How To Find A Running Coach

How To Choose The Right Running Coach For You

Finding a running coach who can transform your running experience and offer tailored guidance and support is easy. Simply, search online and you will come up with thousands of search results on how to choose a running coach.

However, finding a running coach that is right for you can be a bit tricky.

The problem with the health and fitness industry (running coaches included) is that there is very little oversight into what qualifications a trainer or coach can have. There is no industry-wide standardized testing to qualify a personal trainer or run coach. Anyone can call themselves a personal trainer or running coach.

Certifications can help, but many certifications can be completed in just a few days. Is that enough to qualify someone to coach? Maybe. It depends on what you need and what other qualifications and experiences someone has.

Think of it this way. Anyone can call themselves a running coach. The same problem is true with personal trainers and nutrition coaches (Not including registered dietitians).

I’ll talk more about how to truly evaluate your coach, later in this article.

In this article I will share my opinion and perspective as an experienced running coach who has been coaching runners for over a decade so you can have the best chance of finding the best running coach for your needs.

Understanding the role (and scope) of a running coach

To find the best coach for you, it is important to clarify what a running coach is and what they can do for you. While some running coaches will write a custom training plan for you, a great coach will go beyond the training plan.

What does a running coach do and what are some of the benefits?

A running coach can be a game-changer for runners, whether they’re beginners or experienced runners who are into 5Ks, half marathons, or marathons.

Depending on a coaches qualifications, here’s what a coach can do:

  1. Write Personalized Training Plans: Coaches create training schedules tailored to your specific goals, abilities, and schedule. This means you get a plan that fits your life and targets your races.
  2. Technique Improvement: Coaches analyze your running form and suggest adjustments. Better form means more efficient running and reduced injury risk.
  3. Injury Prevention and Management: Coaches provide guidance on how to avoid injuries and, if you’re already injured, they can help you recover without losing too much fitness. Well written training plans can help prevent injuries by building in the appropriate level of rest and recovery.

    Note: Unless your coach is also a trained and licensed medical professional, they should never diagnose or treat running injuries.

  4. Motivation and Accountability: Having a coach keeps you motivated and accountable. It’s easier to stick to your plan when someone is monitoring your progress and pushing you to improve.
  5. Nutrition and Hydration Advice: Coaches offer advice on what to eat and drink before, during, and after runs, which is crucial for longer races like half marathons and marathons. They can help with generalized nutrition and fueling advice geared towards healthy populations

    Note: Unless your coach is also a trained and licensed dietitian, they should not be prescribing specific meal plans or giving nutrition advice used to treat medical conditions.

  6. Race Strategy: Coaches help you develop strategies for race day, like pacing and when to push harder, ensuring you run smart and finish strong.
  7. Mental Preparation: Coaches also focus on the mental aspect, teaching techniques to stay focused and positive, which is especially important in longer races.

Running coaches who are also certified personal trainers can also:

  1. Write and supervise strength training routines.

    Note: Running coaches can refer you to resources who are local and online, but should not be writing strength plans unless specifically trained and certified to do so.

In short, a running coach offers a mix of physical training, mental preparation, and personalized advice that can significantly enhance your running experience and performance.

What are the most common types of coaching models run coaches use?

There are many different ways you may work with your coach depending on what you prefer and budget. Many coaches offer a few different options so be sure to ask. I

  1. In-person 1:1 Coaching: This personalized approach involves direct, individualized training sessions. It’s tailored to the runner’s specific goals, abilities, and schedule, offering the highest level of customization and personal attention.
  2. Online Coaching: Here, coaches provide training plans and guidance remotely, typically through email, apps, or online meeting platforms like Zoom. This model is flexible and convenient, especially for runners with busy schedules or those living in remote areas.
  3. Group Coaching: Coaches train multiple runners at once, often in a running club or team setting. This model fosters a sense of community and support among participants, although it offers less personalization than one-on-one coaching. The vast majority of coaches using this model use a training plan targeted more towards a group or experience level, and these plans comes with less customization to your exact needs even if you fit in with a specific level or group.
  4. Hybrid Coaching: This model combines elements of both in-person and online coaching. Runners might receive online training plans but also have occasional face-to-face sessions with their coach for more personalized guidance.
  5. Clinic or Workshop-Based Coaching: Coaches offer specialized training in a short-term, intensive format, focusing on specific areas like marathon preparation, running technique, or injury prevention.
  6. Virtual Coaching Through an App Platform: If you don’t want to work directly with a coach, you can remove the human interaction and follow a guided approach through an app. Virtual coaching often includes the use of wearable fitness trackers or a phone app, and a few include AI-generated consultations and/or device feedback.

