Thursday, January 15, 2015

An interview with my coach Mark Linseman of LPC

I’ve been working with Coach Mark Linseman of Loaring Personal Coaching for over a year now (If you want to read about why I decided to hire a coach, take a look at my original post on the subject). I can honestly say it has been an incredible experience.

To celebrate the milestone, I asked Coach Mark if he’d mind doing an interview. Thankfully, he said yes! Given how much I’ve learned from him over the year, I really wanted to share some of his perspectives on coaching and training with you.

Our interview covered a wide range of topics: from his background and experience, his thoughts about working with me, his advice to new (and not-so-new) triathletes.

I admit, I found his answers fascinating. I think you will too.

Hope you enjoy!

Interview with Coach Mark Linseman of Loaring Personal Coaching

Why did you get into coaching?

I did a Masters in Exercise Nutrition & Metabolism at the University of Guelph. My thesis examined the importance of hydration and carbohydrate intake in hockey players. We found some "significant differences" between different conditions in our group of subjects, and we published a paper. But I was even more interested in some of the things we saw on an individual level. Of course anyone who knows about human research knows you can't publish a study with only one subject. So I was looking for a way to investigate individual differences while also using the evidence-based knowledge I gained (and continue to gain) from scientific research.

Coaching was a natural fit. It is basically an endless series of experiments with an "n" (number of subjects) of 1. As luck would have it, LPC Coach James Loaring happened to be looking for an associate coach, so I jumped at the opportunity. I have also done a lot of triathlons, which makes it easier to be a triathlon coach. 

What do you think sets LPC and teamLPC apart?

What sets LPC apart is doing more than just scheduling workouts. We provide highly personalized coaching for athletes of all levels, but we also provide more than that. Swim video sessions, bike testing, weekly group training sessions, clinics, races, a week-long training camp in Florida, hydration and fueling analysis (coming soon!), and above all, we try and create a supportive, inclusive and infectious team atmosphere.

We also recently launched the Hurdle Project, a not-for-profit subsection of LPC aimed at supporting our elite and future elite athletes, as well as a few dedicated young professionals who strive to succeed in both their work and their sport. 

What do you find to be the most rewarding and/or most challenging part of coaching?

One of the biggest challenges is trying to balance the scientific end of things with the individual end of things. The science may tell you one thing, but the individual tells you another. It's up to me to figure out when to side with the science and when to side with the individual. Or when to just flip a coin.

Coaching is very rewarding. I get to work with a lot of really great and unique people, people who are a constant source of motivation and inspiration for me. I get daily updates which show me how passionate and dedicated they are. I can't help but be inspired by that.

Your educational background is in exercise nutrition and metabolism. What's the most important thing people overlook when it comes to nutrition for triathlon?

The most important thing people overlook is themselves. Practice fueling and hydrating in your training and figure out what works for you. That may be different from what works for your training partner, or what works for that guy in that book you read.

If you are not sure where to start, come in for a hydration & fueling analysis! 

What are the accomplishments you're most proud of – in sport and in life?

My proudest sports-related accomplishment is winning my hometown race, the BluewaterTriathlon. I came off the bike in the lead, but got passed halfway through the run. At that point, I honestly felt that it was over. I wasn't going to win. Then I figured, why not see if I could keep up for a little bit? So I gathered myself and kept pace with my competitor, figuring I'd just see if I could hold on for another km. Then 1km turned into 2, and 3, and 4 – and suddenly I could see the finish. I sprinted to the line and won by a couple steps. Obviously the win was great, but more than that, I found out that I could push myself harder than I had previously thought I could.

My proudest non-sports accomplishment was completing my Masters thesis. Not only did I prove to myself that I could overcome obstacles and road blocks that at first seemed impassable, but I also learned from some very smart people how to think critically and how to apply scientific knowledge to real-life situations.

What's been the most important lesson (or two) you've learned from the coaches you've had over your life?

Consistency can help you achieve a lot of things. Success is gained not just by "working hard," but by constant gradual improvement.

What's been the most unique part about working with me this past year, compared to your other athletes?

Aside from this interview (which is great by the way!), I would have to say your attention to detail. You are impeccable in terms of recording times, paces, general comments about workouts, suggestions and questions about future workouts and planning...and you even make sure to enter future travel plans and scheduling issues right into TrainingPeaks so I don't miss them! Your commitment to improvement (and your amazing attitude) is very apparent in the feedback you give me every day.

What do you think my biggest improvements have been over the past year (recognizing you didn't work with me before that)?

 Running. 10k, half marathon, marathon, running off the bike in triathlon.

Where do you think my biggest opportunities for improvement are over the next few years?

Biking! Judging by the power numbers you've produced this winter, you have some huge potential here if you can continue to improve your outdoor riding skills.

What do you think makes a successful athlete/coach relationship?

