Friday, March 8, 2013

Meet My Coach - Jim McGehee

photo by Tanya LeRoith

Jim McGehee of One on One Endurance has been my triathlon coach for almost four years, since June 22 of 2009, and I feel very privileged to be counted among his athletes. I could go on and on with a list of superlatives and adjectives but suffice it to say he is very knowledgeable and does a fantastic job of tailoring training, coaching styles, and communication to each individual. As a husband and dad to two beautiful children, he exemplifies the balance and perspective that is vital for triathlon to be a sustainable lifestyle. He has a solid set of credentials (read about them here; MS, Exercise Physiology, USAT Certified Coach, 24+ years as a triathlete, 20+ years coaching...) but more importantly, he has those great coach qualities that can't be taught.

I began working with Coach Jim after a running injury left me thinking that the cross training of swimming and cycling might be more healthy for me. I asked if he would take me on as a coached athlete and proceeded to sign up for the Lake Norman Sprint Triathlon, giving him a "full" nine weeks to get this newbie ready. He sure did (race report)!

Although his athletes span the globe, I am lucky because as the crow flies, he only lives about two miles from me and our pool time frequently overlaps. Coach Jim has seen me through the ups and downs of victories and setbacks, accomplishments and injuries. He has helped me to develop as an athlete and as a person and so I am really pleased to share a bit about Coach Jim here.

Coach Jim, you've been a triathlete for over 24 years. What first drew you to the sport, especially back then when it was not exactly mainstream.

The challenge of something new and different was the primary draw into the triathlon lifestyle.  And yes, I consider triathlon a lifestyle, much more than a hobby or a sport. My first ever triathlon experience occurred in 1987 when my wife and I were living in West Palm Beach, Florida. A few months before my first triathlon race, I borrowed a friend’s 10 speed bike, swam laps in our small apartment complex pool (and in the ocean on weekends) and did my normal running. I remember keeping a log “book” and writing down my workouts on a sheet of paper where I’d mapped out my preparation period. What I remember most was how I felt finally coming out of the ocean after that rough water ocean swim. Wide eyed and tired, but stimulated to the max. I finished the 2nd Annual Loggerhead Triathlon a humble 23rd of 41 in my age group, but I’ve been a competitive triathlete from the day I signed up for that first triathlon.   

Were you an athlete in high school or college? What sport(s)?

All through my life sports have played a major role in who I am and the way my mind works. My father was a high school football and track coach and being around him and his athletes was always the best part of my world. I chose going to dad’s track meets over playing little league baseball in my adolescent years. Having that stop watch in my hand and dad asking me to be an “official” timer at meets was heaven for a little guy. I played football (quarterback) from the time I was 7 years old through high school and really considered that my primary sport. During Jr. High and High School I also ran track. The ½ mile (now 800 meters) was my primary event and I topped out at 2:02.8 my senior year. I loved running the 2 mile relay and being the anchor for our fairly competitive team. I also dabbled in pole vault and could even throw the discus some since dad had taught me all those techniques over the years. My college time I ran on my own, but I studied and busied myself being an athletic trainer for many of the college sports teams including the track team at Marshall University.  I never was a swimmer as a child, but I taught myself to swim free style when I started taking a life-saving class so that I could work at the new swimming pool in town during my college summer vacations.   

How do you stay motivated to train and race?

Training for me isn’t about specific race preparation as much as it is about feeling good and using the talents that God gave me. I never really believed that I had the talent to make a living being an athlete (and I don’t), but I did find a way to carve a living out of using the talents that I was graciously given.  I’ve always liked to push myself physically and can remember preparing for track season as a young teen and doing hill repeats on my own. I’ve never been afraid to sweat or push my body to extremes, though I will admit with aging that is becoming slightly more of a challenge than it was earlier. During the time I was working on my master’s degree in Exercise Physiology I was able to do a lot of testing on myself (and others) so I have a good sense of what my body can do and how hard I can push. Now don’t get me wrong, I still love to prep for races and have specific goals, but even without ever racing again, I’d still consider myself a competitive triathlete!   

What are some of your favorite or most memorable races or moments in the sport and why?

I do remember that first triathlon and how stimulated I felt after the swim and during the run in particular. I also remember many races back in the 1990’s where I was starting to develop some level of skill in the sport (relative, of course) and how good it felt to be one of the stronger runners in the majority of races. In the late 1990’s I remember coming into T2 at USAT Nationals and dumping myself (and my bike) right at the dismount line. A bit humbled and embarrassed I recovered and finished the race just fine.  

My favorite race venue would have to be the very small (typically 60-80 participants), but extremely friendly Scenic Mountain Triathlon held for 25+ years in the rural mountains around Richwood, WV. I’ve placed 2nd in that event 6x, but never won.  At this point I wouldn’t trade one of those seconds for a first place for anything…I’m part of the folk lore of that tiny raceJ.  As for memories I’d have to say that my training prep for my 1998 Great Floridian Triathlon (Ironman distance race) leads the way.  Not so much how race day went (I finished happy in 10:33) but more about the training that I did to get to that point.  Five different training rides of 100 or more miles, several 20+ mile training runs and multiple yards of swimming volume, most of these totally alone by myself in a pool in the building where I worked (not recommended due to safety reasons).  Lately my best memories are slapping high fives or giving a quick, breathless words of encouragement to my athletes at regional races here in VA.     

Are there any races you've not yet done but would like to? 

I don’t feel like I’ve missed anything and I’m not yet feeling old enough to start thinking bucket list.  I race based more on my family situation now and make it much less about venue hopping or getting to specific races. In the back of my mind I wonder about another Ironman distance race at some point, but my coaching, my health and my family still remain the number one priorities. I still very much enjoying racing the regional favorites and have done my fair share of triathlon travel over the years so I’m quite content really.   

