Training and When it Might Be Good to Hire a Coach by Jackie Stevens

You are new to running….SCM_Amb-photo_Jackie-Stevens

You have hit a plateau…

Your motivation is fading…

You want to PR…

You want to try a new race distance…

You want to qualify for Boston…

There are so many reasons why a runner will seek out a coach, all personal and all with one thing in common – taking their training to the next level, whatever level that may be.  Most runners who are considering a coach have looked at every generic plan, visited several running sites, explored computer driven data training plans, even downloaded several running apps and are still not finding the right fit.  The runner may come across a plan that looks intriguing and is now faced with questions pertaining to pace – tempo, intervals, threshold, LSD???  And what about race specific aspects – downhill, hilly, trail, high altitude??? What now?  Now is when they decide to toss aside generic and look to hire a coach.  And not just any coach, a coach that meets their needs, fits their budget and who is certified in distance running.

How do you go about picking that coach? There are hundreds of coaches on the internet that all claim to be amazing.  Many are.  The key to choosing a coach that is amazing, for you, is picking one that you trust and who fits with the goals you have set for yourself.  A coach with a website, Facebook page and all the social media bells and whistles can give you some insight, however any coach can look great at face value.  Look deeper.  Look at years of experience, additional certifications, their running experience, availability to their clients and most of all how successful their current runners are.

Why do I mention the success of current runners?  Because a good coach will listen, adapt and be flexible when training a runner – all qualities that lead to success.  Many coaches will advocate “no excuses” to their clients.  This is great for people with few commitments in their lives, but what if you have a demanding job – kids – take ill – get injured – or something unexpected happens?  You need a coach that will roll with the punches and help you stay on track.  Those are the coaches that have successful athletes, the ones that get that life happens and “no excuses” is just not very realistic.  The ones that listen and are willing to adapt training to life.  The ones that want you to be successful and will help you get there.  A coach that truly listens and understands you, is a coach that will build a plan that fits and one that you will be successful at.

Now let’s talk about the other important factors like certification.  Let’s face it, there is no law that says running coaches need to be certified to coach clients.  That is not to say that all un-certified coaches are bad – but it should give you pause.  A certified coach has invested in their craft and been trained in run technique, plan creation, injury and all aspects of training from start to finish.   The RRCA (Road Runners Club of America) is the main certifying organization for running coaches and is the one to look for when picking a coach.  As a side note, if you are looking for a run coach that also has the ability to strength train or help with nutrition (and build a plan that incorporates them) you might also want a coach with a second certification in Personal Training or Nutrition.   If you are unsure of a coaches qualifications, make sure to ask if they are trained in your specific areas of need.  Confidence in your coaches training will make it easier to trust the advice and training they are giving you.

Is it important to have a coach that also runs themselves?  Absolutely or at least has a history of running in their past.   It’s the old “practice what you preach” way of thinking.  Do you want a coach to get you to Boston or help you run a 100 mile trail endurance race? Does it makes sense to pick one that has not done those things themselves?  A runner who has experienced what you are hoping to achieve has an insight that other coaches may not.  They have put in the sweat and training and will understand what they are asking of you.   This is an important component when picking a coach and should not be overlooked when you are reaching for a goal that requires very specific and precise training to achieve success.

With social media comes information, information that will help you learn about a coach before you make contact.  Yes, there are bad eggs out there that can hide behind a slick page or false façade, but for the most part you can pick out the coaches who are honest and love what they do.  As you read the pages and aim to get to know a coach, look for the ones that are real.  Look for a coach that posts the good and the bad – is honest about their own run training and who responds to people in a positive light.   Anyone can say they are amazing on social media, it takes a coach that is willing to be real to train real runners.   You can learn a lot about a coach thru their pages so look, really look, at what they post.   Read their blogs, look at their photos and ask them questions.  No one is perfect – so perfect should raise a red flag.  You want real life, real experience and a real person.

Once you have identified a few coaches that you like and who you feel match your needs, what questions should you ask?

  1. What is your coaching philosophy?  If their answer scares you, move on.
  2. How many athletes have you coached?  How long have you coached? Are you certified?
  3. How many runners have you coached that have qualified for Boston? Completed a 100 mile race? Run a marathon?  (This is based on your goals)
  4. How often can I communicate with you? How do I communicate with you? Will you change my training if something unexpected happens?
  5. What does it cost? Do you offer different plans to meet different budgets?
  6. What happens if I get injured? Can I put my training on hold and pick up when I am better?
  7. What is your background as a runner?

These are just the basics and you many have many more that are specific to your situation, but you get the idea.  Make your choice based on the entire picture to get the coach that will match your needs and help you achieve your goals.

If you selected a coach wisely you will form a bond and become a team.  The stronger the team the more attainable the goals.  Happy Running!

You can find Jackie at

Jackie Stevens, Owner Fit Sparrow Endurance

RRCA Certified Coach, ISSA Certified Fitness Trainer, 7 Time Boston Marathon Finisher

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