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After back surgery cut short her successful career as a professional triathlete and duathlete in 2008, former world champion and double Olympian, Michelle Dillon, switched to coaching. Since then, she’s worked with a host of world class triathletes (from Jodie Stimpson to Emma Pallant) as part of her coaching business, Team Dillon.

Here, Michelle talks about what a typical day in her busy life as a coach looks like.

When I retired I knew I was going to be coaching, so as soon as I had my back surgery I starting building up my coaching business and it went from there. I’ve coached some of the best athletes in the world, and currently coach Emma Pallant, 70.3 Silver medallist at the recent Ironman World Champs, as well as my husband Stuart Hayes, who is winding down his career due to injury, but still competes at a high level. Then I have a range of athletes, from top Age Group triathletes who have won Gold at World Championships, all the way through to total beginners. I just love helping people to believe in themselves and to achieve their goals. This is what brought me to coaching in the first place.

Morning – swim coaching then breakfast and athlete catch-ups

When we’re on a training camp, which can be 3 months + at a time, I’ll typically wake up around 6/6.30am, have a coffee, and head straight to the pool to start at 7am. On average we swim anything from 4-5km each session and that usually takes around 90 minutes. We alternate between long endurance sets to short threshold sets off short rest. We work a lot with paddles as well, which helps with specific swim strength. Occasionally, we do drills in the warm-up if an athlete needs to work on them, and we also do some land training like stretch cords before getting into the water.


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I get back from the pool around 8.45-9am. I’m not a huge breakfast person, so I usually don’t have much until around 10 or 11am; I’m running off coffee and water first thing, but this really works for me (I’ve done this for years). When I get home from my first coaching session, I have my breakfast – something like eggs and porridge and a green tea – and that sets me up for the rest of the day!

After breakfast, I’m generally catching up on emails or calling my clients to catch-up with them about their training. I like to set goals with all of my athletes – it’s so important that both coach and athlete are on the same page. I need to understand what my athletes’ goals are so I can help them achieve them.

Training

Since I’m still very active and train at least once or twice a day, my training now doesn’t differ too much from my professional days in terms of energy output, however I have to be more organised and prioritise my athletes. I still bike and run, mainly biking these days since I have double fusion in my spine. As I get older, I get more injuries if I run too much so I try to limit the impact on my body and focus on staying fit on the bike. I can’t really swim because of my back. It’s not a bad thing as I spent so many hours in the pool when I was an athlete, I think my body appreciates not swimming now!


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Although I concentrate on coaching, over the years from time to time I like to set my own personal challenges. Last year, for example, I came 2nd to my pro athlete Emma Pallant in the National Duathlon champs, and went on to compete at the World Duathlon champs at the age of 43! Now I’m injured again, I think age is catching me up. However, it’s fun for me when I can compete, and it is literally fun these days and nothing serious. My athletes are my main focus!

I try to be at the big races and those races require a good block of training in the lead up. I think I’ve been to most countries over the years! I also try to get to the races where a large group of my Age Group athletes might be racing together, to support as much as I can.

Midday – Run, grab lunch and admin

If I’m sending the athletes out on a steady long ride and I’m not riding myself, I’ll go for a short run and that’ll be my workout for the day. Sometimes I’m tight on time and can’t spend 4 hours out on the bike. I would love to, but admin and other priorities will get in the way.

We use [training by] power for athletes that want to use it for their cycling; some athletes do and some don’t. It’s great to have power to gauge your improvements, but I also believe that people can get carried away in analysing too much data and not actually getting the training done. We use Garmins and Wattbike sessions to give us feedback on power for our athletes that use it.

After lunch, when my athletes are out on the bike (or in the evenings when all the training sessions are done) I usually do my admin and office work. I have to grab food pretty fast, but I’m always prepared with something like brown rice and tuna – add some garlic in there for taste and a dash of olive oil and that is pretty much the fastest and easiest lunch I can digest. Sometimes, if I’ve gone out on the bike for a long ride with my athletes, we might finish at a café or coffee shop and grab some lunch together.

[Throughout the day,] I snack on bananas and nuts but my weakness is potato crisps!

Afternoon – brick sessions and gym time

When we’re on a training camp we do either group brick sessions or run sessions in the afternoon. We have our annual Team Dillon training camp in Mojacar, Spain at the end of Feb/beginning of March, which is ideal for training. We cater for all abilities and this camp runs for about a week.

I’m usually in the car when the athletes are on the bike, watching every move they’re making, then giving them feedback on the session. When they run off the bike you’ll find me on a bike riding beside them, doing the timing, filming them and calling out support.


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I think I get more nervous for my athletes then I used to when I was competing. You wouldn’t know it and I try not to let them see it. I try to stay calm but inside I’m nervous –  once they’re on the start line and the gun fires I seem to relax a bit more!

Training athletes in the gym

I go to the gym with my athletes to show them strength and conditioning exercises but I also spend a lot of time in the gym when we’re doing our key sessions as these are done on the turbo and treadmill.

We assess our athletes’ technique across all three disciplines (swim, bike, run) and make corrections if we need to so that they’re getting the best out of their training, and also to prevent them getting injured. We work mainly on three zones which are recovery, moderate and best effort.

We also look at functional threshold power tests over a 20-minute period on the bike to define average power and heart rate where needed. My coaching philosophy is to ensure I pass on all the knowledge I learnt thorough my own career as a world class athlete and ensure my athletes get the most out of their training, not just physically but also mentally as well –  a strong mind builds a strong, robust athlete!

Evening – G&T, reflect on the day, admin and bed

What time I finish for the day depends on what we do in the afternoon, but usually it’s no later than 6pm. Having a G&T is very relaxing, and although I don’t get time to watch TV very much, when I do I catch up on my favourite property shows.

I spend a lot of time in the evening working. In fact, when you run your own business there aren’t specific times you work, it’s pretty much all the time. Luckily, I love it!

We eat at home most evenings. I usually have lots of veg/salad potato or rice, and I love fish so I eat lots and lots. However, I do like a fillet steak as well once a week. Occasionally, we’ll go out for dinner when we don’t have an early start in the morning. We generally go to bed around 10.30pm (latest 11pm) and aim to get 8 hours sleep, although doesn’t always happen especially if we have to get up earlier to swim.

Do I miss competing? I actually enjoyed the pressure of competing – that’s what I found I loved when I came back to compete last year. However, I don’t miss getting super-fit and then getting injured! I was extremely injury-prone and had a very bad back – still do!

You can follow Michelle and Team Dillon via social media and the Team Dillon website: www.teamdilloncoaching.com

Michelle’s social media: www.facebook.com/michelle.dillon.777  www.twitter.com/Dillo7 and www.instagram.com/mishdillo777

Team Dillon: www.facebook.com/teamdilloncoaching, www.twitter.com/teamdillon and www.instagram.com/teamdilloncoaching

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