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Why Do I Need a Running Coach?

It’s a fair question. In fact, if you are considering hiring a personal running coach and you haven’t asked yourself this question, we urge you to take a moment and consider it. Understanding how a coach can assist with your training and, more importantly, what you specifically hope to achieve by working with a coach, will help ensure you find the coach that’s right for you. While a running coach will not be a miracle worker and having one will not automatically equate to dropping X minutes in your best time, a personal coach can help you create a training plan that best suites your individual needs and maximizes your true potential.

Though a runner may hire a coach for any number of personal reasons, here are a few common indications that it might be time to seek professional assistance with your training:

  1. You feel you have hit a plateau or wall in your training and can’t seem to break through
  2. You have an important and specific goal and need help achieving it
  3. You find yourself getting injured frequently or always feeling rundown
  4. You are looking to try a new distance and aren’t sure how to alter your training
  5. Your training is going great but your race results are not improving
  6. You want to get back into running after a long break but aren’t sure where to start
  7. You struggle with training consistently and need help with accountability
  8. You want to learn more about training and racing and running in general

A coach can help you train more effectively

Most runners are creatures of habit. We have staples in our diet that rarely fluctuate from day to day: coffee, oatmeal, bananas, and peanut butter being some of the most common. We have very rigid race-day routines which may include eating a specific race-day breakfast, wearing the same lucky pair of socks, and beginning our warmup precisely one hour before the gun goes off. We run the same routes day after day, and return to the same races year after year. When it comes to training, many runners often exhibit a similar tendency towards repetition. We’ll do the same type of workouts week after week, with perhaps a slight variation in pace or distance, and the same general buildup year after year. We do the same training because it’s what we know. It’s what we’re comfortable with, what is ‘tried and true’ and has gotten us to what we feel is a baseline level of fitness.

But while consistency is paramount to success in running, and periodically doing certain ‘benchmark’ workouts or races can help gauge your fitness, it is also important that you experience new and varying training stimuli. There are so many different aspects of running that you can improve upon – turnover, aerobic capacity, leg speed, pacing, lactate threshold, muscle strength, form, mental strength, nutrition, the ability to change gears, race tactics. A coach can help ensure that your training adequately addresses each one of those aspects throughout a given training cycle. They can identify which aspects you need to develop the most, and alter your training accordingly.


A coach knows how and when to push you

One of the hardest aspects of training is knowing how hard to push yourself. In running, and really every aspect of life, there is a fine line between doing too little and doing too much. Whether you are trying to increase your V O2 max though track intervals or your lactate threshold through a tempo run, you’re going to want to be running at a specific intensity level for a specific amount of time. If the intensity is too low or the time interval too short, you might not get the full benefit of the exercise. If the intensity is too high or the interval too long, you run the risk of overtraining and getting injured. You can take confidence from your coach knowing that they have specifically designed your workout so you get the maximum training benefit. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, you can rest easy knowing your coach would not give you a workout they did not think you could safely complete.


A coach knows how and when to rein you in

While knowing how and when to do sufficiently challenging workouts can be a difficult task, knowing how and when to do easier workouts can sometimes be even more difficult. The tendency for many runners is to always want to push harder. The thought process often becomes, “This week’s workout shoulder be longer/faster/harder than last week’s workout, and next week’s workout should be longer/faster/harder than this week’s workout.” Even when we are feeling particularly sore or tired, we tend not to want to give ourselves a break out of fear that we are “being wimps” or that we will “get behind in our training”.

But the fact is, proper rest is an absolutely critical part of training. If all you ever do is push and breakdown your muscles, then you will not be able to recover and your muscles will not be able to rebuild and grow stronger. If you’re feeling really rundown before a scheduled workout, your coach may push it off by a few days or cancel it altogether. You can then relax knowing that the decision was objectively made with your overall health and fitness in mind. Getting proper rest becomes particularly important as you near your goal race and begin the taper portion of the training cycle. After weeks and months of high mileage and tough workouts, it can be a bit unsettling to drastically cut your workload. A coach will taper your training enough to get you rested while ensuring you don’t go stir crazy, therefore allowing you to reach the starting line in optimal physical and mental shape.


A coach can see the bigger picture

Though each coach has their own preferred training method and personal style, there is one thing they all have, one thing that all great coaches should have: the ability to see the forest for the trees. As the athlete, it is sometimes hard to see the bigger picture; you focus so hard on completing the task at hand that sometimes you lose sight of where you’re going and what it’s all about. But that’s OK. Sometimes when you’re right there in the thick of it, trying to tackle the next rep of your workout or the next mile of your long run, you need to focus and be in the moment. Thinking about everything all at once – the race 3 months away and all you have to do to prepare between now and then – is just too much. That’s where your coach comes in. It’s your coach’s job to do the long-term thinking and planning. It’s their job to assess where you are and make adjustments as needed. They tell you what you need to know when you need to know it, breaking your training cycle down into smaller, manageable pieces and guiding you as you take on each piece one by one.