Although running buddies and friends are a great place to get information, there are plenty of myths and misinformation that can get spread around. Having a coach helps reduce the chance of doing a speed workout incorrectly or taking a not-so-great piece of advice (even though we are sure your friend means well).
“Coaches can help devise intelligent race-day strategies — in regard to pacing, nutrition plans and equipment — and provide intelligent, logical training plans that prepare you properly depending on your experience level, age and race goals,” elaborates Ian Torrence, lead ultrarunning coach for Sundog Running.
“A coach can keep you accountable,” Torrence adds. “Coaches keep you on track and keep your resolve; they constantly remind you of your main, priority A goal. (We are easily side-tracked with all the other cool events available and with what are friends are doing). A coach motivates, but can also tell you to back off when you’re pressing too hard.”
If you are on the fence about signing up for a coach or still recovering from that race registration — or four — that you decided to go for, the industry offers a lot of alternatives. Virtual running coaches have quickly gained in popularity; whether through an app or through direct communication with a human. For example, Under Armour’s HOVR shoes connect directly with MapMyRun and offer run tracking and gait coaching all through the app.
WHO NEEDS VIRTUAL COACHING
If you need help getting out the door and need to see a friendly face, virtual coaching could benefit you because you still have someone to ‘answer to’ by e-mail, phone or other scheduled check-ins. That alone is often enough added motivation.
“A busy athlete will also benefit from a virtual coach,” adds Torrence. “We all don’t have a schedule that might accommodate a daily or weekly meet up with a coach in person. Virtual coaches prescribe the workout and the runner fits the run in when it’s best for their working day.”
HOW VIRTUAL COACHING WORKS
Traditionally, runners meet face-to-face with a coach or running group once or twice a week, often for a quality workout and then for a long run. With a virtual coach, however, communication can be more frequent and the best part is, it is often up to you, the runner, to choose.
“Every virtual coach is likely a little different, so finding the right coach for your needs — and knowing what you need in a coach — is ideal,” remarks Nicole Hengels Gainacopulos, owner and founder of Momentum of Milwaukee. “Each of my runners is coached slightly differently based on what they need. In my initial consultation, I ask why someone is seeking coaching and what they’re hoping to gain. If I don’t think I can provide that, I am very upfront, clear and honest about it.”
Often, virtual coaches provide an initial consultation to go over your experience, goals and any injuries or limitations you may be up against. From there, they can help you create a training plan, provide detailed information on your workouts and help you work it all into your daily schedule. Because you don’t have the limitations of only seeing them at a specified time each week, you can often get quick bits of advice or answers to questions throughout the day or week as needed.
“Virtual coaches are available 24/7. Email, text and phone are excellent ways to communicate quickly, efficiently and conveniently,” adds Torrence. “There are many levels of service; make sure you select the communication level you desire. Make sure you and your coach are on the same page in regard to what you expect. Also, be prepared to be able to verbalize your training accurately in writing, which is often the most popular way virtual coaches communicate.”
THE BENEFITS OF A VIRTUAL RUNNING COACH
As with most coaching, runners find virtual coaching is a great way to get clear on your goals and develop a concise plan to get there. However, as training can often take up a good chunk of time — it isn’t unusual for weekend long runs to last a few hours for marathoners — it can be difficult to stick to a rigid schedule that involves meeting at specific times of day in what can sometimes be less-than-convenient parts of town. That’s where one of the biggest benefits of virtual coaching comes in.
“Virtual coaching is perfect for runners with busy lives,” confirms Hengels Gainacopulos. “Virtual coaching keeps up with runners and their busy lives and constantly adapts the plan just as quickly as real life changes. It is great for the runner who has no problem getting out the door — but may not know what do exactly once they’re out — and provides purposeful structure, keeping in mind current fitness status balanced with future goals.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
While it may seem impersonal upon first consideration, you can form as deep a bond with your coach online as you would in person. This is especially true thanks to technology like social media and video conferencing. If you are looking for a supplement to your own training, whether you’re just winging it, using a training plan you found online or using technology like that offered by Under Armour and MapMyRun, doing a consultation with an online coach can help you make that final decision of whether it will be a fit for you.
“As a coach, I’ve seen hundreds of athletes find success with a virtual coach — the process is sound and works,” concludes Torrence. “In order to find out if it’s right for you, schedule a call with your prospective virtual coach and see if the fit is best for you, your needs and expectations.”