I feel like I need to ask you the same question! From my perspective, I want an athlete who gives honest feedback, who is motivated to improve, and who strives to have their training complement the other aspects of their life.

Aside: Since he asked…my own answer is a coach who gets me as an individual (i.e., my goals, motivations and strengths/weaknesses) – who can help me improve and stretch/test my limits while having fun at the same time. For me, it’s also important to have a coach who recognizes I want to know more than just what to do training-wise. I also want to know why I’m doing it…which means a coach who doesn’t mind my asking questions.

For readers…Recognize that not all coaches/athletes share the same views of coaching, so fit is important – so don’t be afraid to ask questions about a prospective coach’s style before you decide to work with him or her. Personally, I think communication is essential – it’s one of the reasons I really like working with Coach Mark. He always provides thoughtful answers to my questions.

If you could give any advice to people just beginning their journey in triathlon, what would it be?

1.       Figure out why you like it. You can like it because it challenges you, or because it makes you feel good, or because it improves your health, or because of whatever else. You might like it for one reason at first, and then for another reason later. Either way, know why you like it.

2.      Always have a goal. It doesn't necessarily have to be performance-related, but it has to be something you can immediately point to and say, this is what is driving me to continue.

What's one question you wish more of your athletes (or potential athletes) would ask you?

It's not so much "one question" as it is "any questions." I want athletes to not be afraid to ask questions, and to not assume that I know all the answers (I know very few definite answers). In my opinion, coaching is not simply about the coach telling the athlete what to do, and the athlete doing it. It's an ongoing group project, a constant cycle of planning, execution, analysis, feedback and adjustment.
I can’t finish this post without a big thank you to my Coach Mark Linseman for taking the time to answer all these questions. I hope you found his perspective and thoughts as interesting as I did.
As mentioned, Coach Mark works with Loaring Personal Coaching. For more information about their coaching options, Florida Triathlon Camp (I will be going for a third time this March), and athlete testing services --  click here.
If you liked this interview - let me know. I would love to include more interviews with athletes, coaches, and event managers on here - but only if it's something you'd find interesting!

Speaking of interesting, if you'd like to read my thoughts about working with Coach Mark over this past year (and some) -- stay tuned for my next post.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

2015: The Year of Daring (and, okay, an Ironman)

As many of you know, I've been naming the year for the past 10 years. What this means is that each year I choose a word to represent my goals for the next 12 months and to use as a lens through which I can look at any opportunities that come my way.

The joy about choosing a word is that there is no failure. There is only success because each year is what I choose to make of it. Sometimes what I've done with my year has been relatively small. Other times, the word has changed my life entirely. That's the joy of it.

In case you're curious - here is a brief recap of each of my last 10 years...much of this came from a recap I wrote in 2010 so don't mind the grammar...amazing to see how my mindset has shifted. Skip over it if you already know the progression or just don't care! :)

In 2006, the Year of Change, I found a new job. A job tailor made for me. I love the work, I love my boss, I enjoy solving people's problems. Even four years out, I am not bored at all with what I do. Every day brings new challenges and new projects. I also helped run an election campaign that year. I may have worked for politicians throughout school and for two years afterwards (and attended policy conferences and AGMs) -- but there was nothing like working in an election campaign headquarters. It was insane -- and yet great fun at the same time.

In 2007, the Year of Opportunity, I visited both of my host families from previous student exchanges. In May of that year, I went to Japan (where I spent 2000-2001 on an exchange at Konan University) -- while in August, I went to Barraba, Australia (where I spent 1996-1997 on a Rotary High School Student Exchange). In December, I went to the Pirates in Paradise Festival in Key West -- where I saw the Green Flash (something I thought fictitious), and learned how cannon are fired. I got to dress up as a pirate, shoot a blunderbuss, and attack a fort -- I learned a lot which will eventually make it into my writing. I crossed the Pacific Ocean twice that year. I saw four (four!) oceans.

In 2008, the Year of Transformation, I changed my lifestyle (Aside: for the first time anyways...long term, that attempt was not a success). After realizing that an office job did nothing for motivating healthy living, I decided it was better to change now than to try and change in twenty years. I taught myself to eat healthy, to figure out proper portion sizes, and to either pack a lunch or find healthy places to buy foods (because I hate cooking). For months I counted every calorie that went into my mouth, and every minute of exercise. I lost 30 pounds in three months - kind of amazing. Compared to travel, this was a low-key year -- but it will also be the year I remember as shifting the course of my future health. (Aside: The way I lost weight this year was completely unsustainable...I gained all the weight back and more over the next 2. BUT...the food lessons I learned that year have actually held me in good stead. To a degree - this was the year I learned how NOT to change my life. Not that I knew it then).

