Finding a coach that is right for you and your training.
In April of this year, I decided to take the plunge and hire a running coach. It wasn’t difficult to decide whether I needed a coach, but finding the right fit was a process really important to me. I was a two-sport collegiate athlete, and growing up on lots of sports teams, being coached has always seemed right for me. I really admire athletes who are self-coached, but that takes a LOT of self-awareness and what I like to call, “taking the emotion out of it.” I don’t know about you all, but it is really easy for me to get emotionally wrapped up in my training, and make stupid decisions. When we are so invested in our training, I think it’s difficult oftentimes to separate the emotional side between wanting soo badly to get better, and knowing what is actually best for our bodies. Coaches can look at our training from an unbiased position, and tell us when we are being irrational and JPD (just plain dumb).
I “interviewed” (if you want to call it that) a few different coaches in March of this year. I had a set of qualities I was looking for in someone to whom I would entrust my goals and daily training. This is what I came up with before I talked to them:
- Where are they located? I was not opposed to a long-distance coach, but being in close-proximity was a huge plus. I like knowing a coach can supervise a workout every now and then or come to a local race.
- What is their coaching philosophy? Yes, this is a broad question. First I had to figure out MY running philosophy. Before deciding on my coach, I really wasn’t sure whether I did better with high-mileage or not, how many miles I should be running each week, etc. I knew a couple things going in to our conversations: I prefer speed workouts over tempos, but I want to eventually transition to the marathon at some point. In the past I have been injury prone, so I needed a coach who would respect and encourage me to listen to my body rather than push through pain. I knew I wanted to wait a few years before running my first marathon (as in 2-3 years). I don’t want to feel pressured by a coach to jump into a distance I don’t mentally feel ready to conquer yet. Finally, I wanted a coach who believes in me. I know not everyone is going to be as awesome of a fan as my husband (He is the BEST), but I wanted a coach who wouldn’t hesitate when I told him/her my craziest running dreams. Words of affirmation are a huge deal for me—I need to know I am doing a great job from those I trust. It’s not that I am lacking confidence, but if I know my support group is behind me, I feel I can conquer anything. Everyone is different. These are all small things that add up in the end. What are your non-negotiables when thinking about who you’d like to have as a coach?
- How much do they cost? This was probably more of a deal-breaker than the other two. We all wish money wasn’t an option, but that’s not reality. Being newlyweds, Jon and I really had to consi der what we could afford per month in coaching fees. We needed someone who wasn’t going to break our bank.
- Who do they currently coach? Basically, what is their “track record” like? I talked with one coach who really was so nice and SUPER informative, and someone I felt I could trust, but when I looked into it and researched a little more, the majority of his current athletes were sidelined with overuse injuries! That was a huge red flag for me. Additionally, are their athletes improving or have they had the same half-marathon PR for 3 years?
- Lastly, what is the communication like between athlete and coach? One coach I considered took 4 weeks to return my email. Look, I know emails are soooo 1999, but c’mon, 4 weeks!? That tells me they may be difficult to get in touch with when communicating back and forth about training or simple questions I may need answered the same day/within a few days (ie. “I’m going to get new running shoes this weekend; what do you recommend for a daily trainer?”). Additionally, another coach informed me we were only able to communicate directly one time per month, and it had to be through an online database. I totally understand some people just don’t need much guidance and this may work for you, but for me, I ask a LOT of questions. To say I can only ask one questions per month and I would need to pay $100/month for “direct” communication with a coach is a weeee bit ambitious for me.
Well, there you have it! Those are my personal questions I came up with before talking to each coach. All the coaches besides one were people I had never met, and I only heard about them through references or other runners. I obtained their email addresses, shot them an email, and set up a phone convo. Each of the phone conversations ended up taking about 45 minutes, and after that, I felt I had a pretty good gauge on the coach I would probably choose. It really wasn’t difficult after writing down my questions and what I felt I needed in a coach!
I am happy to report I really believe I made the right decision on the coach I chose. Not only have I become so much stronger and a more well-rounded runner (I’ve PRd in almost every distance!), but my confidence has soared, too. I ended up choosing a coach out of Memphis, TN who came via recommendation from a local running store. Really, I just called up a local Memphis running store before we moved there, and told them I was looking to hire a coach. The guy on the phone hooked me up with an email address, and the rest is history!
I don’t believe any coach is the end-all-be-all of running. A lot of days I still have to listen to my body and make decisions on the fly that will be the best for me. I have a “big picture” of running (meaning, I don’t believe one workout or even one week of training is going to make or break me as a runner). I am not completely dependent on my coach, but I really respect his training plans and guidance for me. That’s huge. Do your research and figure out what you, personally, need out of a coach. If you do that, you’ll probably make the right decision. Wishing you happy running vibes and fast races!