I’ve been getting coached by an AI via the Athletica platform, and as much as it pains me to admit it, my AI running coach is really good.
TL:DR. If you’re a keen data geek interested in training and tech, try AI coaching for your next race. At $99 for six months, what have you got to lose? If you’re more of the “I’ve got no idea what I’m doing, I just need someone to tell me what to do” type, then I’d say buy an off-the-shelf plan or get 1:1 coaching if you can afford it.
Regarding Athletica specifically, the lack of an app, running power, and some integration features leaves the user with much to do compared to the likes of TrainingPeaks or even the old-school ‘print off your plan’, but being able to mentally offload the stress of thinking about what training you need to do is massively uplifting.
(Short-term opportunity, AI & Dr Will Collab for $199usd/month – email me)
Why is a professional coach getting coached by AI?
After my last race, the Tarawera Ultramarathon (mid-Feb), where I didn’t finish (DNF) because of heat stroke, an ongoing issue for me, I was left a little lost about what to do next. Marathon, 10km, ultra, multisport for something different?
I was feeling the “post-ultra blues”.
I’ve always written my training plans, and typically, I find great inspiration in writing about a new race build-up. I’ll be excited to test out a training style that’s been rolling around in my head. Yet, I was still stumped after a couple of weeks back running. That’s when I remembered Athletica, an AI training platform created by Dr Paul Laursen, a Canadian sports psychologist who used to live and work in New Zealand. I know Paul a little bit, and I tested the Athletica platform in its beta stage a couple of years ago. I decided to give AI coaching another go to see what developments Paul had made since I last used the platform.
What is AI Coaching
No doubt you’ve heard of ChatGPT. Well, Athletica and AI coaching is not a chatbot, far from it.
AI coaching pulls training data from your GPS to determine what type of athlete you are (physiological phenotyping) and then decides what training will be most effective for your time availability and race schedule, exactly like I do with my clients!
To start, you input your race schedule (max 7 months in advance), select your running level, weekly available time, recent 5 km time, age, height, weight, etc, and connect your Strava or Garmin (sorry, no other brands supported yet).
After a few minutes, you get your roughly personalised training plan. Now you start training! As you complete your training (or not), the AI learns more about your physiology and alters your training daily (if necessary) to make your training more personalised. These post-workout adjustments are where AI coaching and 1:1 human coaching begin to clash. My major issue with working with an AI coach has been that I haven’t been able to tell ‘it’ (?) that I can’t do a workout on Wednesday or whatever day this week. Or I only did 30 min instead of 60 min because I had a meeting. Not because I was too tired.
Despite adjusting my future training to fit my schedule, the AI kept moving my workouts back and adjusting the rest of my training week to optimise my training load better. That’s great, but I wanted to say, “Hey, I can’t do a 1.5 hr interval session on Wednesday, I’m travelling all day, and then I’ll be tired Thursday, so can I do Tuesday, Friday and Sunday for my target days, and have Wednesday off?” That’s where a ChatGPT-style plugin would be amazing, and I’m sure where we’ll end up.
Coaching with Me vs. Coaching with AI
As I mentioned, one of the massive benefits of having a coach is switching off your brain – Dr Will says, I do. When I work with a client at a standard level, I like to set them up with at least three weeks of structured training to allow them to plan their training well in advance. In the fourth week, I’ll analyse all the data, we’ll catch up, and I’ll provide feedback and insight for the next three-week training block. I’ll keep an eye on everyone’s training each week, especially if there’s an important session or a race, but otherwise, daily reviews and feedback take a lot of time and are therefore reserved for a higher level of coaching (note, not a higher level of athlete!). The big win in working with me is that you know you can tell me you’re sick or you’re going on annual leave and have heaps of time (and energy) to log some miles. I can adjust your plan to fit your life and your long-term goals. The loss when working with me and a win for an AI is that I might have missed analysing your last two sessions. You may have run way too hard, but you still have a big marathon session planned for the weekend. In comparison, the AI has picked up on your high HR and subsequently adjusted your marathon session to avoid you overcooking it. Sure, I could give you that level of service, but it’d cost you a few hundred dollars a month compared to $20!
There are numerous pros and cons when you compare 1:1 coaching to AI coaching. But, based on the price point, I think it’s fairer to compare AI Coaching to an ‘off-the-shelf’ training plan.
There are thousands of online training plans, but I’ll use mine as a comparison because I know them well, and they’re priced the same ($59 12 weeks Vs $20/month).
I’ve been developing my race distance training plans for years. I’ve been optimising the workouts based on runner feedback and developed a system that’s the best ‘best fit’ for most runners. I have options for 3-4, 4-5, 6+ days/wk, running power, pace, and heart rate. Because I deliver my training plans on the TrainingPeaks software system, I can have all my workouts adjust to an individual’s thresholds. For $59, I believe it’s a super affordable and robust training system. But, at the end of the day, I don’t know who is buying my plan. I don’t have any insight into how they’re completing the workouts or what changes they’ve made.
