The Zommunique logo June '23


The Power of Asking for Help—More Than Just Extra Watts!

By Liz Van Houweling

A quality cycling coach will help you reach life goals on and off the bike.

Sport tends to leave us vulnerable, and a good coach is genuinely something special. I’ve been involved in various sports and am fortunate to work with numerous excellent coaches. 


My primary childhood sport was gymnastics, and I developed strong relationships with my coaches, viewing them almost as second parents. I trusted them to “spot” me while learning new skills. I relied on their eye for detail since the goal was perfection, and I could not see (or even feel!) my bent legs or flexed feet. I fondly look back on those days because of the positive environment my coaches created. 


Cycling is an entirely different sport from gymnastics. It is much less skill-based and more about pure fitness, especially when it comes to virtual riding. Are coaches still just as important? 


I recently listened to the Virtual Velo podcast about “Machine Learning and AI in Cycling Coaching.” This insightful podcast and my recent experiences have made me reflect on the value of coaching, specifically for cycling.

virtual Velo podcast
Click image to listen!

Self Coaching

Until recently, I never had an official cycling coach. Being surrounded by people faster than me has been incredibly advantageous: teammates, friends, and my husband. I rode with those better than me, and I got stronger! I followed my husband while mountain biking, and I got more skilled. I incorporated very little structure (ok, basically ZERO structure), and it was fun! 


I am a certified cycling coach and figured I understood the principles well enough that I didn’t need external guidance in any formal capacity. I became a Cat 1 mountain biker and Cat 2 road cyclist. I found Zwift, won my first Premier League race, and finished 5th at the 2022 World Championships. I held the position of #1 ranked female on Zwift Power for months.

You would think everything was working perfectly.

Desperate Times

Zwift is particularly dangerous for individuals with a slightly addictive personality like me. The temptation to race far too frequently is great. The ease and convenience of riding indoors make it difficult to allow one’s body the rest it needs. 


I finally broke in September of 2022. I wanted to do Zwift Racing League, Zwift Grand Prix, and MyWhoosh races. I also wanted to do the Zwift Academy workouts as an attempt to force structure into my training. When I had to do additional ZADA power tests due to trainer difficulties, I literally cried. 


I was named a Zwift Academy finalist and proceeded to contract COVID-19 on the flight to Spain, preventing me from competing. It was most likely a blessing in disguise, as I was not in a proper physical or mental place at that point.

Liz Van Houweling Cycling Coaching
My husband, Ryan, and I had some nice leisure rides in Spain when I couldn’t participate in Zwift Academy.

I felt as though I was drowning. I couldn’t breathe and was questioning my purpose. Bikes should bring joy and balance to my life, not unnecessary stress and pressure. 


First and foremost, I am a wife and mother to two young kids. I can’t do it all and do it well. I knew I needed to make some drastic changes. I had to prioritize my family more, saying “no” to certain races and using my limited training time more wisely.

Even after recognizing this, I needed help!


I returned home from Spain in November and contacted Alex Coh the following week. Most people in the esports world know Alex for his work with James Barnes, and he came highly recommended.

Endurance Sport coaching with Alex Coh
Click image to learn more about Coach Alex Coh!

I uploaded my data to Training Peaks so that he could see my training history. Perhaps even more importantly, he gradually got to know me. He learned my mental state, what motivated and challenged me, what my daily life entailed, and what made me the person and athlete I am. 


I’m not going to lie; the first month was a brutal awakening. The Zwift Academy workouts gave me the false impression that perhaps intervals and structure were not so bad after all. I quickly learned that those workouts were nothing compared to these painful creations. 


Alex identified my weakness immediately. The World Championships in February were my primary goal, and the race format would specifically test my shortcomings.

I worried that there was too little time to prepare appropriately. I worried I wasn’t good enough, whatever that meant. I worried I was going to let people down. I worried I did not have my life priorities in order. I worried—a lot. 


My new coach Alex recognized this and continually reassured me. I control what I can control. I do my part to the best of my ability.

I work hard and trust the process. That’s all any of us can do. That is how we all need to define success.

