If you follow triathlon you won’t have missed the superb race performance of Marc Austin at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. April 5th 2018 was a great day for the sport in Scotland. It’s been lovely to see the buzz it created and especially witness the inspiration delivered to the kids in the sport. Since then I’ve received a fair few communications both congratulating me as Marc’s coach and also asking what I do that has allowed him to step up.
REALITY CHECK – I’M NOT MARC’S COACH!! I do however perform consultancy work for Marc, so if you need to categorise me you could call me his Performance Consultant.
Marc is officially self coached and based in Glasgow when not training or racing abroad. That Commonwealth Games bronze medal is Marc’s and nobody else’s. At every step of the journey it is Marc who drives the process and makes things happen. More than anything it is his drive that has created a championship performer. Marc now stands as a World Junior, World U23 and Senior Major Championship Medallist. It is clear that Marc is the best Championship performer in Scotland over Olympic pathway triathlon, possibly only surpassed in the UK male field by the Brownlee brothers. The plaudits for this race need to sit with Marc, he is a shining light of how to be successful and the sport should really try to learn from him.
I’ve been lucky to know Marc and his family for well over a decade. I have coached him as a child and adolescent, watched him grow, answered questions, advised over the years and also observed the way his passionate parents allowed him to find his way with what is possibly unrivalled support. At 24 he is mature beyond his years and has a fire inside that just burns brighter than many of us could hope to have.
Over the past 14 months I have spoken with and been involved with Marc a fair bit after having had minimal or no input for some years. I was fortunate enough to attend the 2017 WTS Abu Dhabi race, here I noted some small performance issues and fed them back to Marc after analysing his power files once home. I did this purely for my interest in the sport and my desire to help a hard working young man and friend. I then watched his other races through 2017 and also provided feedback as there were recurrent patterns of well conducted elements and areas that needed to change and improve. Towards the end of the 2017 race season Marc approached me for my advice; both in regard to leaving the performance Centre at Stirling, and with respect to some racing specifics including predominantly bike performance but also general performance planning/analysis. It would be wrong to give away all of what we did, Marc and I would say it’s nothing special but you could easily argue that it was not only vital, but importantly it was detailed and individually specific. To me it was a nice project that required me to apply what I have learned from over 25 years in the sport. I found that my physiology degree was more useful than I remember it being for a long time, experience of watching 100’s of races, sitting with videos pausing and rewinding dozens of times, filming bits of races and running stopwatches for tiny elements of races all played a role. What I do know is you would certainly not find the detail of what we did in any coaching course or manual. Without knowing the athlete and the sport in enough depth, as well as actually properly observing performance, I don’t think this work could be appropriately undertaken. The end result involved many facets all of which had an influence on performance enhancement. This included: sourcing the right bike for Marc to sit on and ride, ensuring that the fit of that bike worked optimally for Marc, myself programming key bike training sessions weekly and ensuring that the sessions had the relevant priority and fitted into the schedule of Marc who has a reasonably high training frequency / duration per week. I reviewed each and every session and also tracked general training progress with some review as to focuses of training phases. There was also discussion over some swim training areas and general performance management. If you study this format of racing you would easily identify the improvements in Marc as a racer so to me it’s clearly a project that worked well. I could say more about what we did but frankly it’s relevant only to Marc as it was an individual project and everyone has separate needs. It’s also paid consultancy work that has client coach confidentiality status and many would like to try replicate / think they can perform so I’m afraid I am somewhat protective over that. If you want to learn more or get that sort of input – you know where I am.
I have also to say that crucially Marc was very receptive to input and is one of the few athletes I’ve ever met not to be defensive when faced with feedback regarding performance areas that needed input. That we know and trust each other’s thoughts is vital. One of the biggest battles a coach faces with an athlete is the expectation vs reality conundrum – there needs to be a good match between these two parameters or all that occurs is conflict that affects motivation, performance and delivery of training and performance. An athlete not prepared to accept honest feedback and their current level is destined for failure. Marc excels in this area and as a result we both knew rolling into the race that he was a medal zone athlete – in other words if the race works out a certain way (and you can influence that with your performance processes) then you have the tools to produce the medal winning job. Marc has said to several people, and I would agree with him, that the Commonwealth games result was not a special performance. He did not get lucky or perform above his level, that was the level he was prepared for and my goodness is he top class at delivering that on a given day!!
I’ve also watched the Gold coast race multiple times recently. Initially it was roaring at a laptop screen at 5am in a Spanish hotel but sooner or later the emotion needs to subside and review / progress needs to happen. I have photo’s etc from the coverage for the next stage, the job is never done.