This is a topic that I think a lot of people are going to have strong opinions on. Let me say at the outset that (just like with everything I write) this is just my opinion. I’m not an expert, a health professional or a run coach. But I am an everyday runner who is always thinking about ways she can improve. One of the things I’ve been thinking about lately are running coaches. I have a number of friends who use coaches and I’m friends with a few coaches myself. It got me thinking: do I need a run coach to get to my marathon goals? And if so, what makes a good coach? Of course these are questions that I can’t answer for you, but I can share my thoughts and I worked through the questions myself.
First, do I even need a run coach? Maybe. I know, that’s the kind of non-answer that I hate. So let me break it down. Would my running benefit from having someone design a training program that was customized for me and my goals? Probably so. Would having the support of an experienced marathoner help as I prepare for my next race? Probably. Is it a necessity? Probably not at this point for me. I really do think I can get myself to my goals as an uncoached athlete. And of course the “uncoached” part is in quotations because the truth is I have tons of informal run coaches and people I feel like I can ask honest questions about running. I’m really lucky to have that running network. With a few marathons under my belt, I know what I need to do to get where I want to be. A run coach would be more of a luxury than a necessity at this point.
But let’s say, I did have the luxury of being able to hire a coach. What would I look for? Well first— experience. Coaching experience, yes, but even more important for me would be running experience. How long have they been running and at what level? What is their race history? Of course, this will depend on your running level as well. If you are just getting started running, then you may not care how many marathons your coach has run. But if I were to hire a coach, I’d want someone who has successfully completed at least a few marathons. And by successfully, I mean, someone who has at least hit the goals I’m striving for. They don’t have to had qualified for Boston 14 times, but I don’t think I could be coached by someone who hasn’t run a faster marathon that me. Which sounds kind of judgmental, but think about it. I want to learn from someone who has been there. Typically athletic coaches have some type of success in the sports they are coaching. I would want the same out of a run coach.
I would also look at what exactly the coach is offering. Can I call/email/text them when I have a question? Will they track my big race? Can they give me fueling tips? I’d want the answer to those questions to all be yes. Some coaches actually limit the amount of communication; that wouldn’t be a coach for me. Also, do we gel? Are our personalities compatible? That is important. And finally, I’d take a glance at any credentials or certifications but to be completely honest, I don’t put much stock in any coaching certification. Anyone can take a class for one weekend and sit for a test. Now, I’m not saying that the classes aren’t helpful— they ARE. But, for me, that’d be the last thing I’d look for in a coach.