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Out There: The Athlete-Coach Relationship

Finding a good coach is a beautiful thing.

A good coach-athlete relationship is like a match made in Heaven.

When I put my marathon training on hold to train for an Ironman triathlon, I asked my coach (Competitor’s very own Mario Fraioli, who I’ve dubbed “Coach Dude”) if he’d be willing to stay on as my advisor for the year. Between my prior experience in triathlon and his big brain filled with endurance expertise, I figured we could cobble together a satisfactory training plan.

“Hell, no,” was his response. “No. No. No. I want absolutely nothing to do with those crazy wetsuits and aero helmets. No.”

After I confirmed he did not, in fact, share my warm-fuzzy feelings about triathlon, we placed a one-year moratorium on our athlete-coach relationship. I set out for a new coach to guide me through a year of triathlon. Meanwhile, he married a triathlete (with all her crazy wetsuits and aero helmets), which I take as proof that the Endurance Gods have a freakin’ fantastic sense of humor.

Perhaps I was a bit naïve in thinking a new coach would be easy to find. After all, Coach Dude and I hit it off from the very first workout, where he provided speed intervals and told me to text him afterwards to let him know how it went. I followed his instructions to the letter — right down to the post-workout photo I sent, flipping him a very sweaty middle finger. It was the start of a beautiful relationship.

As it turned out, finding a new coach is not a one-size-fits all approach. For months, I suffered from Goldilocks Syndrome. Some coaches were too regimented, giving me a guilt trip when I failed to wear my heart rate monitor in a workout; others were too lax, and I got pretty lax as well. Some were flippant, some were acerbic, others had no sense of humor at all. All of them were very happy to take my money.

Eventually, I found a satisfactory coach, an off-road triathlon studette who shares a lot of the same values regarding training and racing. We worked together through the year, and I’m very happy to call her my friend today.

RELATED: Out There: Into The Light

But — and I feel horrible saying this, because she is my friend — she wasn’t Coach Dude.

This past year has made me realize that I got lucky to have my first “real” coach be the perfect one for me. I had someone who instantly spoke my language and knew how to push my buttons. When I turned into a hot mess of tears and frustration, he’d clean it up. When I became a little too ambitious, he’d rein me in. When I doubted my abilities, he’d fortify my confidence with the most perfect of pep talks. I was, in short, completely spoiled for all other coaches.

If you’re lucky enough to have such a perfect coach, take some time to express your thanks. After all, if you’re anything like me, your coach gets more middle-finger sentiments after speed workouts than they do expressions of gratitude.

Two weeks ago, I packed away my crazy wetsuit and aero helmet and e-mailed Coach Dude:

“I’m ready to get back to work. You in?”


And just like that, I’m back under Coach Dude’s wing. It’s just right. I’m very, very happy there.

Someone please remind me of this after I finish his first speed workout.

RELATED: The Everyman: Get A Coach


About The Author:

Susan Lacke does 5Ks, Ironman Triathlons, and everything in between to justify her love for cupcakes (yes, she eats that many). In addition to writing for Competitor, she serves as Resident Triathlete for No Meat Athlete, a website dedicated to vegetarian endurance athletes. Susan lives and trains in Phoenix, Arizona with three animals: A labrador, a cattle dog, and a freakishly tall triathlete boyfriend. She claims to be of sound mind, though this has yet to be substantiated by a medical expert. Follow her on Twitter: @SusanLacke

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