There’s something about running coaches you may not know: They often take their own advice. Cari Setzler, who started coaching young athletes in 1999, has a plethora of certifications and teaches coaching classes for the Road Runners Club of America (RRCA). But to reach her running goals, she still sees value in training under someone else. “When I am training for a highly competitive race, I hire a coach,” she says. “It really helps—even if you’re educated in the sport—to step outside yourself.”
But you don’t need to be close to a marathon PR of 3:02 like Setzler to benefit from a watchful eye. “My coaching philosophy is to help athletes be the best version of themselves,” she explains—that could mean training intensely for a marathon or just getting fitter.
Could you benefit from some mentoring? Here are Setzler’s top five questions to consider.
1. What are your goals?
Ask yourself: Do you want to start running? Or run faster? Do you have more serious performance goals like running a big PR? Understanding your motivations will enable you to share them with a potential coach.
2. Where do you find a coach?
Talk to other runners about coaches they know who might align with your needs. The RRCA website (rrca.org) allows you to search coaches in your area as well as sponsored clubs, which likely hold group workouts where you could meet mentors. Specialty running stores are also a great resource.
3. How do coaches differ?
Coaches can have varied philosophies, skills, experience and credentials. The different organizations that provide certifications can help you key into their interests. RRCA is focused on new adult runners and those training up to a marathon or ultramarathon. USA Track & Field and the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association offer training for both shorter distances and endurance running. Other certifications like Newton, ChiRunning or Pose Method are specifically about running form. Many coaches work with a broad range of runners and others focus on a forte, be it in fast half marathons, stroller running or couch-to-5K plans.
4. Do your expectations match up?
Setzler says it’s important for your goals to align with your coach’s and for your personalities to click. “It’s almost like dating,” she says. Discuss how you’d communicate (and how often), talk about the appropriate way to address problems and figure out if you actually like each other.
5. How much will you improve?
This is the number-one question Setzler fields, and her answer is unsurprisingly vague. “I hide behind: ‘It depends,’” she says. “The faster you are, the harder it is to shave time.” Someone newer to running will make greater improvements. Setzler says it takes 12 to 16 weeks to train for a marathon or half but prefers a six-month commitment. As the old fishing saying goes, Setzler believes the most valuable aspect of coaching is teaching a runner how to train herself.
COSTS AND OPPORTUNITIES
Setzler says the price of coaching can vary widely. The most economical will be with a group (e.g., a club membership or a fee-based training program for a specific race ). For individual attention, she says most coaches will offer different packages or pricing based on levels of interaction, perhaps costing $100 to $500 monthly. Her basic fee is $50 for a one-on-one session. How often you see or speak to your coach can vary as well, but it ’s reasonable to expect one to three times per week.
IN PERSON VERSUS ONLINE
With advances in technology, it’s become much easier for coaches to work with athletes virtually. Systems like Training Peaks can easily track workouts and share data. For more experienced runners, this option may be particularly beneficial, but Setzler suggests it’s best for new runners if their coach sees them running in the flesh.