Q&A with Al Pitman

Next for our coaches Q and A, is Al Pitman, a regular amongst Transitions who is sometimes controversial but usually only because of his honesty. Al has coached countless athletes to Kona and has himself been to Kona many times so he can walk the walk as well as talk the talk. He has some thoughts on training and products that may not always be mainstream or for everyone but all are heartily tested by Al on himself and the methods and supplements he espouses are the ones he personally uses on a daily basis and have got him to his stage in life in the shape he is in. As you would expect if you have read his posts on the forum he has answered the following questions in true Big Al fashion.


The coach/ squad

Allan Pitman (East Coast Cycos)

Where are you based?


How did you come to the sport?

Two of my kids were swimmers – and when they won their cross country, their coach suggested they try a small triathlon – I thought I’d join them and after a bit of training, we did a mini tri – I nearly died running off the bike for the first time – that was late 84

How did you come to coaching?

I always seemed to attract a few guys who were without direction and needed someone to lead, then when I started a bike shop in around 92-93 I started to take it more seriously

What type of coaching do you do - face to face/ internet/ squad based?

I have a Brisbane based squad at Yeronga pool, and I coach a few on-line athletes

Do you have a favourite distance to coach?

Half Ironman and Ironman distance – but I have coached an Australian Junior Champion at Olympic Distance and just recently one of my 16yr old girls placed 3rd in the national age group champs

Do you have a favourite discipline to coach?

The spirit

What is the one thing that you think is unique about your coaching or squad?

I make an effort to get to know the athlete, and learn as much as I can about them in order to build their confidence and self belief – after all this is where performance comes from.

Do you think it is important for a coach to have competed in triathlon/ competed at a high level in triathlon/ competed at the distances they coach?

I think it’s an advantage, at least you understand what is really happening out there.

How many people do you coach?

It is seasonal – usually somewhere between 25-40.

Qualifications? (theoretical and/or real life experience)

TA have me as a level 2 coach, I did the level 3 course but didn’t hand in the last assignment so they have kept me as level 2 – I was too busy out there coaching – I’m a real world coach, rather than a classroom warrior – I guess 39 ironman finishes with 15 in Hawaii helps you learn a bit along the way.

As a coach what are your goals?

A few years ago it was to coach 100 athletes to Hawaii and coach a Hawaii Ironman winner – now I am aiming at my second HIM winner and I have over 70 athletes who have raced Hawaii – so the adventure continues.


Method/ style

How would you describe your coaching style?

I coach the athlete’s spirit – he/she gets fit along the way.

Do you follow a general philosophy or influence, e.g. Friel, Lydiard, etc.?

No, it’s instinctiv.

What method do you use to communicate with your clients (phone, email, face to face) and how often?

I use email a lot but occasionally I feel I need to call the athlete if I see something in the email feedback that warrants immediate action – face to face at any opportunity (I have become skilled at reading body language) – I ask all athletes to give me email feedback at the end of each week.

How do you gauge performance improvements (Races, training, tts, power analysis)?

I have regular Time Trials and tests – I do record power, HR, ave cadence, and times on the “athlete’s page”.

Do you believe in/use gadgets (Pace watch/PM/hr monitor)?

Yes, these are all valuable tools but many triathletes depend too much on the data at the expense of intuition.

How much feedback do you give your athletes on workouts (Daily/weekly/as needed)?

Weekly reviews.

Do you use training peaks or something similar?

No, I want the athlete to give me the figures in his own email, I want to know how he/she is feeling, this sort of thing shows through in “real correspondence”.

What's your experience working with people who work extreme hours and how do you adapt their programmes to that?

I have several athletes who are shift workers, I design a program to fit their roster – the real extreme hours people can be trained but it’s often a compromise  - they have to choose goals which are compatible with their lifestyle.

How individually tailored are your programs?

Each one is written with the athlete’s training age, commitments and goals in mind, it’s not unusual for two athletes to be on fairly parallel paths, especially when it gets close to a major event.

Do you have a holistic approach?

Yes it’s the only approach that will get the athlete to his/her potential.

Do you offer advice on diet, vitamins, supplements and alternative therapies (such as chiro, accu, yoga)?

Yes, every new athlete has to provide me with a three day food diary, so we know where we’re starting from – to get an athlete to their potential, all the little things are covered – the ones who take shortcuts don’t get there.



What attributes do you think make an athlete easier to coach to their desired results?

Trust in the coach – honesty in their own approach – and strong goals.

Do you specialise in or have a preference for novice athletes, seasoned athletes, etc, etc.?

I can help anyone who has the qualities listed above.

Would you be honest with me in regards to my goals and aspirations?

Yes, this has caused athletes to look elsewhere – let’s face it, some people are wankers, they kid themselves, I’m sure some set their goals while standing at the bar with their mates.

Have you ever sacked a client who didn't follow your advice?

When faced with the cold hard truth, they make the choice to follow a different path ( a path where they only have to answer to their mates at the bar).

Have you coached mature athletes. How do you treat them differently?

At Port 2013 I coached the winner of the 18-24 and the winner of the 70-74 categories – right through that range of ages – goal setting is most important – belief in the plan is next – attention to recovery and body maintenance is next – older athletes need a bit more recovery time after big workouts – in fact the young ones need driving – the older ones need holding back.

Do you understand the recovery needs of older athletes?

I am now 65yrs and have been involved in the sport for 25yrs – I have learned a lot from my own body’s reaction to training – and have coached lots of athletes over 50yrs – we’re all individuals and have different capabilities – I do need a year or more to learn about an athlete.

What percentage of your athletes survive the training injury free?

98-99% - my goal is to get the athlete to his/her goal without illness or injury.

Do you practice what you preach?

Yes, if Dave Scott came to dinner, I would happily serve him the same meals I eat myself – it is what you eat or do 90% of the time which is important – the other 10% keeps you sane.

How do you look at intensity vs volumes?

Intensity needs to be treated like chilli when you’re cooking – you can always add a little more as you go, but you can’t take it back if you add too much.



Everyone's idea of success is different. Tell me a couple of your success stories both as a coach and with athletes you train.

I have had hundreds of real success stories, readers are often more interested in the stars. Sometimes it’s the less noticed ones that have involved the greatest effort and commitment – in November 2013 I presented a coaching seminar in Goondiwindi, I met a 16yr old girl there, she could swim and she could run. Her goal was to race the Qld schools champs in Hervey Bay, her perfect day was to get top 4 and qualify for nationals. She trained on-line, we exchanged emails regularly. She qualified for nationals, so I set the goal of top three. It frightened her at first, but she believed in me. She did everything I told her, she got third at nationals. No-one worked harder than Elle. This sort of stuff gives me goose bumps.

In two weeks my own granddaughter races Port for her first Ironman, this has been very exciting for me, to watch her develop as a person over the last year. Her confidence has grown so much in a year, for me this is success.

Cost and what do I get for this?

I charge $200.00 per 4 week month – I expect weekly feedback – I expect to be the athlete’s partner in the goal – I don’t mind explaining anything, but the athlete must realise that this is not NASA – feelings are more important than figures. There’s not much point in a fat guy buying a carbon bottle cage. Technology is the last thing you look at for performance improvement.