A Cycling Coach? …For Me? …Really?

Written by Barry Cox, Duke’s Cycle Cannondale LapDogs Race Team Member

My third season on the Duke’s Cycle Cannondale LapDogs mountain bike race team is starting to kick into high gear.  I’ve mountain biked for over a decade and for much of that time have been seen near the back of the field in weekly race series and the occasional citizen event.  However, as anyone who has read my previous pieces on this blog may recall, I took being invited to join the Duke’s Cycle Cannondale LapDogs in 2012 as an opportunity to start a structured training plan and improve my fitness generally.

The difficulty was, however, that I had never trained for a sport before and frankly had no idea what I was doing.   I read a couple of books on training, put together a half-assed workout schedule and went at it.   And it was pretty much an unmitigated disaster.   I didn’t know about the importance of taking it easy every few weeks, did too much tempo riding, and not enough high-end workouts.   As a result, my fitness peaked in mid-April and began a low, slow downhill slide for the rest of the season.   I remember speaking to one of my more experienced team-mates, a veteran Expert-level rider about this.   His response really surprised me.  “Barry”, head said, “you seem really motivated to train hard and do well.  You should seriously consider working with a coach”.

My reaction:   A coach?  For me?   Really?

I had always considered coaches as a resource for pro and elite-level riders, not slightly flabby 40-something weekend warriors like me.  It was just something I had not considered.   But it got me thinking.   Mountain biking (and cycling in general) is a huge part of who I am.  It is how I stay in some semblance of shape, how I de-stress, and basically the activity that a large part. Of my social life revolves around.  And now I am showing up to O’CUPs with the logo of one of the city’s most established bicycle stores on my jersey.   Don’t I owe it to myself, the team and my sponsors to be the best rider I can be?

I asked around a bit and learned that many of my team mates and competitors were working with coaches too.   I spoke to a number of them and found out what they liked, and didn’t like, and how it had helped them.  I made a short list of front runners, picked up the phone, and made some calls.   About a week later, I became a client of Smart Athlete, run by pro-level mountainbiker, certified kinesiologist and all around good guy Peter Glassford.   That was 18 months ago and I have not looked back.

The first thing Peter and I did was went on a ride.   No one had ever told me how to ride a mountain bike – I just figured it out on my own.  In an hour, Peter was able to identify three or four things I could tweak in my riding style to get me going faster in the Single-track without improving my fitness.   Win!

The way things work is that I give Peter a list of the races I want to do, I prioritize them in how important they are to me, and I log onto a website which gives me a calendar of workouts.   I do the workouts (it’s not hard for me – I commute on my bike from Oakville to Toronto 2-3 days a week so I do my intervals or whatever has been cooked up for me on the way to or from work).     I upload the data from my Garmin, along with any feedback I have from the workout, to the website and Peter can see whether I am doing things right, and can make suggestions.  I have a busy week at work and can’t fit all my workouts in?   No problem.  I tell Peter and the schedule gets adjusted….it’s not like I’m training for the Olympics here, folks.   Every few weeks, I do a 20 minute threshold test on my trainer and upload the data to the website, and we can see whether I am improving and adjust my workout schedule accordingly.   If I have questions, I email and generally have a response within the hour.  Data from races also gets uploaded, studied by “Coach Peter” ( as my 7 year old son calls him) and feedback/encouragement is provided.

And you know what?  It works.   As I am paying good money (more on that in a second) for a coach, I obviously follow his workouts or suggestions.   And Peter is aware of the constraints on my schedule (I am a litigation lawyer and occasionally, just occasionally, work gets in the way of riding).   My fitness has improved by leaps and bounds, I am 20lb lighter, I can ride my bike faster, and have even landed on the podium at a couple of smaller races.

But it’s not just my fitness that has improved.   Peter has also provided me, like all his clients, with a host of information on nutrition, bike skills, mental preparation and race strategy.   To be honest, I have not adopted absolutely all of his suggestions (no, Peter, I am not giving up beer any time soon) but have incorporated a good many into my lifestyle (ie a really tasty craft beer after a tough race rather than several mediocre beers before) and have found that I sleep better, have more energy, am leaner and most importantly, feel physically better and stronger than I ever have in my life.

And the cost of this?   Well, about what a membership at a decent health club would cost.   And I get so much more benefit out of this.   Having a cycling coach is definitely a luxury and I am fortunate enough that it is one within my means.   But it has benefited me in so many ways… both on the trail and off it.

If you want to see what I am talking about, on May 8 at 7:30pm, Duke’s Cycle is hosting a session at the store on endurance training for busy people, which Coach Peter is presenting.   If you are a racer, considering becoming one, or just want to improve your fitness, I strongly recommend you check it out.

For more information about Peter Glassford, please check out his website: www.trainwithpeter.com