What is different about being coached – by Sophie Rouys

I was beyond excited when I received a message inviting me to join the 2016-17 Equally Inspiring Team along another 74 athletes!
I had never worked with a coach so one of my motivations was performance of course but also curiosity. 2017 is my 5th triathlon season and until then I had never benefited from professional advice (coaching training camp or otherwise) so there had been a huge amount of hit and miss in my training. I had started out small with sprint and Olympic distance triathlons that I completed without a real training plan. Then in my second year I graduated to middle distance, for which I trained with a magazine plan. Then in 2015 I had bought an iron distance training plan with which I completed the Alpe d’Huez long distance triathlon and Challenge Roth. As I got better and more confident, I felt some frustrating gaps in my knowledge though, both when training for and executing races so I was reaching the limits of working on my own. I expected that working with a coach would give me the opportunity to become a more rounded athlete, challenge myself more in training – and race execution as well as gain experience and further improve my performance.
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So did it work? Yes, and beyond my expectations with personal bests both in sprint and Olympic distances! Full credits here are due to coach Kimberley Hurley who generously agreed to donate her time to the program and who helped me steer through what ended up being a complicated season!
What is different about being coached?
A professional perspective. You might make excuses to yourself but not to your coach. You might read about all strength and conditioning or massages and how much they can benefit you but assume that knowing this is as good as doing it! Kim got me swimming a lot more than in previous years and encouraged me to join the local swim for tri sessions. I also discovered that there was more to benches than just sitting on them and admiring the view. Yes, 2017 was also the year of strength and conditioning with an easy to follow program that I could do at home (and no, it didn’t take 15 minutes! It was a lot longer than that with all those reps!). Kim also build regular massages into my training.
Attention to details. They say the devil is in the details but the coach is also very much into details… I tend to be very laid back when approaching races but Kim got me thinking about and practicing nutrition way before the race. We also discussed how to approach the race and being prepared for the bad patches. On a day to day basis I loved how Kim looked at the broader picture: not just me and my ability but the broader support and family circumstances. Oh, and food: thanks for the kale chips recipe!
Nudging, gently but relentlessly. This is for all the missed sessions or lame excuses. Sorry Kim, I know I still didn’t go to the pool as much as you would have liked!
Going mental. Thanks to Kim I had a huge breakthrough in running. She made me see that my attitude towards running was very negative and I was able to work on changing this mindset. In turn, this allowed me to become so much stronger in my running and to start enjoying it! Also, Kim helped me through injury and sickness and having someone adapt the plan was an incredible relief. Which brings us to the next point:
Adaptability! In the build up to the Cardiff triathlon, I actually managed to injure both my left knee and right Achilles. I didn’t feel too proud about it as it happened running a trail half marathon with sea dips in March. Kim had expressed concerns about it but I went ahead anyway. I didn’t get any “I told you so” but was urged to replace running by aqua jogging so a good chunk of my run training up to my A race was actually done in the pool! I swear there must have been a couple of weeks when I exclusively showered in the pool.
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What were the main challenges I faced?
Mentally adapting! I’m a very independent person and like the idea of doing my own thing so I had to give myself a big talking to in order to adapt to someone else’s advice and doing things I wouldn’t normally do or doing them differently.
Physically pushing it. I had great customized sessions and could ask questions about how to perform certain sessions, so I pushed myself more in training than I had previously. I had never done time trials as part of my training and this was definitely challenging, not only because it’s supposed to be hard but also because you expect to become better each time so there is an element of self imposed pressure…
The weight of expectations! You just don’t want to let down the team and project. That was a great incentive to do things right but also a minor source of stress as I caught the flu just a few days before the Cardiff triathlon!
Our season is coming to an end here and I am hugely grateful to the Equally Inspiring program and Kim for providing me with such an amazing experience. You have definitely helped me reach another level and this journey has been everything I was hoping for and more.
So here are a few more details about how my A race went:
We had agreed on the Cardiff triathlon as my A race with the Swansea sprint and Deva Olympic as warm up events. As already disclosed, I got a PB in the Swansea sprint, which totally amazed me as I have never performed well in the first race of the season!
The Cardiff triathlon was a somehow daunting beast: it’s the Welsh championship event and times in previous years were incredibly fast, fortunately, I had someone to help me get there in a good shape. Race morning was a stellar example of Welsh summer weather and the forecast was for wind and rain throughout the morning. The forecast was spot on!
The event is big! So big in fact that the BBC’s channel 4 were covering it. While we were waiting in our wetsuits to start the swim, a team came up to me and asked if they could interview me. One of their questions was “what do you expect from today?”, major brain freeze as I fought back the thoughts: “to be able to breathe” and “not to cross the finish line a bloody mess”, yes, I had both a cold and my periods. Instead I said something like “to cross the finish line with a smile” and totally forgot to mention the Equally Inspiring team, major lack of preparation here!
After that moment of glory, we made our way toward the swim start. My wave consisted mostly of women, which was a really nice touch and we got to start to AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck”. It doesn’t really get better than this. A few surprises awaited on the swim: first, despite being in Cardiff bay, the water was fresh, you’d think it would be salty but no, there is a barrage, and there is fresh water. There was also a current, which combined with the wind caused a short and small chop so we kept on swallowing water instead of breathing. The poor visibility (rain remember?) also made sighting quite hard but the first turnaround buoy came surprisingly quickly and I started swimming back. The transition area was located in the awesome Roald Dahl Plass, it all went smoothly so I was quickly off on the bike.
The bike course is made up of three laps on closed roads through Cardiff and is more or less flat, which doesn’t mean it is easy. There are numerous speed bumps, changes of surface, potholes, cracks and various metallic covers, which were wet and therefore required particular care. Add a lot of turns and roundabouts to negotiate and you’ve got a fairly technical course, particularly under the rain. I did my best on the bike and was pleased that only a couple of ladies overtook me.
Another happy transition and I was off on the run, looking like a drowned rat, fighting in the wind and rain. I felt really good (thanks to the many brick sessions programmed by Kim) so decided to focus on my running form and to keep on racing rather than collapsing as I would usually do. This mindset worked and I felt strong over the whole run! I thoroughly enjoyed that last leg and felt in control of what I was doing. I could see the result of all the work we had put into my running form and strength and that felt great!
The icing on the cake was realizing I had finished with a 6 minute PB, I cannot thank Kim and her awesome coaching enough for this! And in case you’re wondering why it’s taken me so long to write up this report, there is a very simple reason. During training for the Cardiff triathlon, my partner gifted me an entry to Ironman Wales, on the 10th of September. Lots of training and adventures have happened since and I find that the taper before that big race is the ideal time to reflect on the great experience of being an Equally Inspiring athlete!
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