Take your coaching online

Online coaching offers athletes an opportunity to train with world-class coaches.
You may not have heard of Blandine Baritaud, but odds are you've heard of her coach. Baritaud, a 50-year-old marathon and ultra runner from British Columbia, trains under the tutelage of U.S. Olympian and world-renowned marathon guru Jeff Galloway.

Baritaud is among a growing number of everyday folks turning to expert coaches on the Internet simply because they can. While she works with Galloway from two time zones away -- he lives in the southeastern United States, she in Canada's Columbia Mountain Range -- expert advice is never more than a few mouse clicks away. Baritaud uploads her training results via the Internet, and Galloway keeps her fueled with regular training advice by e-mail.

The longtime runner turned to online coaching a year ago after a hamstring injury sidelined her from training and competing. Uninspired by "one size fits all" training plans, Baritaud came across Galloway's approach online and decided he was the coach for her.

It was a leap of faith that paid off, but one that challenged her to shift her training focus from the beginning. When Baritaud first received her personalized plan from Galloway, she was shocked to see it called for much less running than she was accustomed to.

"What do you mean I'm not going to run every day, twice a day?" she remembers thinking. "But it came down to a matter of trust. And who doesn't trust Jeff?"

Thanks to her cyber training with Galloway, Baritaud, a full-time park ranger, is injury-free and gearing up for a 50-mile Canadian wilderness ultra.

For a growing number of athletes, online coaching is an affordable way to break through performance barriers, educate themselves on how to train with purpose, and in many cases, be coached by some of the most celebrated athletes in their sport.

"Most people simply need guidance so they can use their time efficiently and fit training in with everyday life," explains online coach and pro triathlete Heather Fuhr. The multiple Ironman champion coaches women triathletes with fellow triathlon legend Paula Newby-Fraser through Multisports.com.

How it works

Virtual coaching has come a long way since its beginnings in the 1980s, when coaches faxed weekly training plans to their clients. Since then, tools like heart rate monitors, GPS devices, electronic training logs, and of course the Internet, have made it easy to share detailed training information with the click of a button. Athletes consult with coaches via e-mail and occasionally telephone, and sometimes post questions on group message boards.

"There's so much training information out there," says Utah-based triathlon and mountain-biking coach Lynda Wallenfels. "[Clients] want me to clear it up for them and give them exact direction."

Wallenfels, creator of LW Coaching, has helped age-group athlete Nicole Newton balance her triathlon training with her hectic schedule as a biomedical safety professional with the American Red Cross, a job that requires her to travel frequently and train away from her California home.

"I'm in contact with Lynda by e-mail every single day," says Newton, who is now training for her first Ironman-distance event.

Why choose online?

Why choose an online coach rather than a local coach? Some athletes simply live in an area without coaches, so online coaching is really the only option. For others, like Newton, whose work schedule keeps them on the road so often, an online coach can basically "travel" with them, guiding their training no matter where they find themselves.

For pro triathlete Lisa Bentley, online training gives her the opportunity to be coached by a top name in her sport with expertise unique to her goals, like British Columbia-based coach Lance Watson.

"I was going to move to Vancouver and so I looked up Lance. I figured he'd know some squads I could train with," says Bentley, who has won seven Ironman-distance races while working with Watson. "He sent me a long note about his philosophy of high-performance coaching and I was hooked."

Watson started coaching Bentley in December 1998. And although she didn't move to Vancouver, she's continued to train with Watson via e-mail ever since.

Even athletes and coaches living in the same area often work primarily via the Internet to avoid schedule conflicts and use an online training log because it's easy to share and save information. However, many Internet-based coaches encourage their long-term clients to meet them in person at least once, either for an organized training camp, a weekend group retreat or at a race event.

Bentley has traveled to Vancouver to train with Watson, and he's also been to some of her races. But Bentley prefers to train close to home. In these instances, Watson says technology "bridges the gap."

"[Digital] video is a huge asset," he says, explaining that clients send him footage over the Web so he can analyze technique.

Choosing what works for you

When choosing an online coach that's right for you consider the three Ps: program, price and personality.

Program. Pre-built training plans are available online for everything from 5ks to Ironman-distance races. You can also get programs tailored to your individual training needs and schedules.

