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Is Hiring a Coach Only For Elites?

 By: Terri Rejimbal, RRCA Coach

It has been said that a coach brings out the best in an athlete, both physically and mentally. There’s an “art” to the craft of coaching and a great coach will serve many roles: mentor, motivator, leader, psychologist and friend. They should guide, inspire and empower the athlete to achieve their full potential, maybe even more than they thought they could. 

While hiring a coach isn’t mandatory and may seem impractical for most, except for advanced or elite runners, that shouldn’t preclude you from seeking/acquiring coaching advice. Ask yourself - Do I need help defining or meeting my goals, being consistent in training, or have specific improvements I would like to make? If the answer is yes to any of these questions, then bringing in a coach may be the solution. And no, you don’t need to be an Olympian to hire a coach and realize the benefits!

There is a variety of coaching options available for beginner, intermediate and advanced runners from “one-on-one” coaching in person or online, running club or group coaching, to generic online plans for a fee or free of charge. Even seeking out an experienced runner for valuable advice is considered coaching.

What makes a great coach? 

A coach’s mission is to assist and encourage athletes to their fullest potential. They should be passionate about athletics, and be knowledgeable in the skills, teaching, tactics, strategy, planning and training for your sport. They should have some knowledge in physiology, nutrition, and psychology or, at a minimum, have a bank of professional resources to refer you to when in need of a specialist. Great coaches have high personal standards, are ethical, and don’t have a “murky” background or history of athletes that have been “banned”. Most of all, a coach should be inspirational – believes that you can perform better than you currently are or think you can. A good coach is one that sees success through their client’s success. 

The coach/athlete relationship is an ongoing conversation that encourages an exchange of ideas and information, and not a relationship built on blind faith. Both should work together to construct a training program as individual as you are. After all, when it comes to your body or the amount of time you are willing to commit to achieve your goals, you know better than anyone else.

Keeping communication open with your coach helps ensure the program accommodates any nuances or changes. A coach should reflect and reapply training elements if a runner doesn’t achieve their desired goal. And also encourage them to try again!

How can a coach help you? 

Similar to a conductor conducting an orchestra, a running coach should construct a specific training plan that optimizes your performance while minimizing your injury risk. Training plans should include daily mileage, the number of days to run each week, pace for those runs, key workouts, tune-up races and recovery days, all leading up to the crescendo on race day. 

A coach should listen to you. They want to hear about you, your lifestyle, your training and injury history, and any work or family commitments that need to be taken into consideration when devising a training program. Because each athlete is “different”, a coach will analyze your information and draw from his or her knowledge to create a custom plan just for you. Personally, I don’t like the “all-for-one cookie-cutter” plans that are available. However, there are runners who see results with those types of plans.

What questions should you ask when seeking out a coach?

Question potential coaches on their experience, education and most importantly, their coaching philosophy. From their coaching philosophy, you can decide almost immediately if their viewpoint meshes with yours and whether to further pursue them as a coaching candidate. Bear in mind that personal experience alone is not a replacement for knowledge about biomechanics, physiology, or the predictor of a good coach. Check their certification through USATF or RRCA. Ask about their background and how long they have been involved with the sport of running. Have they traveled and attended running camps, thereby, gaining insight from other coaches and athletes?

A good coach is successful when they help their athletes achieve their goals. If you’re considering someone locally, look at the results they’ve had coaching others. Talk with those individuals and hear about their experience firsthand.

What’s the price of experience & interaction?

How often a coach reviews your training log may determine their monthly fee. Computer-based training programs are usually at the low end of the cost spectrum. In fact, Polar and Garmin have training plans you can load onto your watch.

If you’re looking for more interaction regarding your training, a coach’s fee may depend on how much personalization and contact you’d like to have with your coach. Sometimes, a coach may have a tiered plan where you receive a training schedule and monthly email. For plans in the middle to upper-end scale of services, you could get a training plan, options to adjust the plan, and a certain or unlimited number of emails or calls each month with your coach.

Can you be successful without a coach? Absolutely! Look at Joan Samuelson! Magazines, online plans and books provide a great base or starting point, but can come up short when tailoring a plan to your individual needs. Plus, they don’t offer moral support or encouragement. Some self-coached runners are comfortable with that approach because they have enough knowledge and experience to devise a program that works well for them. Keep in mind, however, that self-coached runners can become stagnant or bored in training, thereby getting into a “rut” by doing the same workouts over and over with no visible improvement. Having another set of eyes can give a different and unbiased perspective on your training progress.

Remember … not all coaches will be right for you, nor will you be right for them. Hopefully, by reading this article, it has given you additional insight into what to look for in a coach.

Enjoy and happy running! 

About the Author

Terri Rejimbal is a competitive Masters athlete, a 3-time winner and 8-time Masters champion of the Gasparilla Distance Classic half-marathon; 6-time Disney Masters marathon winner, 6-time Florida USATF Athlete of the Year, and a New Balance product tester. Terri is a RRCA certified running coach and is available for consulting or coaching services. Contact Terri at, on Facebook/terri.rejimbal, Twitter @trejimbal, or Instagram @bayshorerunner.

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