Finding the Balance



By Dougal Allan

Sometimes I am labelled a professional athlete. Which seems a bit weird as it suggests I am paid a salary to do my sport. When asked ‘what I do’ by people, I tend to tell them I am a coach. But even that can seem a bit weird as it suggests I am standing in front of my athletes with a whistle around my neck and a whiteboard in hand. The reality is I am training 25+ hours per week for 3-4x sports but am not paid to do so and I am a coach who doesn’t often see my athletes in person, instead teaching them how to enjoy and optimise their performances through programming and phone/internet conversations. Among the training and coaching commitments I am lucky to also spend lots of time with my two children and my wife, something I value and prioritise highly. While this is probably a relatively unique lifestyle, it also has a commonality with the majority of people I know who categorise themselves as ‘busy’. In the end, we are all searching for a balance that allows us to make time and energy for the things we choose to prioritise in our life.

I have found routine to be important over the years and especially so now I am a parent. We tend to sleep and eat on a fairly regular schedule each day and it works well for us. Knowing the kids will be in bed by 6.30pm for example also gives me a known window each evening to analyse my athletes training files, chat with some of them and plan/program their next training blocks. Television never enters the equation, but that is a sacrifice I am very happy to make. I will generally begin my first training session early in the morning, which allows coaching work as well as the second and third training sessions to be completed by 3pm when the kids finish school and daycare. I may not have the energy to bounce with them on the trampoline most days, but I love to spend this time before dinner hearing about what they have been learning or doing that day. Amy and I are all too aware that we only get these years with our kids once, so we don’t want to miss it. It is a priority.

As a coach I try to develop and foster proactivity with my athletes. I like to take the approach of being “always there and never there” meaning they know I have their back and they can reach out whenever they need to, but they cannot always expect an instant response. I want them to take ownership over their journey and be involved in the thinking along the way. If they can achieve a goal and feel they led their own process to get there, I feel good about the job I have done. That is not to say I do not guide and direct them along the way, but they need to know that ultimately it comes down to them and their willingness to lead the way.

My training as an athlete over the past twelve or so years has largely come down to consistency. I am not usually one to fuss much over latest gear, training or diet trends. Nor I am one to impress with record breaking training performances. As boring as it might sound to some, I am just focused on making sure I continue to provide my body and mind with the right level of stimulus each day to challenge and change me, but to also position me to go again tomorrow and continue the upward trajectory that targets a goal event. I take pleasure in the process and this is what I think has sustained my motivation over the years. I love to train hard and often. This has becoming increasingly challenging as our children grow. Recovery windows are few and far between and instead of lying down with my feet up, I am often summoned to ride a bike around the block with Flynn or feed and bathe the dollies with Matilda.

Then there is the work I do with and for my sponsors. This is a part of the athlete life I have found the biggest but most rewarding challenge. I have had to learn along the way and still wouldn’t profess to being an expert. But the the people and companies I have met and represented along the way now exist as highlights and memories that rate up alongside the race results themselves. Heading into this years Coast to Coast race with the entire Bivouac Outdoor team backing my every move is hugely inspiring for example. Apart from the obvious access it allows me to the best equipment and advice in the industry, they also have a genuine desire to see me do well. I am acutely aware that the Bivouac Outdoor staff have their own personal connections to the outdoors and adventures which I believe facilitates a deeper understanding and appreciation for what I am setting out to do on race day. It is a real boost for me.

We all have 24 hours in our day and we all choose how to fill them. I have never seen ‘more as better’, but am also happy to factor a fair bit in. It’s a constant balance that I don’t always get right. When I think about it, I am not really a pro athlete at all. But I guess I can also see how I might be considered one. In next week’s blog I will share some insights into this years Coast to Coast preparation and my training to date. Please let me know if you have specific questions or topics you would like me to cover in this next blog. If there is anything about my training and preparation for the race you would like me to discuss I would welcome you to get in touch.


(Photo credits Radix Nutrition).


