Fast Talk podcast, ep. 61: Do you need a coach? With Neal Henderson and Rebecca Rusch

In this episode we take on several questions: Do you need a coach? What makes a good coach? What makes a good athlete? And much more.

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

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The VeloNews Fast Talk podcast is your source for the best training advice and most compelling insight on what it takes to become a better cyclist. Listen in as VeloNews managing editor Chris Case and our resident physiologist and coach, Trevor Connor, discuss a range of topics, including sport science, training, physiology, technology, nutrition, and more.

In the famous book “Daniels’ Running Formula,” Jack Daniels lays out what he considers to be the four ingredients of success. The fourth ingredient is “direction,” and he describes it as follows:

“Direction, the final ingredient of success, refers to a coach, a teacher, or a training plan that can be followed. Of the four ingredients of success, direction is probably the one of least significance, should one of the ingredients have to be eliminated. I say this because direction is the only ingredient that can have either a positive or negative influence on the athlete… it is possible for absence of direction to be better than bad direction.”

It may seem a little strange to hear one of the most decorated running coaches of all time say that coaching or direction is the least important ingredient of success. And it raises an important question: Do we really need a coach?

In today’s episode, we’re taking on that question.

  1. First, we’ll start by asking our expert guests that simple question: Do we need a coach?
  2. Next, we’ll talk about the relationship athletes have with their coaches — what makes a good relationship and what makes a bad one.
  3. After we’ve defined that relationship, we’ll ask our panel what to look for in a good coach. And, conversely, how to identify a bad coach.
  4. Finally, we’ll talk briefly about how much coaching is worth, and whether an athlete should stick with the same coach or change from time to time.

Our panel today includes, first, coach Neal Henderson, owner of Apex Coaching and current coach of time trial world champion Rohan Dennis, among other elite athletes. Neal has joined us before, on one of our most popular episodes, in fact, Episode 33: Is FTP Dead?

Our other main guest today is the renowned endurance athlete Rebecca Rusch, formerly an adventure racer, now a decorated cyclist of mountain bike, gravel, and bike-packing events around the world. Rebecca currently works with CTS coach Dean Golich; for many years she went without a coach. She has a great depth of experience as an athlete and brings a wealth of knowledge to the conversation. She also runs several training camps and hosts her namesake Rebecca’s Private Idaho gravel race near her home in Idaho. Check them out online at

In addition to our panel, we have several experts weigh in throughout this episode:

Ciaran O’Grady, a coach and sports scientist with Team Dimension Data, talks with us about the pros and cons of self-coaching versus the accountability that comes from working with a coach.

LottoNL-Jumbo’s Sepp Kuss, winner of this year’s Tour of Utah, reached the WorldTour by being self-coached. We talk about why he did that, and what it’s like now working with the team’s trainers.

We check in with Dean Golich, head performance physiologist at CTS. Dean has worked with an incredible number of top athletes and shares some of his thoughts on how he approaches coaching them.

The legendary Ned Overend continues to crush Cat. 1 riders into his 60s. Despite all of his success, Ned has never had a coach. He explains why.

Finally, we talk with Armando Mastracci, who has developed a highly sophisticated training AI system that can help athletes plan their workouts. Armando discusses what parts of coaching a good AI system can replace and what it can’t.

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Finally, it’s worth pointing out that Coach Daniels didn’t say coaching was a bad thing. He just said a bad coach is worse than no direction. So, of course, he offered his thoughts on what makes a good coach:

“If the term coach refers to the person who directs the improvement or refinement of running performance, then a good coach can answer the question, ‘why are we doing this workout today?’ A good coach produces beneficial reactions to training, creates positive race results, and transforms the athletes he or she brings into the program into better runners (and better human beings.)”

That’s a tall order. And with that, we hope to add clarity and context to the discussion of coaching. Let’s make you fast!

Fast Talk is available on all your favorite podcast services, including iTunesStitcherGoogle Play, and Soundcloud. If you enjoy the podcast, please take a moment to rate and comment on iTunes after listening.

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