So you’ve identified a race to train for, are motivated to get started and went on a spending spree for running clothes at the local running store… now what?
You’ve checked out template running programs in running magazines and online but you still feel a bit lost and are in need of direction and help. Enter the running coach option.
This option often creates more questions than answers – at least in the beginning stages of the process.
- Should I work with a coach in-person or online?
- How do I know if they are qualified?
- What coaching option plan should I choose?
- Does the coach work with runners of my ability level?
- What is a fair price for coaching?
These are just a few of the many questions that may arise when looking to hire a running coach.
Before we get into the specifics of what to look for in a coach, let’s first identify some primary reasons why working with a running coach is a good idea.
Training for a race, especially a marathon can be a daunting experience and it’s not hard to get a bit lost in the whole process. Working with a qualified coach can greatly assist in steering you in the right direction and staying focused on the areas that are most critical for your success.
It is normal and expected to have wavering levels of motivation while training for a race. That said, a coach can help keep you motivated and inspired throughout the training program so that you reach race day mentally fresh and motivated.
You’d be wrong if you don’t think that even professionals from time to time would rather binge watch Netflix with a bag of popcorn than do their repeat 800 meter intervals! Add crappy weather and a long workday to the equation and you’ve created the perfect scenario for sitting on your butt versus doing the programmed running workout for the day. A coach should not only be a source of motivation, but also a source of accountability. A good coach will hold their clients accountable for getting the workouts done and most importantly, understand what the triggers are for a client in respect to missing workouts and creating a training structure to minimize these triggers.
Your coach doesn’t need to have a Ph.D in applied physiology to be a great running coach, but they do need to understand how the body functions on a macro-level in respect to anatomy, physiology and biomechanics. Whether this information is gleaned from a college degree, reading books or acquiring a science-based running coach certification, having this knowledge is critical because if your coach doesn’t know how the body functions, how can they direct you though the training process?
When things are going well for you in the training process – it’s smooth sailing. However, when the wheels start to come off the bus, that is when a coach’s value is truly realized. Having a coach that is able to understand what is happening to you from a science-based perspective throughout the training process is important in respect to not only performance on race day, but getting you to the start line with the least chance for injury.
In addition to science-based knowledge, it should go without saying that evidence-based knowledge from working with a lot of clients is invaluable. The one caveat, is that just because a coach is experienced, does not mean that their training methods are right for you. More specifically, the biggest benefit of experience is learning what does and does not work for most clients and adjusting one’s coaching practice to reflect these findings. However, if a coach does not assess these areas and blindly plows ahead, then their experience is largely inconsequential in respect to the quality of their coaching practice.
Your coach should be your first stop for information. Whether it is in regard to finding a good physical therapist, or what the final mile of the NYC marathon is like. A coach should be solid resource for a lot of your questions and for questions that they do not know the answers to, or if a question is outside their scope of practice/knowledge, they should be a resource to provide a solid referral.
Now that you know some of the main reasons why hiring a running coach is a good idea, let’s look at some of the most important areas to assess when hiring a running coach.
How long have they been coaching? How many clients have they worked with? What type of clients have they coached? Remember, just because a coach is new is not necessarily a bad thing, nor is it necessarily a bad thing if they primarily work with clients that are different than you (ex: they mostly work with Olympians). However, generally speaking, the more experienced a coach is in respect to your level of running ability, the greater the chance for success will be. This is because the coach’s experience will be predominately made up of clients like yourself and therefore knows best how to get you from point A to point B.
STUDENT OF THE SPORT
As noted previously, a formal education is not required to be a coach. However, a coach must be a student of the sport. In other words, they should always be learning and applying what they have learned. This could be in the form of acquiring a running coach certification, reading books/research papers or taking note of the responses from varied training processes on their clients and ensuring that they know why the responses occurred.
While we are perhaps a bit biased as we operate a running certification company, by far, the most important aspect of being ‘educated’ is being hungry to learn as much as possible about running and the body and understand that the learning process is never ending.
Does the coach have all their clients run high mileage, regardless of the clients’ individual needs? Does the coach make all their clients wear heart rate monitors?
Most all coaches have some sort of coaching philosophy, even if they don’t advertise it. This philosophy is often tied to their training methods (ex: Philosophy: No Pain, No Gain – Method: Two-a-day workouts and lots of intervals!)
You need to find out these things before you start working with a coach because you want to ensure that you’re on the same page!
This is where the rubber hits the road. Does the coach get consistently good results for their clients? Poke around, ask for references, etc… You want to be working with a coach that consistently gets good results for their clients – after all, that’s why you’d hire them!
This is often left out when people think about hiring a coach. Remember, when you hire a coach, you enter into a relationship with that person. While personality is likely more of a factor if working with a coach in-person, it is still a factor when working with a coach online. Think about a person that you really like.. and conversely, someone that you don’t really like. The genesis of how you feel about these people likely stems from their personality and how well you mesh with them.
Even if a coach checks all of the boxes in regard to education, professionalism, etc… if the personality of the coach isn’t someone that you can see yourself working with, keep looking.
Don’t hire a coach just by their credentials, or even with client testimonials… interview them. Of all the questions to ask, perhaps the most important question is why the coach believes that you are the right fit for their coaching program.
As you can see, there are multiple areas to consider when hiring a coach and while not noted previously in this post, the one factor that should NOT be considered is the speed and personal records (PR’s) of the coach. Unfortunately, clients often take this information as a major hiring consideration. A coach does not have to be fast or a prior/current elite runner to be a good coach. Is a coach (or anyone) that can run a 2:10 marathon impressive? Yes. Does this automatically make them a good coach? Absolutely not.
Next post: Coach Selection – Online/In-Person, Cost, What Package to Choose?, Guaranteed Results, and more!
Rick Prince is the founder of United Endurance Sports Coaching Academy (UESCA), a science/evidence-based endurance sports coaching education company that certifies running and triathlon coaches.
To learn more about our Running Coach Certification and to get a code for $50 off, click here!