How do you beat the guy next you? By training harder (and smarter) of course! The parenthetical concept is by far the hardest part of training. Most people don’t have trouble pushing themselves to the limit. It’s just knowing when and how much that complicates things.
Throughout high school and college, my training was pretty structured (and mostly disciplined). I had a coach who gave us our workouts and told us what to do based on how we were feeling and performing. My times and places continued to improve as my training progressed.
Things got a little sketchy when I entered grad school. I had lost a fulltime coach and was a little overconfident in my ability to coach myself. In Madison, I had several guys to train with and we even had year-round track sessions with a coach supplying the workouts. In some ways, this helped my training and in others was the beginning of the end of my running career. My times improved dramatically, but we really ran each other into the ground. For the first time, I actually was set back by injuries.
I made several comeback attempts when I moved to Chicago, but again didn’t have a coach or planned workouts. My only structured workouts were weekly group runs that were much faster and harder than I should have been running. I threw in the occasional track workout or long run, but nothing really specific. It wasn’t I decided to focus on cycling that I got smart again with my training.
When I picked up cycling, I was smart enough to realize that I was a complete noob and needed some guidance and a way to gauge my improvements and training. I invested in heart-rate and power meters and read up on cycling workouts. My first year or so was just getting used to bike racing. I didn’t have any long-term training plans, but I at least had some basic workouts and monitored my efforts.
For the 2007 season, I decided to at least get an online training plan. I wasn’t willing to shell out the hundreds of dollars a month for a real life coach. Maybe I’m just biased, since I’ve never had to pay for coaching before. I selected Trainingpeaks.com, because I had been using their cycling software, WKO+. They have a Virtual Coach program that has you input your target races, then puts together an annual training plan and can suggest workouts based on Joe Friel’s Training Bible. Not bad for a little more than $100/year. I’ve been tweaking workouts based on my experiences and changing goals. Is it as good as a real coach, probably not, but it’s a lot cheaper!