s Coach Certification process here.