In 2009, the Year of Possibility, I received a grant to support my writing efforts -- my first grant ever. I took three months off work to write -- time off my company fully supported. I went to Hawaii twice, once with my Dad on a trip of a lifetime. I took a helicopter ride over an active volcano. I wrote a second (better!) novel (Aside: Which never sold, but at least I got a trip to Hawaii out of it). I wrote most of a second screenplay. I wrote a TV show pitch. I attended my first screenwriting convention. I even participated in my first CityChase (which was awesome!).

2010 was the Year of Discovery - and I did. If you count raising over $2500 in 10 days for Right to Play, rappelling down Toronto City Hall, snorkeling with Stingrays, submitting my first novel, and zip-lining for the first time. Sure, there was more -- but those were my favourite highlights.

2011 was the Year of Reinvention. A truer name in hindsight could never have been chosen. At the beginning of the year, I changed to a job with more regular hours (Aside...which didn't end up suiting me very well - but it did give me more time). In the middle of the year, I took a tall ship from Norway to Scotland so I could learn (at least a bit) about how to sail (I also got to see Nelson's Victory in Portsmouth on that trip). At the end of the year I decided that I hadn't done enough re-inventing. Since I had an unused fitness allowance from work that would expire in December...I figured I'd use it. After some thought, I decided to hire a personal trainer to help me become healthy and fit. I didn't really think it would work (refer to my 2008 experience), but I decided to go for it anyways. Little did I know Trainer Chris would change my life. Toward the end of December, Trainer Chris dared me to sign up for a 10k race in 2012 because "being healthy and fit" wasn't a goal. (Aside: We all know how that turned out).

In 2012, the Year of Endeavour, I strived toward a noble goal. While I made the decision to become healthy and fit late in 2012, I really made the changes that mattered. When I finished my first race, the Sporting Life 10k, I fell in love with running and racing. I learned to ride a bike - maybe not very well, but enough to do my first beginner triathlon. I lost 50 pounds. In August, I decided to quit my job and start my own company, Inspire Consulting.

In 2013,the Year of Acceleration, I got better at everything. I actually got enough business to keep working on my own (I wasn't sure I could). On my brother's advice, I went to triathlon camp for the first time and learned a ton about triathlon. I also learned to use clipless pedals (by falling several times...but I didn't die, so it was all good). I joined the Toronto Triathlon Club and met a whole bunch of awesome people I could train with and learn from. And then, that summer, I did my first sprint and Olympic distance triathlons. I also finished my first marathon - the Run for Heroes - with a smile on my face. I hired Coach Mark in November to help me achieve newer and bigger goals.

This past year, 2014, I dubbed the Year of Believing.  I focused on something mental - finally getting myself to believe I am who I am...that somehow I'm not a poser when it comes to what I've accomplished...both in fitness and in having my own business. When I cross the finish line of the Barrelman half-iron distance triathlon in Niagara Falls (smiling!) in September, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I could do anything if I tried. Not to mention that, over the year, I've come to honestly recognize that I am allowed to take pride in what I've done and the choices I've made. I've worked hard to create a life I love. It's not perfect, but it is pretty darned awesome. I also know that I couldn't have succeeded without daring to dream.

And that's why I've named 2015:  The Year of Daring.

No, I'm not going to take up skydiving! But, I realize how much I hold myself back sometimes. I tend to think a lot over things before I make the decision to go ahead (yes, I debated for months before I decided to commit to becoming healthy and fit). I want to know I can succeed before I even set out - to control all the variables. That isn't a bad thing, but not every opportunity has a guarantee of success. I was okay with that for a while, but in recent years I've hated uncertainty. I was frustrated by times when, despite doing everything I could, some outside force affected the outcome.

It was only in signing up for Ironman Arizona that I realized I have finally reached a turning point where I can accept more uncertainty again.

Aside: Oh right - I still haven't posted about signing up for an Ironman. Oops. I've been trying to write a post about it, but it's really hard to write about  signing up for a race that is that long without sounding utterly ridiculous. Do you really need confirmation that I've lost my marbles?

 Now, I know full well that Ironman Arizona, despite working hard and training hard comes with no certainty of success. I believe I can do it (with Coach Mark's help and a whole lot more training) or I wouldn't have signed up (and spent almost $1,000 for the privilege). And yet, I also know anything can happen (i.e., I could trip walking down one stair and end up on crutches - been there, done that) and that isn't bothering me like it would have a few years ago. Same goes for my job. That was one leap of faith I didn't think about at all. It was a sudden decision that has turned into one of the best decisions I've made.

So this year I want to take that mindset and apply it to other areas of my life. I want to dare to dream bigger and to be willing to accept the uncertainty that comes with big dreams. Because it doesn't matter how many times you trip. It's about how many times you get back up.

One of my friends told me I should name this the Year of Ironman because training for it would eat my life. Truth is, I thought about it. But I don't want to pin my entire year on a single day. Ironman Arizona is just another race. Longer and crazier, sure - but still just a race.

What will get me (hopefully) to the finish line is daring to go after it and a whole lot of hard work. But isn't that what achieving most goals is all about?