Benefits of a Coach

I’ve been thrilled since I started working with a professional, knowledgeable coach. Previously, I thought it would take all of the fun out of riding my bike. 


I secretly laughed when people would hesitate to commit to a ride or race because they “have to check” with their coach first. (Ironic, I know, since I also coach others!) I did not want to have homework on the bike!


Much of my daily life is unpredictable and out of my control with two young children. You never know when one will wake in the middle of the night crying about losing their favorite stuffed animal in the mountain of blankets. You never know when there will be a meltdown after they suddenly refuse to wear socks one day because they make their feet itch. 


My kids are a huge blessing, and I love them dearly. They also do not make life easy. 


I value pre-planned rides because knowing what my month looks like in advance makes me feel calmer. I know what is coming and can prepare mentally and physically for it. It has done wonders for the health of my marriage and made me a better mom.


Not to mention, watching the stars click off as I complete another interval gives me great satisfaction (or makes me despondent when I can’t get a star 😂). I feel accomplished after every ride!

Liz Van Houweling Cycling Coaching training plan


I no longer race nearly as much, but the races I participate in are high-quality and purposeful. I’ve eliminated searching for the perfect race each day and scouring the competition on Zwift Power. I don’t stress about getting the kids and myself organized and ready for a specific start time, only to have another surprise Zwift update and miss the race.


Every ride is pre-planned so that there is no wasted time. I don’t continually question whether my work best uses my time. I rely on a coach to do that worrying and focus on executing the plan. 


I do not do a huge volume week and feel no pressure to do more because I know everything is quality work. I need to prioritize family time, and my schedule correctly reflects this.


I receive unbiased and honest feedback. Sometimes this type of communication is hard to give to oneself and even receive from those we love. I trust that my coach will be straightforward in relaying relevant information.

Liz Van Houweling's Coaching Journey


Having a coach has made me feel like I have another person on my “team.” I have someone else invested in my journey. I may still be riding alone in my basement most of the time, but I know it is not a solitary pursuit. 


This feeling allows me to push myself harder than I previously imagined. I know someone else is “watching” everything I do, and I do not want to disappoint. 


Many structured workouts I do these days are far more challenging than races I’ve done. I am almost embarrassed to admit that sometimes it feels like I try harder in training than in racing. I want to make my coach, family, and myself proud, even if it’s just another Tuesday torture session with no chance to put my hands in the air. 


Sometimes (ok, often!) I fail and can’t hit the intended power targets. However, I enjoy finding and pushing my limits. I will use that as motivation for next time. And the feeling of successfully making it through a ride that previously seemed impossible is something I always cherish.

Liz Van Houweling Cycling Coaching
Sometimes I explode!


Rest and easy days are essential for adaptation to occur. I used to struggle to allow myself enough recovery. Another race always tempted me and was inevitably not what I wanted or needed. I want to ride on some scheduled rest days because I genuinely love riding my bike. Having a schedule holds me accountable so that I don’t overdo it.


In January, I got sick and had a Grand Prix race—a month before Worlds. I could not get my heart rate back down after efforts and could not recover. My coach recognized this and immediately told me to stay off the bike until I felt better. We adjusted my schedule based on the current situation.


If I was relying solely on myself, I would have given myself about a day off and then decided I felt well enough to hit it hard again, especially in crunch time before Worlds. My sickness would have lingered for weeks and impacted my training longer.


Chasing excellence in cycling can often seem like an overwhelming endeavor. It’s been a rollercoaster process for me. I’m learning that admitting we cannot do it alone is ok. It’s ok to ask for help. I highly recommend it!

A coach has so many benefits outside of only a training plan. I’m personally experiencing them for the first time in cycling.


I do not expect to suddenly win every race. That’s not realistic. Nor is it my job to be a professional cyclist. But I do feel my confidence slowly rising in all aspects of life.


I feel more content in my home life. I feel stronger mentally and physically. I feel excited and hopeful about the future. That is the power of asking for help and bringing others on this journey. Who knows what is next?

Do you have a coach?

What benefits have you seen? What do you appreciate about the experience?

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