Our January Coach of the Month is UESCA Running Coach, Ken Szekretar Jr. Ken is personal trainer, running and triathlon coach in NYC. Ken offers great time management advice on how to work with clients that have hectic schedules – especially those training for full distance triathlons. Additionally, as Ken lives in NYC, he offers tips on how to get workouts in for those of us that live in concrete jungles!
How did you get into triathlon as both an athlete and coach?
I have been a personal trainer since 1998 and while I had run periodically throughout that time, in 2008 I started participating in running races and triathlon. After many years of primarily gym based workouts and fitness, the expansion into the worlds of running and triathlon reignited my passion for my own training and was something I wanted to share with others. I started coaching after becoming a USAT certified Level 1 coach in 2011 and have immensely enjoyed working with athletes of all types.
Living in a city has it’s advantages and disadvantages from a training perspective. What aspects of city living do you find advantageous for training and what aspects make training challenging – and how do you overcome them?
Certainly living in New York City presents some unique challenges as well as advantages for runners and triathletes. One of the biggest advantages is the number of pools and gyms we have access to in such a small area. One doesn’t have to travel too far to find a quality place to swim, or get a run or bike session in on a day that the weather doesn’t permit outdoor training. Another advantage is that with so many people in the city who are runners and triathletes, finding a club or training partners is easy to do. Training with others who share your goals is a great way to stay motivated and on course with your training, as well as push you to be a better athlete.
Of course living here does pose a few disadvantages as well. Finding access to outdoor riding and running can be challenging. If one doesn’t live in close proximity to Prospect Park, Central Park, or can get out to 9W (the road in NJ/NY that many New York based athletes rely on), finding a good option for outdoor cycling can be difficult. Likewise living in certain parts of the city make it challenging to have easy access to routes where one can run uninterrupted. Living in the city does give athletes access to the many gyms here, and sometimes doing a bike or run session there can help overcome some of these limitations. I also suggest that my athletes get themselves an indoor trainer so that they don’t have to skip a bike session should they lack access to a good place to ride, or bad weather or scheduling issues arise.
Is there one aspect of coaching that you enjoy the most and if so, what is it and why?
I enjoy many aspects of being a coach, however one of my favorite is seeing the improvement in my athletes performances. Whether in the form of field testing or on race day having an athlete set a PB, seeing an athlete improving their fitness is very gratifying to me. Often athletes will ask if they are improving or making progress. When I can show them quantitatively just how much they have improved it’s a great feeling for both me and the athlete.
Triathlons, especially full distance triathlons take a lot of time to train for. What advice do you have for a triathlete looking to move up to full distance in respect to fitting in all the requisite training while still managing the rest of their life (ex: job, family, social life, etc…)?
This is one of the biggest issues I know facing triathletes today. With all the demands of work, family, friends and training there can often seem to be too much to fit in any given week. When starting to work with an athlete one of the most important questions I ask is how much time can they realistically set aside for training each week. Starting there I can then further probe and find out the athletes limiters, and come up with a plan that provides the best use of their time. For example, if a time crunched athlete is a strong runner but weaker on the bike or in the pool, we can prioritize their training in those areas and rely on their strong background in running to carry them through on race day.
Additionally the athlete has to understand that moving up to a longer distance will require some longer sessions than previously performed, so being prepared to commit the time is essential to their success. Also if athletes have families, being sure they understand and support the athletes in their training is essential. I find that athletes with busy schedules are often most successful if they can get up early to do their training before the demands of the rest of the day can start to sidetrack the workout. Often this means getting training started as early as 5 or 5:30am to get in the training before work or family needs take over.
As the winter is upon us, what is your primary means to stay sane on the indoor trainer (ex: The Godfather parts 1-3)?
I am actually a big fan of the indoor trainer. Even in nicer weather if an athlete can’t easily access good riding without a long commute or safely follow a given workout I’ll prefer to have them execute their training indoors. It can be much more efficient time wise, and sticking to a specific workout profile can be a lot easier. That said I’ll always assign some work sets during the ride, this helps to break up monotony, keeps the athlete mentally engaged, and allows them to get the most benefit out of each session. I also like the trainer as it allows the athlete to work on technique during the warm up and cool down phase of the session.
I personally like Netflix for entertainment, but many of my athletes also like to use programs such as Zwift or Trainer Road for further motivation.
Ken, thanks for the great advice and to learn more about our running or triathlon certifications, be sure to us out United Endurance Sports Coaching Academy.