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Who Needs a Coach

Updated on October 20, 2014

Should you Hire a Running Coach?

Should you hire a coach to help with your training program?

It’s an individual question and one you can only answer for yourself. Many runners tend to be individualistic types who want the freedom to set their own training program, experiment to their heart’s content and essentially be the “captain of their own ship” so to speak. I can certainly identify with that mindset, having been a self-coached runner for many of my 33 years in the sport.

But the thing is, it’s difficult for any runner, no matter how knowledgeable, to truly be objective about their own running program. There’s a tremendous benefit in having someone with experience look at your program and be honest with you about when you’re trying to do too much, when to add more variety to your program and even when you need a kick in the butt to step your training up a notch.

Having a coach also gives you someone who can keep you accountable in your training. It’s easy to blow off a training run when you’re out there on your own, especially if you’re tired, the weather is bad, or the kids have kept you up half the night. When you have a coach to report to, you’re more likely to suck it up and get out there and get it done. Somehow our excuses sound just a little bit more lame when we’re repeating them to someone other than ourselves!

A coach can also help you stay motivated and consistent while providing emotional support when things aren’t going well. Running is such a tough sport that it’s nice to know that you don’t have to go through it alone. Most coach/athlete relationships evolve into solid friendships over time. You share your hopes, dreams and goals with your coach, celebrate the good races and commiserate over the bad ones.

Good coaches tend to wear many hats – they’re motivators, mentors, planners, amateur psychologists, scientists, managers, and sports injury specialists. They are truly a jack of all trades and truly knowledgeable ones at that. Most importantly, they care about the athletes they coach, whether those athletes are Olympic champions or weekend warriors.

I’ve always run better when I’ve had a coach, even though many of the coaches I’ve trained with had widely varying training systems. In the end, it’s not so much the system itself as the fact that the training has a logical, well-thought-out rationale, is event-specific, and provides enough variety to be challenging and fun.

What to Look for in a Coach

Here are some things you should look for in a good coach:

  • Experience. Ideally, your coach should be a runner him or herself. It’s very difficult to coach any sport without having prior direct experience. One of my philosophies as a coach is that I don’t ever want to ask an athlete to do something that I haven’t done or wouldn’t do myself. You don’t have to be a great runner to be a good coach, but you have to have spent at least several years trying to be the best you can be.

  • Availability. Your coach should be available for regular chats, emails or other forms of communication. Communication skills and honest feedback are the hallmark of any good coach/athlete relationship.

  • Honesty. A good coach is someone who tells you what you need to hear – not necessarily what you want to hear. Sometimes we all need a kick in the butt or a wakeup call and a good coach is someone who’s not afraid to deliver just that from time to time.

  • Integrity. It goes without saying that a good coach must have integrity in his dealings with the athletes he coaches. Coaches who are untrustworthy or promise one thing and deliver something else are unable to inspire others and can do real emotional harm to an athlete.

  • Perspective. Success in running takes a long time and good coaches are committed to their athletes’ long term success. It’s not difficult to give an athlete a program that will show short term gains rather quickly, but the real test is whether those gains can be sustained over time. It’s also important that your coach have perspective in terms of how running fits with an athlete’s overall life.

  • Love of the sport. The best coaches eat, sleep and breathe running and constantly work on improving their knowledge and skills as time goes on. There's no substitute for the energy and enthusiasm that comes from someone who loves what they do.

It's up to You

Choosing a good coach can add a new perspective and vitality to your running, giving you added support, a sympathetic ear and an objective view of your training and racing program.

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