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One of the best parts of running is how simple it is: Lace up your shoes and you’re ready to roll. But there’s also races to train for, goals to set, and motivation to contend with. All of these factors can add up to making running feel overwhelming at times.
Luckily, there is a treasure trove of running coaches ready and excited to work with new clients—if you know where to look and how to assess them. Briana Boehmer, 42, is a Boulder, Colorado–based elite runner and coach with more than 20 years of coaching experience. She has trained those new to the sport and veterans alike.
“It’s so hard to know if a coach is right for you before you actually begin working with them,” says Boehmer. “But there are some questions, thought processes, and actions you can work through before signing on with a coach to get you as close as possible to a compatible coach-athlete relationship.”
Things to Consider before Hiring a Running Coach
Hiring a coach is an investment in you, your time, and your goals. It’s critical to consider a few factors before diving in with someone.
Know Your Budget
First and foremost, have a budget in mind. The going rate for a run coach is anywhere from a hundred to a few hundred bucks per month, depending on the level of coaching you’re looking for.
Some coaches may offer one fee for programming and phone calls or in-person sessions, while others may have a tiered approach, where one fee provides a training plan and a predetermined number of calls or meetups per month. Neither is better than the other objectively, but one may suit your lifestyle better than the other.
What Type of Coach do You Want?
Take time to mull over the type of coach you’re after. “I like to take sport and my athletic goals out of the picture for a second,” says Boehmer. “Instead, I encourage athletes to simply think about ‘What do I need to operate well in any relationship?’”
Maybe you’re someone who needs a lot of communication and face-time, or perhaps you prefer a more hands-off approach. Thinking through your personal, work, and athletic connections with others can inform what you might need from a coaching relationship.
There are a few different types of coaches (and this list is by no means exhaustive): the cheerleader, the dictator, the data-obsessed, and those who despise data and gadgets. Each one of those is self-explanatory, but brings with it a host of vastly different approaches to running.
What are Your Goals?
It’s also important to think carefully about your goals in running. If you’re aiming for a new personal best or looking to move from half marathons to marathons while staying injury-free, a coach might be just the ticket. However, if you want to instead finish your first 5K race or become fit enough to run some miles with friends, an online training plan may work just as well as a coach, and save you some money in the process.
But! If you struggle with staying motivated and focused with your run training, a pre-written plan won’t help nearly as much as a real, human coach seeing you through every step of the way.
Do You Want Someone Local?
Lastly, consider if your coach being local is something that matters to you. Thanks to Zoom, text, and phone calls, it’s easy to make coaching work across the miles these days. Having a local coach, though, can be helpful for an extra boost of motivation, a pre-race coffee, or coordinating an in-person track session to work on form in real-time.
There is no one size fits all when it comes to determining what you need and want from a running coach. Being honest with yourself (and potential coaches) will yield the best, most productive relationship.
Finding a Running Coach
Amazing coaches do not appear out of thin air (although how amazing would that be?!), but with a little effort from you, it can be relatively easy to link up with a trainer who fits your running needs and wants.
One of the best places to start your search is with local run clubs. A simple Google search of your town name and “run club” may yield just the results you’re looking for.
You can ask members of the run group if they have a coach or have any they recommend. Some town run clubs will even have coaches, and most are game to take on individual athletes or at least chat about who good coaches in the area might be.
Other outlets for finding a coach might be running-related podcasts or social media accounts.
Some podcasts, such as Run Farther and Faster, and Instagram accounts like It’s A MaryThon are a wealth of information when it comes to interviewing and sharing about great coaches and resources for getting in touch with them.
Boehmer also notes that TrainingPeaks, the popular online workout logging software, has a “find a coach” capability on their website.
Assessing if a Coach is Right for You
There are loads of different coaching styles out there, and not all of them will work for you—and that’s OK!
Before agreeing to work together, it’s key to set time with the prospective coach to discuss some critical topics that will help you determine if this person is the right one to guide your running career. Boehmer suggests that right off the bat, ask the coach how many athletes they coach.
“If the answer is something like, 50, 75, or even 100, I probably wouldn’t work with that person,” she says. “At that point, how much individual attention is the coach really giving you? You’d be just as well off using a training plan.”
Boehmer recommends finding a coach who caps their athlete roster at 10 or 20 athletes. This means the coach will have the emotional energy and time to devote to your unique running journey.
Another tell-tale sign of a good coach is how they approach injuries and life interruptions such as work stress or family emergencies.
“There’s a difference between tough love and then recognizing when it’s time to take care of an athlete,” says Boehmer. “I would certainly ask a coach about their philosophy when it comes to needing to put training on the backburner for a bit.”
Any coach who is confident in their abilities will be happy to have you speak with their current athletes, so be sure to ask to do so. Think of it as job references, but for running. Requesting to chat with one or two coached athletes is common and an authentic way to get a sense of how the coach operates day in and day out.
The First Month with Your New Coach
Now comes the good part; you start working with your new coach! Just like with a new friendship or relationship, it takes time to learn each other’s likes, dislikes, and quirks.
“The coach is trying to learn you and figure out how you operate during those first couple months,” says Boehmer. “You are adjusting to the new workouts and training style the same way the coach is flexing and trying to adjust to you and your needs as an athlete.
Give as much feedback as possible during the first couple months with a new trainer. The more information your coach can gather about what works you like, dislike, excel at, struggle with, etc., will only help you two to work efficiently toward your running goals.
And: Don’t expect a miracle. No coach, no matter how elite they are, will drastically improve your running in a few weeks. Major breakthroughs happen over months and years of consistent hard work and open communication between the coach and athlete. Patience is the secret ingredient in successful coach-athlete partnerships—be sure to practice it regularly.