Should You Hire a Running Coach?


Should I hire a running coach? If you've ever as much as considered entering a long-distance race or setting an ambitious time goal, chances are you've asked yourself this question. And perhaps other questions, too. What will a running coach do for me? How much would it cost? Would it all be worth it?

Well, let me give you the short answer to all of these. Like anything else in life that involves entering a new relationship, it's complicated. Or, as we coaches like to say, it depends. "Hey coach, do you think I can run a 3:30 marathon in three months?" -- "Well, it depends..." 

I know, I know. It's not all that funny. Let's talk real business now. 

Hiring a running coach is obviously a personal decision. Much of it has to do with cost and coaching style. Some coaches will work with you one-on-one, sending you a training schedule weekly and communicating with you at least a few times a week, making updates to your schedule as needed. Others will send you a monthly schedule and check in with you up to once a week.

Whatever the format, the benefits of working with a coach can go so far beyond improving your race times and avoiding injury. That is, of course, assuming both sides have realistic expectations about what they bring to the relationship -- and what they get out of it. 

Here is what coach brings to the table:

1. Knowledge and experience

Let’s say you’ve been running for a year, have roughly 500 miles of “experience,” including a few 5K and 10K events. You’re ready to tackle your first half marathon. Should you hire a coach?

Maybe. For your first long-distance race, assuming you will not have a specific time goal, you might use a cookie-cutter plan you found online and do just fine. But things happen. Travel, family events or a busy schedule at work might prevent you from doing a key long run. You might have to skip a week or two because of illness. What to do then? A less experienced runner might, for example, decide to “make up” for a missed long run by doing it a few days later, not giving themselves enough time to recover for their next long run.

A coach will, at the very least, adjust your training plan properly to accommodate missed training in a way that will not put too much stress on your body (which could eventually lead to injury). Not to mention, you have someone to ask questions: and we know that when you are faced with the gargantuan task of running 13.1 or 26.2 miles for the very first time, you have many of those.

2. Objectivity

Let’s say you’re an experienced runner. You’ve run several marathons and have improved your finishing time with each one. But now you’ve hit a plateau. You know what you’re doing — or you think you know what you’re doing, but for some reason your times are not improving. A coach will be able to objectively review your training for the last weeks or months and see things you might be unable to see or admit. Maybe you’re running your easy runs too hard, maybe you’re not running hard enough. Maybe you’re racing too much. These are things that we, as runners, often refuse to admit because they’ll force us to change our habits. A coach will have no trouble pointing out where and how you need to change if you want to improve.

3. Accountability

There’s nothing like knowing that your coach will be reviewing your training week to motivate you to go out and nail those intervals or hill repeats, right? And yes, friends can be great motivators and running with them is free. But have you ever found yourself talked out of a hard hilly run in favor of an easier one because your running partner isn’t feeling like hills today? Or worse, have you completely trashed your legs with a long, hilly, too-fast-for-you trail run because that's where your cool friends ran last weekend -- even though your body was not yet ready for such epic shenanigans? Working with a coach will keep you motivated, accountable -- and ensure that you stay on track.

4. Planning

It’s priceless, really, to not have to think about your training. Every day, you know what you need to do — and you know that if for some reason you cannot do it, your training schedule will be updated to accommodate your life. You don’t get that from cookie cutter training plans, and you certainly don’t get it when you make your own training schedule.

What You Bring to the Table

Now, let’s say you’ve decided to hire a coach. Month after month, you pay a person to tell you how to train. Both of you have a vested interest in you succeeding. So how do you make the most of your relationship?

1. Be honest and transparent

Tell your coach everything that is relevant to your training. Past injuries. Current injuries. Tiny pains that you think may be turning into an injury. Dietary limitations. Schedule conflicts. Goals. Hopes and dreams. If it has anything to do with your training – anything – do not hide it.

2. Be accurate and update your training log on time

Just as it is important to you to have your weekly training plan on time, it is important to your coach to know how your training is going! When you work with a coach, you will share a training document or app, where you will log all your sessions. Do it as often as possible! Don’t wait for days or weeks to report how each run has gone, and be as detailed as your coach has asked you to be: pace, time, effort level, tell all.

3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions

There is no such thing as a stupid question. Really. Depending on how often you communicate with your coach, write down and send him or her any questions that come to mind about your training. If it is within their scope of expertise to answer, they will. If it isn’t, they will refer you to the appropriate specialist, be it a registered dietitian, chiropractor or physical therapist.

4. Do what your coach tells you to do

Trust your coach. You hired them because you believed that they can help you get better. But they cannot do that if you’re not following their plan. If you find yourself questioning your coach’s decisions and don’t really trust them – it’s time to break up and seek help elsewhere.

Coach Aleks