"The majority of people get started with a pre-built training plan and migrate up the system," explains Dirk Friel, cycling and triathlete coach and co-founder of Trainingpeaks.com.

Price. Fees vary depending on how much direct contact you have with coaches and how customized your plan is. Prices generally range from less than $30 for a pre-built program, $75 to $250 for multi-week programs with e-mail consultation, and $100 to $300 per month for a customized program. The more individual attention you receive the higher the fee. Some coaches also offer one-time consults or video analysis for an additional fee.

Personality. Just like any other coach/athlete relationship, the two parties in an online coaching arrangement need to click. An online coach should respond to your e-mails promptly and be willing to tweak a program if you have a schedule change, an illness or emergency. A coach should be enthusiastic about your goals, but realistic about your abilities. The athlete, in turn, must be honest with her coach about her progress and, of course, put in the training time and rest time prescribed by the coach. Online or in person, if you and your coach don't mesh, find someone else.

Here are some popular online coaching programs to consider:

Multisports.com Women's Triathlon Training. Triathlon legends Paula Newby-Fraser and Heather Fuhr school you on heart rate training, periodization, transitions, mental training and more. Members have their own personal online log, which coaches use to monitor progress and pinpoint potential problems. The coaches also take part in an ongoing Q&A forum on triathlon topics. Multisports.com also offers five-month Ironman programs tailored to specific races. Members receive discounts to Multisports.com training camps. Six-week training cycles cost $75. www.multisports.com/woman.shtml

Jeff Galloway e-Coaching. Galloway offers a personalized training plan, realistic goal-setting assistance, weekly e-conferences, e-mail correspondence, a training journal, a copy of one of his running books, a program singlet and T-shirt, subscription to his monthly newsletter, and discounts on other programs and training camps. Six months for $249. www.jeffgalloway.com

Watson LifeSport. Olympic triathlon gold medal coach Lance Watson gives you an annual triathlon plan with detailed daily workouts, regular "coach-initiated" phone calls, unlimited client telephone and e-mail contact, regular educational and inspirational articles, and e-mails from Watson and other top athletes. Watson accepts a limited number of new clients, amateur and professional. One-time phone consultations or swim video analysis also available. Contact Watson for pricing at coach@watsonlifesport.com. http://lancewatson.com

Jenny Hadfield Coaching. Co-author with John Bingham of the popular Marathoning for Mortals, Hadfield offers monthly training plans for running and adventure racing, a weekly consult, contact via e-mail and phone, and an online training log, which she regularly monitors. Pricing: $95 a month. www.jennyhadfield.com

Trainingpeaks.com. Formerly Joe Friel's trainingbible.com, TrainingPeaks provides programs for running, cycling, triathlon, duathlon, mountain biking and other endurance sports. Programs include pre-built training plans, an online log, and access to message boards, reports, graphs, libraries and race trackers. The service is compatible with data uploads from Polar, Timex, Cat Eye and more. Subscriptions are $16.99 per month or $119 for the year. Pre-built plans average $29.95 for 12 to 15 weeks of training. You can also find private coaches who use TrainingPeaks software on the Web site. www.trainingpeaks.com

LW Coaching. Elite-level cycling and triathlon coach Lynda Wallenfels offers analysis of training history, performance and race goals, an account with Trainingpeaks.com, individual workouts, e-mail communication, monthly telephone consultation, field testing for heart rate, video analysis and more. The service starts at $300 per month, plus a $250 start-up fee. www.lwcoaching.com

Carmichael Training Systems. Created by Chris Carmichael, coach of seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, CTS offers training in cycling, running, triathlon and mountain biking. Packages include "Active," "Advanced," "Deluxe" and "Platinum" series, all with various levels of training assistance and coach-client interaction. Fees range from $39 per month for a six-month package to $499 per month for a pro package. www.trainright.com

Mark Allen Online. The six-time winner of the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon World Championship takes age group triathletes through a 12- to 20-week program emphasizing base work, speed work and tapering via e-mail consultation. A maintenance program that promotes general fitness in the off-season is also available. Fees range from $60 to $100 per month. www.markallenonline.com

Dana Villamagna is a freelance writer based in Richmond, Va., specializing in health, fitness and parenting.

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