2021 Coaching season recap and lessons

At the end of last year, I shared a recap on my season and some of the lessons I learned. At the same time I also asked the athletes I coach for feedback on their seasons and lessons learned that would be valuable to share. Now, as we're starting to approach the racing season again, these lessons are a good reminder of aspects of training to think about and incorporate into your approach for the 2022 season.

The athletes I work with are a small group of runners (one cyclist and one triathlete too) who resonante with the coaching principles and frameworks that I like to use. My primary goal is to work together with each athlete to find the best approach for them to improve and progress towards their goals. In 2021 I felt like each of the athletes made significant progress and I was pleased with how the year went. If you're interested in working with me, I have a few spots available so please feel free to get in touch here.

Selected racing highlights

All of the athletes I work with are aiming to progress and develop their running. Some are focused on racing and they achieved some excellent results this year. Below are a few posts highlighting some top performances. If you'd like to learn more about each runner and their race result, I encourage you to click through to the Instagram post to read it in their own words.

David at Tenerife Blue Trail.
David at Ultra Trail Sierra Nevada.
Moi at Trail des Ecrins.
Moi at Trail des Hauts Forts.
Roberto at Engadin Ultra Trail.

Lessons the athletes shared from their seasons

I asked each of my athletes for highlights of what they learned over the year. Here are some of their key lessons:

  • Periodising the training and nutrition made a significant impact in my progress over the season.
  • Finding practical ways to implement research and scientific findings went well and helped my development.
  • Pursuing a pro-active approach to address sensations or issues as they arise [inclusion of strength and ancilliary training] helped keep me healthy.
  • Managing intensity control across all sessions, from running economy and intervals to easy runs, allowed me to follow a consistent schedule and develop weekly while avoiding injury or pain.
  • Building an adaptable approach to training allowed me to become an antifragile athlete and to see everything as an opportunity and as a result my life, my training, and my results all came more easily.
  • Focusing on the quality of training is important and will always pay off. You don't need to train so many hours to perform a high level, you just have to do them right.
  • Finding the right training load was important and I was able to train consistently every single week without injuries.
  • Nailing the tapering phase helped me to be at my best on race day.
  • Being patient and using a structure with long-term goals covering the whole timeline from short- to mid- and long-term goals helped me to stay focused/motivated and gave me regular new stimuli to look forward to.
  • Understanding why we do several steps and what is incorporated into the training helps to generate commitment.
  • Receiving regular feedback based on the training data is definitely a really great service and gives sometimes on lazy days the extra push to fulfil the plan.
  • Creating your own challenges during the off season, or maybe just when motivation is low or life gets too busy to really target races allowed me to find the drive and enjoyment in training.
  • Trying to have a bit of fun in starting to rebuild, rather than putting too much pressure and going straight into an intense program helped me to get going and to enjoy my running.
  • Keeping things ticking over during lockdown, even without very strong structure within that, helped me maintain the base to kick off from, rather than having to rebuild that from scratch.

My lessons as a coach

I'm pleased that a lot of the lessons above cover the basics of training which emphasize consistency, managing intensity, performing quality training, and understanding the training prescription. These are not glamorous and exciting concepts, but achieving them effectively over the season leads to great results.

While there were a number of highlights and great results, there were also some injuries and disappointing periods for some athletes. Like the experience in an ultra-marathon, it's important to remember that progress is not linear and there's a need to weather these challenges and build an adaptable mindset and adaptable approach. I feel that together with each athlete, we managed to do both of these things and I'm excited about how we'll apply them in the season ahead.

My lessons from the season included:

  1. Most athletes don't need a constantly evolving and mentally stimulating training plan. I found that as long as there is a clear reason for each session, there are means to track progress, and performance improves then my athletes are happy.
  2. I don't need a huge toolbox of different sessions for every possible training scenario. Applying the right training tool, at the right time, with the right athletes is more important than having many different sessions to use.
  3. Providing a training plan that incorporates enough flexibility allows athletes autonomy to take control of their own training and to make good decisions for what suits them best. I wrote about an open-ended, flexible plan here and this approach has worked very well for most of the athletes I work with.
  4. The best results come from working together and finding a balance between what an athlete believes they need, what I believe they need, and what is actually possible to achieve given each person's training constraints.
  5. There are always opportunities to do things better and to create better training prescriptions, yet achieving the basics and finding ways to do this consistently is what most athletes are looking for.

I hope that provides some ideas and concepts that you can use for this season.


DeValera said...


Terrific approach, guidance and suggestions.

Your athletes are fortunate to work with you. (I’m too old now, just watch & volunteer)


Daniel Rowland said...

Thank you, Alan. I appreciate that you took the time to read the report and write a comment. I hope there were some ideas or suggestions in there that you can use. Thanks also for remaining a part of the sport by watching and volunteering - that's fantastic! All the best.