Subscribe by email

Q&A with Hal Higdon

Each week, coach and author, Hal Higdon answers your questions about running. Here's the latest:

« Maintain Your Fitness During the Winter Months | Main | Swim Training: Three Key Drills for Better Form »

What the RPE Scale Reminds Us about Coaching

Photo: Roland GardinerI am a cyclist. I am a coach. Having the privilege to be both at this juncture of my life comes in quite handy when working with my athlete clients. My coaching does not solely consist of training plans and workouts. I have a myriad of stories of personal failures and successes that are very important to share with my riders.

There's a parallel with coaching and participating in a spin class. In these classes, the instructor will talk about the Rated Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale and guide their students to "find your 8/10" on a climb. This is an awesome atmosphere because a novice cyclist can be climbing “their” hill right next to an elite cyclist who is climbing “their” hill. Both athletes are suffering, digging deep, wondering if they can make that last minute, trying to see if they have what it takes. This communal experience is a great motivational tool, and it evokes the words of Tour de France winner Greg LeMond: “It doesn’t get easier, you just go faster.”

I recently had a female client recount her stress of upgrading from a cat 4 to a cat 3. She told me, “It was hard, but nothing like the racing you're doing.” I stopped her right there and took the time to explain that athletes of ALL levels experience the same emotions in training and competition. Reaching a season goal is worth celebrating for anyone. Another client completed the Tour de Tuscon for the first time last month. It was a huge milestone for him, yet he was hesitant to divulge just how scary and difficult the path to the starting line had been. I told him of several race prep journeys I've been on, and how I constantly need to rally myself from within to overcome my own performance fears. We've competed for markedly different events, but we find common ground in the fact that we've both experienced "event RPE" of a 7/10.

I look back at how petrified I was the first time I raced Sea Otter Classic as a beginner mountain bike racer. What was it going to feel like? What if I failed? What would people think of me? I don’t even want to win, that means I stick out. The list goes on of all the stressors leading up to the experience. What I really remember though was that I finished. And that I was hooked. The racing bug had bitten, and I was ready to tackle the process all over again.

Whether my clients show event anxiety for an 8-mile mountain bike race or a metric century, I make sure to take the time to recount some of my first racing experiences and let them know that I made it through despite my worries. And that nobody judged me. I also explain that even today, I still have those same battles. I'm on a different track than them, but it doesn’t make it any easier.

I had the opportunity this summer to compete in several large stage races. At the Tour of the Gila I was suffering very, very badly. I was battling the wind, my legs, and my mind. Digging deep to reconnect with the peloton that I had gotten shelled from, I thought to myself, “Man, those women at the front must have it so easy! Just cruising along, easy as pie!” I ran my theory by a veteran racer that evening over dinner. She laughed and said, “No Joy, we were just going faster.”

I encourage you as a coach to share your experiences, both good and bad, with your athletes. Take the time to look at their upcoming events from their eyes and realize that their “Tour de Palm Springs” is equivalent to your Cascade Cycling Classic. Reminding them that they're facing the same 8/10 climb as the cyclists they look up to can be a powerful motivator that won't just get them to the starting line, but can carry them through the finish as well.


If you liked this piece, you can check out more articles on coaching that were contributed to our blog by our network of experienced and well-established TrainingPeaks coach users. Want to know how TrainingPeaks can help your coaching business and enable you to achieve results for your athletes?  Check out our Coach Edition product here.

Joy Duerksen received a B.S. in Physical Education and Commercial Fitness from Pacific Union College and during the summer of 2010, she completed both the USAC Coaching certification and the ACE Personal Training certification in order to pursue her dream of coaching athletes of all levels.  Joy is also an avid cyclist. The 2010 season brought Joy into her 3rd season racing as Professional mountain bike racer. She also made the segway into road cycling, racing the majority of the season on skinny tires as a cat 2.  She also races cyclocross from time to time and would love to hit up a pump track in the near future.  You can learn more about Joy and her company on the Big Wheel Coaching website.

Reader Comments (4)

Like your story of the women that moved from cat 4 to cat 3, I to recently upgraded my race starting group. At the next race I couldn't hold the group pace after an hour of racing. This initially demotivated me, and caused some mental stress to put it all into context. Had I heard your story then, as it did now, it would have picked me up very quickly, and help me celebrate the step up my racing had taken.

December 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFaizel

Am I missing something, or is there no field option on TrainingPeaks for logging RPE? I've been entering it in the notes, but see value in tracking that number along with some of the other metrics over time.

December 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBiff Carbon

You're right Biff, there currently isn't a specific field for RPE, but your feedback's noted and we appreciate it!

December 20, 2011 | Registered Commentertrainingpeaks

How true. I always say about hill climbs " dosn't matter how good you are they always hurt, you just get faster". We are all human and the same pain is felt by all.

January 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDarren

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>