Deciding you need a running coach might not be what comes to your mind when you think back to when you got started running. But for many people, a coach would be extremely beneficial to both their running and their health.
Do you need one?
Not everyone needs a coach. While I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who is even remotely serious about running, it’s not absolutely necessary. However, getting a good coach can really make a difference. If you are running competitively or are having nagging injury problems, hiring the right coach can make all the difference in the world.
What will a coach do for you?
A good coach will:
- Set up a training schedule for you
- Accompany you on your training sessions
- Help you improve your form
- Advise you on your nutritional needs
- Use a variety of methods to improve both your physical and mental strength
- Use different motivational tactics to keep you engaged and dedicated
- Force you to stay committed (you’re paying for it)
Where can you find them?
There are many ways to find a coach, and the internet will be your friend as you look for one.
Try looking up local middle school, high school, and college cross country (or track) coaches. You may or not be able to afford individual instruction from them (and they may not have the free time), but at the very least they should be able to point you towards people who will be available.
Check out local running clubs and associations. Most coaches have some sort of certification or affiliation. These organizations should have resources available for you.
Go where the coaches go – to races. You don’t even have to run it. You’ll find coaches all over the place. And don’t discount the fact that coaches run in these races. Also, most races have some sort of race packet/pre-registration that requires you to physically go somewhere and get your bib, “free” swag, etc. These usually amount to you weaving through a maze of merchandise for sale. Look for coaches at these as well.
How do you pick one?
Ah, the all-important question. How exactly do you choose the perfect running coach for you? Ultimately, you need to decide what’s important to you. Here are some criteria to start with.
- Experience. The is the most important and most obvious criteria for almost everyone for a reason. Experience matters. You’ll want to ask questions about the coaches past as a runner and as a coach. Accomplishments are a bonus.
- Cost. Can you afford a good coach? Or, can you afford to not have a good coach? Expect to pay more than you would for a personal trainer. You are paying for very specific and rare firsthand knowledge and experience.
- Coaching/Training Plan. Does your potential coach have a plan ready for you? If he or she tries to sell you with a one-size-fits all training approach, I’d beware. You need to look for someone who can mold an approach around your goals, not theirs.
- Contract/NDA. Will your coach sign a non-disclosure agreement. This may or may not be important to you, but you don’t want to hire someone who is going to air your “dirty laundry” (that was terrible, but you get the point).
- Beliefs. There was a point, not too long ago, where there were only a couple of philosophies. In the past few years, that has all changed. I’d recommend a coach who emphasizes good form (specifically forefoot striking), good nutrition, and a plan tailored specifically to your goals.
- Personality. Can you get a long with this person? You’re going to be paying them a lot of money and spending a lot of time with them. Even if you’re getting results, you’ll be miserable if you can’t stand your coach (be prepared for some occasional tough love and some motivational techniques from anyone).
- Accreditation. While I favor experience, you may want to find a coach who is certified. There are many ways to “certify” yourself as a coach. If this is important to you, make sure you investigate the certification before you hire anyone. There are many quick and cheap ways to get certified and they may not be up to your standards. The last thing you want is someone who is out to fool you.