Running coaches used to be reserved for the elites. Not anymore. Everyone from Olympians to recreational runners use coaches these days, but how do you know if it’s the right time for you to hire a coach? If you have a goal (any goal!) or need some external motivation, a coach might be a good investment.
Kristy Campbell, RRCA-certified coach, NASM-certified personal trainer and owner of Run the Long Road Coaching, suggests runners hire a coach in the following situations:
- If your progress has plateaued: A running coach can analyze your past training and races and offer a fresh perspective with new ideas.
- If you are overwhelmed: If you want to tackle a big goal (half marathon, full or ultra) and have no idea where to begin, a running coach can take the guesswork out of training and get you to the start physically and mentally prepared.
- If you need accountability or motivation: Having a run already on your calendar will motivate you and knowing that you need to report back to your coach provides accountability.
Keep in mind that you don’t have to be a marathoner or looking to set personal records to benefit from a running professional. Maybe you’re returning to training after a long break–in this case, a coach can help you avoid injury. Or perhaps you want to stay consistent with mileage while busy or lose some weight. A coach can help with any of these things–just be sure to communicate your objectives.
If on the other hand you’re content with running for fun and fitness a few times a week, perhaps it’s best to hold off. Sometimes it can be freeing to run whenever you feel like it, with no pressure about pace or mileage. You might also want to wait on a running coach if another sport is high on your priority list; for example, if you love competitive tennis or skiing every weekend, now might not be the time to focus on running.
If you decide to pursue a coach, here are some things you can expect:
- Determine what is realistic. A coach can review your running history, current fitness and the amount of time you can devote to training. Then they can help you figure out how long it will take to reach your goal. Sometimes a PR is years in the making.
- Push you outside your comfort zone. A good coach will push you to run a little faster and farther than you’re comfortable. They can also rein you in if you’re prone to running too fast on easy days or skimping on rest.
- Figure out fueling. A coach can provide guidance for on-the-run fueling–an essential part of longer races. They may also be able to provide tips for avoiding stomach distress and maximizing post-workout nutrition.
- Remember the extras. Finally, a coach can be the extra nudge you might need to incorporate the little things that often fall by the wayside (but can make a big difference). Whether it’s strides, strength training or foam rolling, some extra accountability can be helpful.
Ready to hire a coach? Ask about their credentials and experience. Organizations such as USA Track & Fieldand Road Runners Club of America offer certification programs and maintain databases of qualified coaches. But keep in mind that no matter their training, personality counts too. Are you looking for tough love or do you need a sympathetic ear when a workout (or race) goes awry? Speak with a few different coaches and ask about their communication style and approach to training before you shell out the big bucks.
If you’re not quite ready to commit to a running coach, there are a number of apps and online training programs that might be helpful. For beginners, the free Couch to 5K app will have you running 3.1 miles in about two months. If you’re ready to tackle a longer race, take a look at this online 8-week half marathon training plan.
READ THIS NEXT: How to Improve Running Technique Without a Coach or a Camera