You are known for your speedy transitions. How are you so fast? 

Again, “fast” is relative of course.  However, to answer your question, experience, practice and placing emphasis during the race on not wasting ANY time. I’ve learned that less is more in the transition area and even though I do still ride with socks on, the majority of my transitions are still relatively speedy. T2 in particular is a time of no waste. There is really very little to do there other than get on my run shoes and take off carrying my hat/race belt and whatever nutrition I chose. I also run in and run out! It’s a race, so why not try to beat others at every part of it!  Transitioning is very specific to triathlon and I believe that’s one of the reasons I’ve embraced that part of the sport over the years.  

With Dave Scott at Luray 2012
How has the job and role of the coach changed over the last two decades? How have your athletes changed?

Obviously the critical elements of coaching hasn’t changed much over the years, but the methods of doing so certainly has changed considerably. Personal relationships are still at the heart of being a coach and I’m certainly glad that is the case. I love sharing the passion for personal improvement and goal seeking with my athletes. This will never change.  However, the methods of doing so have changed for me as I’ve taken on this role as an “online” coach to some. I’m still the same guy when I’m sitting at the computer, but communicating and sharing my thoughts is a different challenge than face to face. I still cherish my in-person coaching time with my local athletes, and as the name of my business states, I try to build relationships on a personal one-on-one basis.  However, I’ve also built some long lasting (some going on 10 years now) coach/athlete relationships with folks I’ve actually never met face to face. These are now friends, as much as athletes of mine at this point, though we do keep a professional relationship. For most of them I do data analysis (thanks to gps and HR data) and of course training plan organization/building specific to their race goals. I never started out coaching thinking I’d spend so much time on the computer, but that is just part of the business as its grown and morphed to meet the needs of my athletes.  

Have the athletes changed? No, not really.  They are still passionate, and most still come to me with direct and specific goals.  However, like too many of us they are often too busy to really enjoy and embrace where they are at the moment. I try to help establish an appreciation for the here and now, while helping get folks moving toward that ultimate goal of meeting their full potential.  I love my athletes and I wouldn’t want them to change a bit honestly. 

Coach Jim with some of his local athletes at the Bath County Triathlon
What are the best parts of coaching and what are the most challenging?

Best part, definitely working with motivated, positive minded and generally happy people! Folks hire me because they want to get better at their sport and because they want to trust someone with the details. I relish in that bond of trust, it makes me feel needed and appreciated.  Having the “excuse” to go train is also a perk I must admit. Training and coaching gets me out of the bed in the morning and I put on a happy face pretty quickly because of both.  

Most challenging, would definitely be the amount of time I spend building training schedules and moving things around and refining on the computer. Again, not complaining, but that’s the least enjoyable part. However, I do feel I have a God given gift (and the necessary experience and education) to build reasonable, progressive, yet uncomplicated training schedules that get athletes to their goals. Then, like every parent I’m challenged to balance it all and help raise our children in the manner that we believe they deserve. Toss in my desire to be a loving, devoted and happy husband and you now understand the challenges.  

Group training day!

What pieces of advice do you have to help athletes (and coaches) get the most benefit out of the coaching/training relationship?

This is an easy one Cortney. Be 100% honest, 100% of the time! Treat each other (the relationship goes both ways) the way you want to be treated. Have fun and don’t get too caught up in what others are doing.  Be yourself, set your own goals and prioritize the way YOU want to prioritize. As for specifics, log in your workouts and record data that you have accessible and share with your coach consistently. To do less is to get less out of the relationship.  All of that said, don’t take yourself or this sport too seriously.  Balance is the key in training and in living the lifestyle.  

What's it like to coach me?

Now that’s a tricky question isn’t it?  In one word I’d have to say: Humbling. The degree of trust that you have in me is humbling and keeps me on my toes. You’ve allowed me control of one of the most important parts of your current world, I do not take that responsibility lightly (multiply that by the number of individuals that I coach, and you can see why I take my job seriously). It’s just incredible really. Our communications are honest and generally straight to the point. I like that. Your positive mood is contagious to all that you contact and your desire to reach full potential is a driving force in my communications with you as your coach. Your passion bucket for triathlon obviously overflows!  I certainly spend more time holding you back, than pushing you forward, and the timing on allowing the forward push always takes careful consideration. Toss in the many laughs from your emails and our face to face training times, I consider it an honor to be your coach.  

Do you want to comment on the direction of the sport and perhaps things you think are good, or things you'd like to change?

Hopefully the world of triathlon will continue to be dominated by the typical Age Grouper, not the professionals and/or elites. This is the way the sport works best and the way it was designed originally. Propping up professionals in this day and age has gone a bit too far it seems to me. The real hero’s of triathlon are the busy, dedicated, every day athletes that seek to live a healthy, happy and focused lifestyle.  While I’m happy to see the sport grow in the professional ranks, to me, the Age Group triathlete will always be the core of the sport. USAT is a great organization but is obviously pushing for improved status on the Olympic and elite levels. I hope that they can find the proper balance to maintain the pureness of the sport at our level.  Obviously that pureness starts within each individual, not the organization as whole. I really hope that my children will be able to access this sport and continue to share my passion about this lifestyle over the coming decades.  

Thanks for giving me the excuse to share some of my thoughts about the lifestyle that I love.  I will forever be grateful to each of the athletes that I’ve coached over the many years.  It is my hope that each has gained something positive from our relationship that makes them not only a better endurance athlete, but maybe even a better person.