Maybe you’ve thought about hiring a coach, but it seemed too expensive or you aren’t actively training for a race. Maybe you are the type of person who doesn’t want to be told what to do. No matter the situation, having a coach — even a virtual one — can absolutely benefit you in obvious ways — getting a custom training plan and having accountability — but also in some less obvious ways, as well.
Here are three key benefits you are missing out on if you don’t have a coach (as well as how to make sure you are getting those benefits once you get one).
UNEXPECTED BENEFITS OF HAVING A COACH
COACHES SUPPORT YOU AS AN ATHLETE AND PERSON
The coach who is the best fit for you will see you as more than a runner; they look at the whole person. This involves not only taking into consideration your commitments outside of the sport (and how to help you fit running into your life), but also the motivation behind your goals.
“The best coaches are the ones who know their athletes as people, not merely athletic robots,” explains Sandra Gallagher-Mohler, coach at I Run Tons. “Every athlete has a story that fuels their instincts and goals. Especially as distance athletes, all runners are either running toward something or away from something. And having a coach who understands the ‘why’ for whichever path you’re on can help to support you in ways that help guide internal and performance growth, regardless.”
Knowing the runner as a person, adds John Keenan, MS, running and mental skills coach and co-owner at Intrepid Performance Consulting, also allows a coach to help runners build up their confidence.
“Contrary to popular belief, confidence is not something you either have or you don’t; it is a skill that can be built over time,” reveals Keenan. “Confidence comes from a number of places, two of which a coach can directly influence: past experience and persuasion.”
COACHES HOLD YOU BACK … WHEN NECESSARY
Hearing someone is holding you back often comes with a negative connotation, but in this case, it can be a good thing. Runners can be prone to pushing themselves too far or too fast — or both — and a coach can help you rein it in before you burn yourself out or suffer from a related injury.
“There is a ‘no pain, no gain’ mentality with many Type-A personalities, but that approach usually doesn’t result in best times; instead, it often results in injury or burn out,” shares Ray Pugsley, co-founder of Potomac River Running Store and coach at PR Training Programs. “I think one of the most important things I do is tell a runner to slow down or take a day off or cut a workout short. For adults, rest is as important as ‘the workout.’”
If you are a new runner, a coach can help you progress in a healthy way; if you are a veteran, a coach can help you slow down to reflect on where you’ve been and make sure you’re making the proper strides to get where you want to go. In either case, being held back may be exactly what you need to be the best runner you can be.
COACHES HELP YOU BECOME A RUNNER FOR LIFE
Even if you are looking for a coach to get you through one training cycle and one race, a coach can give you the tools to keep running long after your time training together is over. No matter how long you train with them, a coach wants to make sure you fall in love with, and stay in the sport, for the long-haul.
“As a coach, it’s my job to help runners achieve their goals, but more importantly, to be lifelong and injury-free runners,” shares Nicole Hengels Gainacopulos, owner and founder of Momentum of Milwaukee. “I help runners set realistic goals and chase down the ones that may not be as realistic.”
Coaches will guide you perform at the highest level you can and give you the tools to continue on for the rest of your life. Not only will they help teach you things such as injury prevention, recovery and proper nutrition, they will also help fuel your passion and make sure you see yourself as a runner. Whether you train with a coach for a few months or a few years, they help you see running doesn’t just improve your physical health, but it can also positively impact all areas of your life.
HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF YOUR COACH
Of course, these benefits only happen if you allow them. That is why you need to work side-by-side with your coach to get the most out of the relationship. A coach can be the best in the world but if the runner isn’t open or dedicated, they won’t get the desired results.
“The athletes I’ve supported who reap the benefits of coaching always do two things: communicate effectively and invest in the process,” confirms Keenan. “Communication between an athlete and coach is key. It’s important for athletes to share their goals and expectations as much as their struggles and barriers … Beyond communication, investing in the process means having a goal you’re motivated to achieve, being committed to doing the work week in and week out and staying curious. By and large, these two characteristics create the most fulfilling coaching experiences.”
It isn’t just Keenan who emphasizes communication as essential; Gallagher-Mohler, Pugsley and Gainacopulos all echoed his sentiments. Having a coach is less about them telling you what to do and more about you listening, trying and then talking about what is and isn’t working so you can both move forward together. Additionally, this communication should also involve asking questions — more than you think you should — so that you are taking advantage of the knowledge and experience your coach has to offer.
“Ask questions: The more questions and explanations that my runners ask me for, the better,” stresses Gianacopulos. “We can make sure we’re on the same page and they realize the purpose of any runs or workouts or what the bigger picture may be. And ask for help: Reach out if there is a running funk or loss of motivation.”
If you are worried your coach has already answered your question a million times, they probably have — Gainacopulos specifically notes those questions about poop that you are afraid to ask — but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to answer them for you, too. In fact, Gallagher-Mohler considers coaching “an honor.” Your coach likely takes their job — and your progress — very seriously, so you should, as well. Make the most of the experience by playing an active role in your own development as an athlete. It will help you both thrive.