Should You Hire a Running Coach?

Whether you are contemplating training for your first 5K race or are a seasoned runner looking to improve your performance, working with a running coach may help you reach your true potential.

The Benefits of Training with a Running Coach

A running coach can be a tremendous asset in helping you develop and improve your running form and technique. By removing much of the guesswork that comes from not knowing how to properly train, a coach can guide you through the process.  A running coach can design a personalized training program based on your current level of fitness and your future goals, which is a huge benefit. In addition, a running coach can help you:
  • Implement new training runs, such as hills, tempo runs and intervals to help you reach your goals.
  • Prepare for a race, including how to pace, what to wear, how to fuel, where to line up, etc.
  • Stay accountable, by acting as your mentor and cheerleader, helping you through the tough times of training.
  • Teach you the physiology behind running, such as how to fuel before, during, and after your runs as well as which cross-training activities are best for runners.
  • Progress at your own pace so that you can avoid injury yet still improve.

How to Find a Running Coach

The Road Runners Club of America (RRCA) is a great source for locating a certified running coach in your area. There are more than 700 certified running coaches across the country. On the group's website, you can find a state-by-state listing of coaches who have completed the training to be classified as an RRCA Certified Running Coach.

The USA Track & Field Association is another source for locating a coach, although these coaches are generally geared more toward track and field events at the high school, college and professional level, rather than amateur road running.

Your local running specialty store probably offers clinics, workshops and classes for runners interested in training at distances ranging from a 5K to a marathon. However, the classes may or may not be led by certified coaches.

The cost of hiring a running coach varies widely according to region and each coach's level of expertise. You may find training with others is a less expensive option than one-on-one training, and online training options can be even more affordable. Although it may cost more, meeting in person and running with your coach may be the most favorable for a personalized experience.<pagebreak>

What to Look for in a Running Coach

Like a personal trainer, a running coach should be experienced and certified and also meshes well with your personality and listens to your concerns. Here are some things to consider when considering a running coach. Should this individual be insulted by any of your questions, take that as a red flag to look for someone else.
  • Credentials: Are they certified by the Road Runners Club of America or the U.S. Track and Field Association? Are they CPR and/or first aid certified, too?
  • Education: Does the coach hold a degree in physical education, exercise physiology, health and wellness or an allied health field such as nursing or physical therapy? What is the highest degree the coach holds?
  • Experience: How many years has he/she been a running coach? Does your coach have any references? What distances has he/she trained runners to compete in? Is your coach a runner?
  • Services and Cost: What do they charge for their services? Will you be training with a group or will it be one-on-one coaching? Will the coach provide a training schedule for you to follow? How many days a week will you train together? Does your coach expect you to do some runs by yourself? What happens if you become injured and cannot complete the terms of your contract? Is the money refundable if you opt out?
  • Communication: Will you communicate by email, phone or both? Are there any extra costs involved if you need to contact the coach outside of a scheduled training session? Unlike high school and college coaches, your running coach may do only a few runs with you, so it is imperative that you develop good communication.
  • Insurance: Does the coach carry liability insurance? Do you have to sign a contract or waiver? If so, make sure you read the fine print regarding terms and conditions.
  • Coaching Style: The Road Runners Club of America defines three common coaching styles that you might encounter when hiring a running coach:
    1. An authoritarian coach makes all decisions on behalf of the runner. You are expected to follow the guidelines laid out by the coach. The focus is on winning.
    2. A casual coaching style is the least structured. Your coach only gets involved when asked.
    3. Cooperative coaching allows the runner to share in the decision-making process. The coach outlines a plan and training schedule based on your goals, and both parties actively communicate throughout the training process.
The relationship you have with your running coach can make or break you as a runner, so make sure you do your homework first. Finding the right coach can be the difference between you being an average runner or you being the best, most efficient runner you can be.

This article has been reviewed and approved by SparkPeople Coaches Jen Mueller and Nicole Nichols, Certified Personal Trainers.