Triple the challenge

Times Staff Writer

To get a coach or not to get a coach -- that's the question most triathletes will eventually face.

The Internet may be running over with information, and triathlon clubs can offer training and advice in all three disciplines. But sometimes more intense, one-on-one help is needed.

At what stage should you call for backup? Maybe not from the get-go, says Robert Hockley, a triathlon coach based in Playa del Rey.

"People should consider how serious they are about the sport," he says. "If you want to get top-of-the-line equipment, and then start coaching, it becomes an expensive sport. In the beginning, you can feel your way into it, join a triathlon club, and then if you really think you're serious, get one."

What a triathlete should strive to get out of coaching, he adds, "is a structure that tells you when you should be applying hard and easy efforts, and that's usually the hardest thing. You want it to be as efficient and effective as it can be."

Hitting the dreaded plateau is another reason some people eventually seek out a coach, says Sergio Borges, a San Diego-based triathlon coach. "Probably 80% of the athletes I get say they've been training for five years and haven't seen any improvement after the first year."

Coaching, Borges says, "isn't just to learn to how to train, but to learn how to train injury-free and get some longevity in the sport. If you train wrong and get injured and get frustrated, you might want to quit."

Various types of coaching are available, from phone and Internet to small group and one-on-one. Not all coaches are created equal, says Linda Cleveland, coach development manager for Colorado Springs-based USA Triathlon, which sanctions more than 2,000 triathlon events. She suggests looking for someone with a degree in exercise physiology, exercise science or kinesiology and has a training certification from a reputable organization such as the American College of Sports Medicine. Coaches can be found via training clubs, word of mouth, sports training gyms, and via the USA Triathlon website.

"They don't have to be a five-time Ironman," Cleveland says, "but they have to know what it feels like to be in open water and scared, to know physically and mentally what it takes to get through the training."

USA Triathlon offers three levels of certification, each requiring specific levels of education and experience. Choosing the right coach depends on your goals; the coach's experience, education and competence; and compatibility.

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