Last Updated on December 15, 2019 by Heather Hart, ACSM EP, CSCS
If you are new to the running community, you may assume that hiring a running coach is something reserved for elites and runners with serious budding talent. But with this assumption, you would be very wrong. The majority of the running community is comprised of “everyday” runners – runners of all abilities and speeds who love the sport, but certainly aren’t paying their bills with prize money from winning races. Yet mediocre or not, we all have our own reasons for running, and we all have our own personal running goals we hope to achieve. And sometimes, fast or slow, experienced or beginner alike, we may all find a point where we require help from a running coach.
Reasons for Hiring a Running Coach:
So, are you a candidate for working with a coach? Maybe. First, it is important to consider why you want to hire a running coach. There are a number of aspects a coach can help with when it comes to your training and racing. You may need help in simply one area, or you may want an overall guide to help you navigate through the sometimes tricky world of a training plan.
First and foremost, a running coach is going to hold you accountable for your training and workouts. It doesn’t matter if you are a beginner looking for someone to motivate you to get into a regular running routine, or if you are an intermediate runner who has a hard time sticking to your training plan; a running coach will hold you responsible for running those miles. Of course, the level of accountability will vary by coach, and they won’t do the work for you. But some people find that simply having to check in with someone at the end of the day or week is enough motivation to stick to their training plan.
Do you have a specific race goal?
Many intermediate to experienced runners find themselves with a specific time goal for a race, such as a Boston Marathon qualifying time, but aren’t quite sure what workouts they should be doing to help reach that goal. A running coach will be able to take the guesswork out of your training by prescribing exact workouts, paces, and distances to help you reach your goal based on your current fitness levels and training volume. Also, a coach is likely to be far more realistic about the time frame surrounding your attempts to achieve the goal; they aren’t going to promise a brand new runner that they will go from couch to 5K immediately into a sub 3 hour marathon, but instead give them more realistic goals to aim for.
Are you looking to increase your race distance?
Making the jump from a 5K to a half marathon, a half marathon to a full marathon, or even a full marathon to an ultra can be intimidating. If you are looking to increase your weekly or monthly mileage, or perhaps train for a longer distance race, you may want to consider hiring a running coach. A coach will be able to help you design a training program that will allow you to safely progress as you increase your training distance, in order to help avoid overuse injuries, as well as mental exhaustion or burnout.
Do you have technique issues?
Perhaps you are continually experiencing some sort of pain or injury that is directly related to a biomechanical discrepancy or poor running form. A running coach will be able to not only analyze your running gait and technique, but also suggest exercises and drills to help you improve your running. In theory this works best with a coach that you can meet in person, however in this day and age of technology, even a remote coach may be able to help with biomechanical issues.
Does your training involve special circumstances?
Many athletes find themselves with special circumstances that may require the advice and supervision of a professional running coach. For example, a runner who is recovering from knee surgery may want help in designing a training program that will allow them to successfully return to running long distance. Or maybe an expectant mother wants help in altering a rigorous training program to a plan that fits with her pregnancy. A professional running coach will be able to take your special circumstances into consideration to help you continue working towards your goals.
Do you want to take your running to the next level?
A running coach can help you take your running to the next level, no matter what that means to you. Perhaps you have been a casual runner, but you are looking to start competing in local races, and earn your first “age group award”. Or maybe you are already competitive, but your progress seems to have stalled. Whatever the reason, a running coach may be the key to helping you take that step to improving your running.
Once you’ve identified your reason, or reasons, for wanting a running coach, there are important factors to consider before hiring one.
What to Look for in a Running Coach:
Taking the time to first research the history of your coach’s experience and qualifications, as well as discussing both of your expectations from the beginning, can help ensure a positive training experience for both of you. Many of these factors will be based on your specific needs for hiring a coach, as well as your preferences when it comes to working with a coach.
Certifications / Qualifications
It should be noted that there is a significant difference between being a good runner, and having the ability to coach another runner. Just because someone is an elite or successful athlete does not necessarily guarantee that they can safely and effectively train other runners to do the same. And it should also go without saying that in this day and age of everyone being a “health coach”, you must carefully discern a qualified, educated, experienced coach from someone simply looking to make some money. Hiring a coach that is certified by a nationally recognized agency as a trainer or running coach will ensure that they have, at minimum, a basic working knowledge of kinesiology as well as properly and safely designing and prescribing training plans.
To counter the point made above regarding certification is the topic of experience. Just because a coach has numerous certifications and credentials to their name does not necessarily mean that they have a lot of hands on experience working with clients. Alternatively, many successful coaches may have minimal certifications, but have years of experience and success as a coach. Both qualifications and experience should be considered and weighed against your specific goals, to determine if a potential coach is right for you and your training needs.
If you are looking to run your first 100 miler, you obviously aren’t going to hire a coach who has never run nor worked with ultra marathon athletes. On the other hand, if you are looking to improve your strength and correct imbalances, you aren’t going to want to hire a coach whose philosophy includes running all of the time and completely ignores time spent in the weight room.
Look at the current clientele that your potential coach is working with, or whom they have trained in the past. If you are an advanced runner with specific goals, you may not want a coach who works mainly with beginners. On the other hand, if you are a new runner, you may not be able to work with a coach who focuses on elite athletes and strictly regimented training routines. Do not be afraid to ask a potential coach about their training styles, or what types of clients they have the most experience with, or even prefer to work with. Remember, when hiring a coach, you are the customer; there is nothing wrong with shopping around to find the perfect fit.
Level of interaction desired
Are you looking for a coach that will write you a training plan, and then let you train at your own pace? Or are you looking for a coach that will check in with you daily, adjusting your training as necessary? Do you need a local coach that you can meet with in person, or are you comfortable with being coached virtually through the internet or telephone? Further, keep in mind the time and availability commitment that you will be expected to provide on your end. Will you be able to interact with your coach daily, or do time constraints allow you to only meet once a week or month? All of these issues should be considered, and even discussed with a potential coach, to ensure that you both understand the expectations of the prospective coach and client relationship.
This is typically a huge deciding factor for many people when hiring a coach. The cost of hiring a running coach can vary greatly, dependent upon the services that you require, as well as the experience and demand of the particular coach in question. You may find coaches for as little as $40 per month, to as much as $400 per month. A one-time training plan may often be purchased for a set fee, whereas a coach may charge hourly or monthly for one-on-one training. When considering cost, you should contemplate ahead of time if you plan to make a onetime investment, or hope to build a long term coaching relationship.
Ready to hire a running coach?
I always find your best resource for recommendations is word of mouth from other runners. Then of course, there’s the internet: the Road Runners Club of America is one of the most highly sought after running coach certifications, and as such, they include a directory of certified coaches on their website to help you locate a running coach near you. Or you are always welcome to reach out to Hart Strength and Endurance Coaching, to see if our coaching services would be right for you!
Do not be afraid to ask questions, and “interview” your prospective coach. A good coach will answer your questions, as well as ask in depth questions of you as well, to ensure that the two of you, your goals, and the coach’s style/philosophies will be a good fit.
READER INPUT: Have you ever hired a running coach? What was your experience? If you’ve been curious about hiring a coach, but have any questions or reservations, please post them below, and I will have a coach respond with answers for you.