MS: Especially in a group training environment, because somebody is always going to be more rested or feel better than your athlete. A lot of times it gets in their heads – like maybe things aren’t going so good. That’s why I said it seems that coaching is a lot of psychology.
SL: So much! I was actually a psychology major in college. I made the big choice of whether to go after a PhD in psychology, or whether to go into what I really wanted, which was sports. But I’m amazed at how much I use that psychology. I feel like it is all day every day such a massive part of what we do. Because every athlete is so different. You couldn’t possibly give the same exact training plan to two athletes. People ask, “What’s the secret to doing well in Kona?” Everybody has his or her own secret. What works well for Rinny could destroy Julie. Or what works for Julie could be totally the wrong thing for Rinny. You could throw out some things that would work for everyone – but depending on their body, their psychology, everything about them being so unique, the plan for doing well in Kona has to be the perfect recipe for that individual.
MS: I think so too. And really, there are not that many tricks. Especially as the event gets longer, I think everyone’s training kind of mimics each other. Then it’s about finding out whether the athlete can have a good run after a hard bike day. Tailoring the plan to that sort of thing. How can I get my athlete to have a successful block, and what impacts the next day’s training? A lot of people do the Saturday long ride, Sunday long run routine. What happens if you do your long ride on Sunday and your long run on Friday? You don’t know until you’ve tried. There’s definitely a standard way to do things, but I think being flexible enough to think outside the box and try something different helps.
SL: Thinking outside the box – that is the crucial factor. It would be so easy to just gather a bunch of information from all the best that have done the sport, all the top coaches, and simply put it all together into a plan. But you have to use your imagination and think outside the box. It could be something totally mental that is affecting their training.
MS: Oh, placebo works!
SL: It does.
MS: That’s the thing – I think part of my success is that I’m not necessarily tied to any one approach. I’m not tied to 50 hours a week of training. It’s about what will work for each athlete. I don’t have some sort of bias. I’m not giving an athlete a program I did 20 years ago that happened to work for me. That’s what’s kind of cool – you were a very successful elite athlete, but a lot of the stuff you do now is outside of the realm of how you raced. I don’t know if you’ve ever raced a half ironman, but I know you’ve never done an ironman. So you’re not biased towards your experience as an athlete. I do think it’s important that you raced triathlon – you understand what’s going on race morning, what’s going on during a race, what it feels like to have a horrible day out there. You can relate to that, but you’re not giving them your ironman training plan and relying on that.