Coast to Coast -Training Update  1 Feb 20

Less than 10 days out from defending his Kathmandu Coast to Coast title Dougal gives an update

Returning to race the Coast to Coast a year after winning my first title had to be a decision based on more than just trying to ‘add another title to my name’. I am not interested in numbers and tallies. But I am certainly excited by targeting better and improved performances every year. Not just that, but at 34 years of age I am now prepared to do whatever it might take to have a career-best performance in this race. I have never had a performance on this course that feels like an expression of my true potential. So when the time came to find the true essence of what I would return for, it became a case of setting out to achieve two goals. The first was to arrive at the start line with my best fitness and preparation ever and the second was to execute a performance on race day that would be a true reflection of this fitness and preparation. And so in October of 2019, the journey began.

I enlisted the guidance of Gordon Walker who had once again agreed to help me, despite his life already being the definition of busy. I felt automatic incentive to honour his time and expertise, by following and trusting his recipe religiously. It is also important to note that while this blog is intended to offer some insight into my training build for coast to coast, I also need to acknowledge and respect his intellectual property by not giving away excessive detail on the methods that he has opened my mind to.

My last rest day was about December 14th I think. It was the day I travelled home from my successful attempt at the Waimak Classic River Race title and threw Goat Pass into the mix the next day. Since then I have trained about 2-7 hours every single day. Approximately 23-30 hours per week.

Some of my key sessions are comparable to last year which has given me insight into where my progressions have happened. Basically in run, kayak and bike. A rather exciting prospect I must say. My run threshold seems to have shifted about 5 seconds per kilometre as has my kayak threshold. I have been able to do 5hr bike rides that include a 100km segment holding over 330 watts. Throw in a couple of solid gym sessions a week and I seem to have been able to build upon last year very broadly. My CTL in training peaks cracked 160 which is a first for me too. Admittedly last year was my first tilt at Coast to Coast in six years, so I would like to think it would be a fairly realistic expectation to step forward another notch this year in terms of the specific fitness and skill requirements of this unique race.

But what does all this mean? Well nothing at all if I cannot achieve the second goal: execution. It is all well and good having good fitness and equipment, but there is only one day to get it all right and a year is a long time to have to wait for another shot. Something that both scares and excites me all at once. Unlike when I have been fit for ironman and can transfer that fitness into a race happening somewhere in the world virtually every weekend, there is only one Coast to Coast, so the fitness and skills I current possess are really only transferable on February 8th. With the endless variables an athlete will encounter on race day, there is an immense level of focus and organisation that will go into executing the race strategy and performance on the day. A little bit of luck always helps too.

If you think about it, the two goals I set myself before my training build began are controllable. They have nothing to do with other athletes or weather conditions or times or outcomes. If I can achieve both then I do think I will stand a good chance of another victory, but if achieving both means I am beaten by a better athlete, I will shake their hand and accept defeat. This is what sport is all about at the highest level, showing up with your A-Game and seeing how it stacks up among the best in the business.

Before I disappear into race week, I want to finish by acknowledging the people that have been part of my daily, weekly and monthly commitments. My wife Amy and our children Flynn and Matilda are my world and our ‘adopted parents’ Will and Joy Harvey make up the five people that have made it possible for me to have another tilt at this incredible event. My coach Gordon who really didn’t have to add another commitment to his schedule but still agreed to coach me for another season, I am forever indebted.

Finally I want to acknowledge Bivouac Outdoor for their support this season. They have felt like extended family for me and their support has afforded me the difference between a good build-up and a great one. They have helped me access premium outdoor brands such as Inov-8 Shoes and Osprey Packs and have been a wealth of knowledge and expertise for me along the way. My other sponsors have also been integral to my preparations this year so thank you to BeSure Tailored Insurance, CurraNZ, Profile Design, Felt Bicycles, Nautique Paddle Sports NZ, Radix Nutrition, Smith Optics, Camino Apparel, Wanaka Sports Massage, Wanaka Physiotherapy and SLF Motion.

If you are planning to be part of race day as a competitor, official, volunteer, supporter or spectator, I wish you al the best and look forward to sharing the day with you all.

Check out my latest video here.
Credit Radix Nutrition