Any runner or runner-to-be who wants to get the most out of running would benefit from working with a coach. Running coaches are experts in the art of running and can help guide any runner toward their goals.
Here are five things to know about maximizing this coach-athlete relationship.
THERE’S A COACH FOR EVERY TYPE OF RUNNER
“Some runners think that they have to be training for a marathon in order to hire a coach,” says running coach Nicole Gainacopulos, owner of Momentum of Milwaukee. But while many running coaches train marathon runners, they work with runners of various goals and fitness levels, from people training for their first or fastest 5K, to people running for health or fat loss, to sub-elite runners training for competition.
Here’s an incomplete list of the types of runners who would benefit from working with a running coach, according to Gainacopulos:
- A runner training for several races who may need help prioritizing their race schedule and tactics
- A runner training for a new distance
- A runner who lives a very busy life and needs help balancing and prioritizing workouts and runs
- A runner who is prone to overuse injuries
- A runner looking for variety and different types of workouts
What’s more, don’t worry that you’re too slow or inexperienced to work with a running coach. “I don’t care if you’re the slowest runner or the fastest runner, I want you to hit your potential as a runner and athlete,” Gainacopulos says. “Improving your running, your strength, your athleticism and your overall dedication are all much bigger to me than the pace [at which] you complete your workouts.”
YOUR COACH WON’T GET MAD AT YOU
Have you ever skipped a workout in your training program and been too afraid to admit it to your coach or trainer? Caleb Masland, a USATF-certified running coach and founder of Wicked Bonkproof Run Coaching, assures you that your coach won’t (or, at least, shouldn’t) take things personally. “I’m never going to get mad at an athlete if they run too slow, or they have to shorten the workout, or they don’t do the workout,” he says.
So, don’t be afraid to tell your coach if you didn’t complete the workout as planned. Depending on the reason you changed things up, your coach may be able to help you stay on track. After all, that’s one of the benefits of working with a running coach in the first place: “I’m here to be a support and help them figure out how to adjust their training schedule if needed,” Masland says.
YOU HAVE TO COMMUNICATE WITH YOUR COACH
When you work with a running coach, it’s important to keep them in the loop about how training is going — especially if you’re working with an online coach. “It’s common for runners to be dealing with a painful or tight spot, but since I’m not there, I don’t know what people are feeling on a regular basis,” Masland says.
Training plans aren’t set in stone. If you experience pain, stiffness or nutrition-related issues, your coach can modify your program and/or refer you to other experts who can help you resolve your issue (more on expert referrals later) — but only if you tell them what’s happening.
And don’t worry that telling your coach about any problems somehow makes you a nuisance, or that the stiffness or pain isn’t bad enough to justify sharing it with your coach. “People either think it’s not a big deal, or they feel like it would be a hassle for me to have to worry about it and readjust things, but that’s why I’m here,” Masland says.
What’s more, it’s important to tell your coach about any problems sooner rather than later. “I really need to know if anything starts to bother [a runner], and I want to know before it becomes an issue,” Masland says. “That proactive communication is huge for working with someone online.”
DON’T HIRE A COACH BASED ON THEIR RUNNING PERFORMANCE ALONE
Just because a coach is an elite runner or a sub-3-hour marathoner doesn’t mean they’re the best fit for you. It’s important you find a coach whose personality and training philosophy you connect with. “Finding a good coach-athlete relationship is more about how you interact and how they treat you,” Masland says.
Depending on your personal goals, experience and personality, you may prefer a running coach who’s more hands-off, a coach who doubles as a sports dietitian (more on this next), a coach who relies more on standard training formulas or a coach with a similar background to you. Or, you may decide your coach’s own running performance is. in fact, the most important factor.
Figure out what qualities you need for a successful coach-athlete relationship (note that this may take some trial-and-error) and look for a coach who fits the bill.
RUNNING COACHES DON’T HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS
In addition to creating effective training programs for different types of runners, running coaches also excel at leading runners through the mental, physical and practical challenges of following that running program. “An online running coach is, and should be, more than an encyclopedia of workout tricks,” Masland says.
However, there are certain challenges many running coaches don’t have the training and expertise to tackle, such as pain and injuries that require physical therapy or personalized nutrition guidance.
In fact, be wary of any running coach who claims to be able to help you with these kinds of problems — unless, of course, that running coach is also a physical therapist or registered dietitian. Just be sure to check the coach’s qualifications before you accept them as an expert in these areas, Masland says.
That said, even if your running coach can’t provide physical therapy or nutrition services, they may be able to refer you to the appropriate expert.