What to Look for in a Run Coach + Why to Get One

I thought this was an appropriate post to write as I begin coaching more athletes with various running experience and goals. I want to share what is important to look for in any coach that you choose and why it might be time to consider one in your running career.

First, I'll point you in the direction of this post I shared a little over a year ago when I experienced what it was like to be coached for the first time. There's tons of benefits to having a coach in your life and I think that post really highlights what those benefits are. That particular coaching relationship didn't work out for various reasons, but I saw the importance and value that it had in my running life and it helped me realize the coach I wanted to be for my athletes. I took 2 more training cycles to find a coach that I wanted to take another chance on. My new coach, Tia, is the wife of my RRCA coaching certification teacher. I spoke to my teacher, Randy, during the class about some of the things that went wrong in my first coaching experience and he recommended I reach out to Tia if I was interested in getting coached again.

Rootz Nutrition

I'll admit part of me thought, "Well, now that I know how to coach someone and create a productive training plan toward a specific goal, why would I need a coach?" I continued painfully training for Chicago at this time. I realized during that training cycle that the best athletes in the world have coaches. In any discipline, you have a mentor or coach who helps you succeed and cheers you on. Coaches have been athletes and just because I know how to coach someone else, the same benefits an athlete will get from me coaching them, are benefits that I can get from a coach too. 

Finding a coach that fits your lifestyle, running goals, training needs, etc. can be challenging. It might take you a while to find someone that fits with you, and here are a few important things to look for:

Communication

This is key. You will find some coaches want to provide a training plan and limit communication. Others want to talk to you all the time as if all you do is run and train. Finding a balance that works for you is essential to a successful relationship. I enjoy working with Tia because the communication is easy. By discussing my communication needs up front, I feel like I can reach out to her via text or email whenever I need to, but its not necessary for us to talk constantly if I don't want to. She reaches out at least once a week to check in and it never feels like she is suffocating me or not giving me enough of her time. Communication is extremely important to an athlete. Everyone is different and your coach should be able to adapt to what you need.

Knowledge and Experience

You want your coach to have both. One of the reasons why I chose my coach was that she not only had over 20 years of experience in running both competitively and as a coach, but she kicked butt at her races. Tia also runs her own racing company, Run Tucson LLC, with her husband Randy. They organize local races and lead a run club. Her involvement and experience with the running community was attractive to me. 

Experience can vary among coaches - ask you potential coach questions, learn their coaching and training philosophies, and why they think they are the best for the job as your coach. Again, communication up front is key.

Flexibility

Not everything goes according to plan. Last weekend, I had a trip planned to Yosemite and was supposed to run 20 miles while I was there. The weather changed and it was projected to snow for a majority of the weekend. Tia changed my plan to accommodate the safety issues with the snow and worked around what I had going on. You want to work with someone who understands that the importance of flexibility with your training plan.

Why You Want a Coach

My previous post on coaching discusses a lot of benefits of having a coach, but if you're on the fence about hiring one, here's a few things that a coach can help you with:

Specifically Catered Plan

A coach caters workouts to you. No two athletes are the same and the same training plan doesn't apply or work for different people. I hate track workouts - my coach figured out a different way to get the same results from a track without me ever stepping foot on one. That's what a coach can do. They take the work out of thinking about the plan, so you can just focus on running.

You've Hit a Plateau

You just aren't getting any better on your own. This was a crucial turning point for me after running 2 marathons with the same finish time. A coach offers an outside eye to what you're doing and can create something new and fresh to get you to the next level.

Support System

A coach is there to calm your nerves and talk you down off the ledge all runners get on when they're training. They're also there to tell you to stop being a wuss and suck it up :)

Get Outside Your Comfort Zone

It's hard to push yourself and a lot easier to do the paces or workouts you already know how to do. A coach pushes you outside of these comfort zones to the next level, give you new ideas for training, and solutions to obtain better results.

Accountability

This is something I discussed in my prior post about coaching, and another awesome reason to get one. Knowing someone is watching you and putting time and effort into creating a plan for you makes you want to show up (so does paying for it!). You become less inclined to walk away from a tough workout and are more willing to push yourself outside your comfort zone when you have someone to check in with on your progress.

A little more background on my coach Tia: Besides heading up Run Tucson LLC, she does one-on-one coaching, coaches a running group called The Workout Group, and coaches track and cross country at her kids' school. She's a 2:48 marathoner and mom to 2 young children. She's works hard to find a good balance between coaching others, being a great mom, and chasing her own goals (which are currently to beat her old marathon PR now that she's entered the master division - I'll definitely be cheering for you, Tia!).  Tia's also experienced some setbacks among her accomplishments. In April 2014, she was training for an Olympic qualifying time at the Eugene Marathon. After her last 20 mile tune up run, she suffered a stroke. She spent 5 days in the hospital and lived in complete fear for the next year that it might happen again. You can read more about it here. Tia's positivity and willingness to push through such a setback and find new goals to chase is inspiring and another great quality to look for in a coach. 

I hope this was helpful and informative. If you're interested in my coaching services you can check out the programs I offer here or email me at sugarruns@gmail.com.

J