Most of us are just average everyday amateur runners. We all have a unique story about how we began running. Most of them probably include putting on a pair of shoes and just heading out the door for a run. We’ve had very little training, if any, and just fell into the activity. The vast majority of us will never be anything more than just an amateur runner with simple goals of finishing races and maybe picking up an age-group award here and there along the way. A few of us may have come from a high school track or cross-county background, have a trainer in a gym or do CrossFit, but aside from that have no experience with a coach.
KNOW YOUR GOALS
There are many reasons a coach might prove to be helpful, and lately it seems many either have a coach or are talking about hiring one. When is the right time to consider hiring a personal coach for yourself and how do you know if it’s right for you? Maybe you are just getting started in running and looking for guidance and help in avoiding newbie mistakes that can lead to injury and burnout. You might be at a place in your running where you have plateaued and feel like you could get more out of yourself. You believe you have the potential to do more and need help from someone with more experience to guide and push you a little. You may just want a coach to help you with a specific race or upcoming event, and you’re looking for a training plan to get you to that finish line. Top-level athletes might be looking for that extra edge and close contact with a coach to propel you to the top of the podium. Having an extra set of eyes on your running schedule, your workouts, your nutrition, and even your recovery days could be just what a runner needs.
So you think you might like to hire a coach, but where do you start? How do we find the “perfect” coach that’s a fit for you? A coach that offers you the right amount of hands-on help and will work well with your running ability and schedule. A coach that works with middle or back of the pack runners, not just elites. You will probably need a coach who has a lot of experience with the type of events for which you are training. A good 5k coach may not be the coach that’s going to help you cross the finish line of a tough mountain 50k race or Ironman event. You also want someone who cares and believes in you, as you build a strong relationship of trust with them. If we are going to invest money, time, and hard work into our training, we want to believe in our coach’s ability and we want them to believe in us.
KNOW YOUR COACHING OPTIONS
Unless you are in search of a coach who works with you one-on-one and supervises your workouts, coaching is usually done “virtually.” They often don’t live in the same area, and you likely have not even met them in person. Virtual coaches use your GPS running watch or app to look at your data, as well as regular communication with you to see how you’re feeling and how your workouts are going.
You will have to do some homework to find a coach that feels right and will be a good fit. Start by asking friends what type of experience they are having with their coach. A quick google search will help you research coaches online. Coaches are constantly interviewed on podcasts. Listen and see if you believe they would be a good fit for you. There are a variety of coaching options depending on the level of involvement you want from your coach. Are you looking for weekly updates with your training schedule or do you want a coach who is available anytime to talk on the phone? Do you need help with nutrition and want your coach involved in this aspect of your training? Are you recovering from an injury, or have been injury-prone and are looking to avoid this in the future? Are you interested not in a serious training plan, but rather have someone look over how you are currently doing things and make simple adjustments or suggestions? These are some of the questions to consider when looking for a coach.
Begin by making a list of what you want from a coach. What are your goals and what are you looking for in hiring a coach? What is your goal race? Do you have access to a gym where you can do additional workouts your coach might suggest? Be ready to share your recent race experiences and recent PR’s so they have an idea of your current fitness level.
KNOW YOUR LIMITS
Take a look at things happening in your life outside of running that might be factors in your training schedule and share them. If you have a high stress job, work long hours, have an unusual schedule or have difficult family situations, these can all be important factors for a prospective coach to understand. How much time can you spend devoted to running during the week? These are likely to be some of the questions a coach will ask when you begin to interview with them. Be realistic, not idealistic, about your time. You want to share honestly and begin to build a rapport. It’s also a good idea to think about what you are willing to pay for a coach. Prices can vary greatly, with more involvement from your coach costing more money.
Those are some things we might want to think about and be prepared to answer before talking with a coach. But what about the things WE should be asking a coach? Our goal is to find a qualified coach, but also one with specific experience with the type of races you are running. What is their background as a coach, and even as a personal athlete? What kind of success stories do they have with athletes similar to yourself? How do they structure training? How would they describe their coaching philosophy? Some coaches might emphasize high mileage, while others believe in more moderate mileage weeks mixed with tempo runs, core workouts, and more. Understanding their philosophy and how it aligns with your thinking and training might give you an idea of whether or not you can work well with them.
WORKING WITH YOUR COACH
Is it worthwhile to hire a coach for just one race or period of time? Can a coach truly make a difference in this scenario? My personal experience with hiring and using a coach is that the longer I work with them, the more they are able to help me improve, push myself, and go beyond my own expectations. Hiring a coach to cross a specific finish line might be successful, but you are barely getting to know each other if you’re working together for just a few short months. It often takes longer for a coach to learn what really motives and drives their athletes forward so they can better understand how to help them reach their personal goals. Often a long term relationship with a coach will have more success and be a more rewarding experience.
TRUST YOUR COACH
Coaches aren’t miracle workers, and we need to make sure our expectations are in line with our abilities. A coach can’t get you from the couch to a marathon in 4 weeks. We must also be willing to follow their training plan. Put in the work, communicate with them honestly about how you feel, and share your workout data. If not, why do we have a coach? They want to be a successful coach for you, just as you want to be successful in your running.
Coaches can encourage and guide you, but we must have the motivation and desire to improve. That desire is often what leads us to consider hiring a coach in the first place. They can give you a plan, but you have to trust them and follow the plan. A coach might not be able to motivate a runner, but sometimes the boost of confidence from a coach that believes in you can be all it takes to set an athlete on fire.