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“SHOULD I GET A RUNNING COACH?” WHERE TO START AND WHAT TO THINK ABOUT.

Whether you are a seasoned runner or a beginner, deciding if you should get a running coach is likely to be a question that comes to mind at some point. Due to the plethora of information on running and training that is easily accessible online and in magazines, some would argue that actually a running coach is not necessary or a ‘luxury’ that they don’t really need.


Then there are the numerous different options when it comes to fitness and coaches, which may or may not be running training-specific, eg. personal trainers and local running groups, that may or may not be qualified for the type of running or races that you want to do.


Running clubs are another popular option. They tend to provide running coaching with qualified volunteer coaches and other unqualified volunteers, 2-3 days a week and offer opportunities to race with them at local events.


Then there are professional running-specific coaches like us at Destination RUN Coaching, who offer a range of coaching services, which focus on all manner of running-specific elements. Like us, many of the professional running coaches out there are good value for money and have a range of qualifications and experience to support the coaching that they do.


So, there are a few questions it would be worth asking yourself before deciding to opt for a running coach…


WHY DO I NEED A COACH?


For some runners this is an easy question to answer, due to the experiences they have already had with a coach previously perhaps or that they’ve realised that for them to make further improvements and to take their running where they want to go, a running coach is the way forward. However, for others it can be more difficult to decide whether or not they should find themselves a coach for lots of different reasons.


Many runners turn to online training plans which tend to be scheduled over a 16-week period, and at face value, seem to be the right way to go. However, an online training plan that you download and just follow, is like going to a shoe shop which only has size 9 shoes - you will find that although you can just about squeeze your feet into them or find them a bit on the big side, they’ll do the job because they look good and you can just about walk in them! One size of shoe, like online training plans, are not individualised to you. Online training plans don’t reflect your lifestyle, the time available for training, you can’t ask them questions or know what changes to make if you get ill/injured or miss a few sessions. In this instance, a coach would be a more suitable and appropriate option to ensure what you are doing with your training time is maximised and you are going to make the improvements you want to see.

Then there are the so-called ‘beginner’ or ‘intermediate’ training plans. What defines a ‘beginner’ - someone who has done a bit of running and has run a 55 min 10K or someone who has done very little running and has run/walked a ParkRun in 45 mins? In each of these cases they are both beginners, so they should download and follow a ‘beginners’ training plan, right? This couldn’t be more wrong! The definition of a beginner is at best subjective and requires a totally different approach to planning and training prescription. You see the problem with online training plans!!

The coach therefore, can take the ‘guess work’ out of the training plan problem, as they will create and prescribe a training plan that is literally made for you. They also become a valuable resource and sounding board to assist you in making the correct choices when it comes to your training. In conjunction with you, they are able to open up those lines of communication to allow you to ask questions and have discussions about the right steps to take with your training, especially if guilt creeps in when you’ve missed a session. A coach should definitely be someone who you can speak to when things don’t quite go to plan, rather than fear what they are going to say and therefore you avoid speaking to them and end up making up for lost time or worse still overtraining.


So with the training plan debate put to bed, let’s consider the pros and cons of finding a coach and let you decide the outcome of whether or not you should consider getting one!


Pros

  • They are qualified in their field and understand how to manage your training needs in all situations

  • They have an abundance of training and racing knowledge and experience to share with you;

  • They provide clear, structured training programmes and advice to help you meet your race goals that isn’t just downloaded from the internet and is tailored for YOU;

  • They possess the ability to support and guide you through the tough times;

  • They can provide ‘accountability’ if you feel you need that extra incentive!

  • Some coaches can also provide you with additional services, eg. nutrition, strength and conditioning advice;


Cons

  • There are a wide range of options that coaches offer which can make it hard to decide which coach to go for;

  • It can be a minefield when it comes to discerning quality and value for money;

  • They can be quite expensive;

  • Just because a coach has achieved lots of great performances and accolades in their own running, this doesn’t always translate to them being a suitable coach - this is about what is right for you, not what has worked for them;


WHAT COACHING SET-UP AND ENVIRONMENT IS GOING TO BE RIGHT FOR ME?


This question tends to be one that only you can answer. A good place to start is to understand what your training is lacking, what you feel you need to help you make progress and the types of coaching service you are after eg. a fun and inclusive environment or a running community.


When it comes to ‘environment’, something that is worth bearing in mind is the philosophy of the coach - what they value, the coaching approach they take and whether or not what they are presenting through their website/social media is the right ‘fit’ for you.

In some instances, athletes may need to try one or two coaches or dip their toe into one of the services a coach provides to really get a sense of whether or not they can work with that coach, before they make a firm decision.


WHAT SHOULD YOU ASK A COACH?

When searching for the right coach, it is important that you are aware of how ‘qualified’ they are to do the job that you are parting with your hard-earned cash for. You may be surprised to learn that you can start coaching with no formal qualifications. This is a real issue when you are literally placing your health in their hands.

Here are some questions you can ask and hopefully the answers you will receive.


1. What qualifications do you have?

Ideally, they should have recognised qualifications from the national governing body for the country they are coaching within, eg. UK Athletics. Some coaches also have other qualifications that are more specific to the disciplines they are coaching. Coach education is becoming more and more important in all sports, not just running, and should serve to standardise certain practices. This is to ensure that there is more ‘professionalism’ in coaching and in turn ensure that the athlete is looked after and is being coached from a professional and informed standpoint.

2. What’s your ‘coaching framework’?

This is a more a day-to-day/week-to-week format that the coach will follow in relation to both their coaching pattern eg. how often they coach, attendance to events, professional development, keeping up with current research in the field of running and coaching. This demonstrates their desire and professionalism when it comes to ensuring they are providing a service which they are investing in - investing in themselves as a coach and the athletes they work with.


3. How many athlete’s do you currently coach?

This will vary from coach to coach and the question is to discern whether or not they are able to devote enough time to each and every athlete they coach. You are paying for a service and deserve to have the highest quality service. If a coach has loads of athletes, they may struggle to give you their full attention and so potentially cut corners to ensure they are able to manage you and their other athletes effectively.


4. How long have you been coaching?

This will give you some idea of their coaching experience and will hopefully provide you with the confidence that they can offer you the benefit of their experience. Is more years or less years better…? This doesn’t really matter. A great coach will always be a great coach regardless of how long they’ve been coaching. A bad coach will always be a bad coach, just for longer perhaps.

5. What’s your coaching philosophy?

Pretty much every coach should have a coaching philosophy - the way they believe coaching should be. This tends to be based on experience, knowledge of the coaching process and on their value-based thoughts on how coaching should be done. This will vary from coach to coach, but at the heart of this should be the athlete - their needs and what’s right for them. It should also take account of the athletes life outside of running and the coach/athlete relationship should be based on trust, honesty and mutual respect. You should also be able to get on really well too!


There is lots to think about isn’t there?! So let me try and wrap this up for you…


My advice would be….do the research! Look for reviews or testimonials on their websites/social media, ask questions to understand more about them, get a sense of their approach and philosophy and whether or not what they are offering is good value for money and check their qualifications and experience.


Whatever the reason for ‘hiring’ a coach, it boils down to what is right for you and your running goals.


Good luck in finding the right coach for you and most of all have fun and enjoy your running!

Andy Stopher.

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