Compare that same 12-week training plan to what an AI coach can provide for the same price. You’ll get a training plan that builds up to your specific event (10km, half, marathon, etc..), you’ll get workouts that adjust to your thresholds, and then most importantly, you’ll get adjustments to your plan based on how you’re progressing through the plan. Also, because the AI coach is dynamic, you can add a lead in a race or club event and adjust your plan accordingly. If you have one of my training plans, you’ve got to figure out the adjustments yourself. However, I’m not talking myself out of training plan sales just yet. The big point to note with your AI coach is that you must be super engaged in the process. In comparison, my training plans are ‘set and forget’ with everything visible on an app and workouts delivered straight to your watch. With an AI coach, you’re required to report back after each workout (web only), keep a note of any training changes, and manually or automatically sync structured workouts to Garmin only. For some people, that’s an excellent procrastination tool while you’re avoiding work at your desk. For others, it’s just another thing you’ll do for a week, and then throw it in the too-hard basket with your morning yoga, self-massage and stretching.
The Hybrid System – AI & 1:1 Coaching
For me, I see a huge immediate potential in a hybrid AI & 1:1 coaching product. I can offer a better service for the same price with the help of AI. I’d be able to program my training methodologies into the algorithm so that you’d get personalised training from me that adjusts as needed. Then you’d have access to me for the feedback side of the coaching process. I’m pretty keen to get my head around this process, so if you’re interested in working with me for your next event, I’m offering a couple of $199usd/month AI – Dr Will collab coaching spots (email me ASAP).
Training with AI isn’t going to be for everyone (yet). At this stage, I think it’s a go for early adopters and tech geeks, but for most runners (and triathletes), I see it being too cumbersome.
When someone figures out how to plugin ChatGTP to their platform, it’s game over for coaching as we know it. With ChatGPT logged into your Garmin account, you’ll have the most competent coach in the world looking at your data and available to provide feedback and answer your every question.
If Athletica interests you, I recommend signing up for a month or two because user feedback creates better products. https://link.drwillo.com/athletica
Athletica Specific Summary
I’d like to preface my comments with, “we have to start somewhere”. I’ve been heavily involved in a sports tech start-up (BrakeAce), so I understand that simple solutions are sometimes massively time-consuming, complex, and expensive.
UPDATE – I had a zoom meeting with Dr Paul, and he’s advised me on some pretty major updates coming to the Athletica platform in 2023, which address many of my complaints have about the current platform.
The AI. As you progress your training plan, the AI learns more about your physiology and adjusts workouts accordingly. Did you miss a workout today? Should you adjust your run tomorrow? No problem. The AI has you covered. Also, the AI has a long-term plan for you leading up to your goal race, so it’s not making these adjustments in isolation.
The price. $19.90/month, $99/six months, $189/yr. Worth a try.
Brain off training. This is the number one positive feedback I get from my clients. I can see why. Unloading all your mental stress regarding training onto someone (or something) else makes life way easier.
Workout variety. Athletica has a ton of workouts, and a ‘workout wizard’, which you can use to get an alternative workout with the same physiological goal.
What’s not so good
The AI. At times, I found it quite annoying that I would plan my running week, and then despite doing the set workouts, my training would change. The problem concerns some bugs in the algorithm, which calculates compliance and workout stats.
No running power. This is a no-brainer seeing as they already have cycling power built into the algorithm. If the platform had running power, it would remove some of my issues around pace on hill reps and calculating workout load and compliance.
Hill reps. The target intensity is via pace, which throws out the whole session totals and workload. See my comments on running power.
Structured workout support. Sure, you can push the workouts to Garmin, but they’ve got no open-ended warm-ups. If you know what I mean, you know it’s a massive pain. Coros and TrainingPeaks have the same issue.
No app and poor mobile responsiveness. Getting on a website to update my workout info seems like a hassle for 2023.
Work with Me
Get structure, workouts, and a new PB template for FREE.
You can steal my formula for smashing mind-blowing running PBs in which I outline EXACTLY how you can put together your own structured training plan with event-specific workouts in LESS THAN 10 MINUTES.
DONE-FOR-YOU Training Plans.
Need help building workouts and putting your training plan together? You NEED one of my $59 twelve-week event-specific training plans.
All workouts are locked and loaded. I outline a step-by-step approach for how you can test your threshold, set your zones, and use your data for effective, accountable, confidence-building training. Best of all, my workouts automatically adjust to your threshold and download your watch, so you’re always running at the right intensity.
1-on-1 Accountability & Guidance with Dr Will.
Want me to tell you what to do, check your training, and ensure you smash your goal event? I’d love to help you get to your next finish line with a smile on your face and a PB in your back pocket (and on Strava 😉). Email me to get the conversation started.
Enjoyed this episode?
If you enjoyed this episode and the Running with Dr Will podcast. Please, take two minutes to subscribe, rating and review. You can do that on Apple Podcasts right now by clicking here. If you are an Android user, you can follow the podcast on Google or Spotify. Your reviews will help the podcast reach more runners. Thanks heaps 🙏.