What is the difference between a running coach and a personal trainer?

The key difference between a running coach and a certified personal trainer (CPT) lies in their area of expertise and the specific services they offer. And some running coaches and personal trainers are cross-certified. For example, I hold certifications from the RRCA and USATF, but I also hold a certification from NASM as a certified personal trainer.

Here are some key differences in terms of scope of practice:

  1. Area of Expertise:
    • Running Coach: Specializes in running training. They focus on improving a runner’s performance, technique, and endurance specifically for running events such as marathons, half marathons, 5Ks, etc. Their expertise is centered around running mechanics, running-specific workouts, race strategies, and injury prevention in running.
    • Certified Personal Trainer: Offers a broader scope of fitness training. They are trained to work on overall fitness, strength, conditioning, flexibility, and weight loss. Their expertise is more general and not limited to running.
  2. Training Focus:
    • Running Coach: Tailors training plans to enhance running ability and performance. This includes developing running schedules, interval training, tempo runs, long runs, and specific exercises that benefit running.
    • Certified Personal Trainer: Develops comprehensive fitness programs that may include weight training, cardiovascular exercises, flexibility routines, and other general fitness activities. They may not necessarily focus on improving running performance.
  3. Certifications and Education:
    • Running Coach: Often holds certifications specific to running coaching, such as those from the Road Runners Club of America (RRCA) or USA Track & Field (USATF). Their education is more specialized in running.
    • Certified Personal Trainer: Holds a certification from a recognized organization like the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), or the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Their education covers a wide range of fitness and exercise science topics.
  4. Client Goals:
    • Running Coach: Ideal for individuals who are specifically looking to improve in running, whether they’re beginners aiming to complete their first race or experienced runners looking to set new personal records.
    • Certified Personal Trainer: Best suited for individuals with broader fitness goals like improving overall health, gaining muscle, losing weight, or enhancing general athletic performance.

In summary, while both running coaches and certified personal trainers aim to improve an individual’s fitness and athletic performance, running coaches are more specialized in the specific area of running, whereas personal trainers have a broader focus on overall fitness and strength training.

Do you need a running coach?

Need? Maybe not. Working with a running coach is

Do a needs analysis before you start seeking out coaches

How to assess the qualifications and experience of a good running coach

What are some red flags to watch our for when looking for a running coach?

When searching for a running coach, be mindful of certain red flags that may indicate they’re not the right fit for you.

Here are some warning signs to look out for:

  1. Lack of Relevant Certifications: If a trainer or coach doesn’t have certifications from recognized organizations (like NSCA, ACE for personal trainers, RRCA, or USATF for running coaches), it’s a red flag. These certifications ensure they have a basic level of knowledge and professionalism.

  2. One-Size-Fits-All Approach: Be cautious if the trainer or coach uses a generic training plan for all clients. Effective training should be personalized to your goals, fitness level, and any special needs.

  3. Poor Communication Skills: If they don’t listen to your needs, fail to explain exercises or plans clearly, or don’t provide constructive feedback, it could hinder your progress.

  4. Disregard for Safety: Ignoring safety, pushing you to train through pain, or not modifying exercises for your skill level can lead to injury.

  5. Lack of Professionalism: Unprofessional behavior, such as being consistently late, unprepared, or canceling sessions frequently, is a significant red flag.

  6. Overemphasis on Supplements or Quick Fixes: Be wary of trainers or coaches who heavily promote supplements, fad diets, or ‘miracle’ results. Sustainable fitness and running improvements take time and effort.

  7. Inadequate Progress Tracking: If a trainer or coach doesn’t track your progress or reassess your goals regularly, it’s hard to gauge your improvement and adjust your training effectively.

  8. Hard Selling or Pressuring: If they’re more focused on selling you additional sessions or services rather than helping you achieve your goals, reconsider their intentions.

  9. Ignoring Your Feedback: A coach or trainer should adapt to your feedback. If you express discomfort or dislike towards a certain exercise or training method and they ignore it, that’s a bad sign.

  10. Unrealistic Promises: Be cautious of trainers or coaches who guarantee quick, dramatic results. Realistic goals and gradual progress are key in fitness and running training.

  11. Disinterest in Your Health History: A good coach or trainer should inquire about your medical history, injuries, or any health concerns. Overlooking this information can lead to unsafe training practices.

The good, the bad, the ugly about running and fitness certifications

Key questions to ask every running coach

Where to find potential coaches

How much should you expect to pay a running coach

How to build a successful runner-coach relationship

Tips for maintaining a healthy and productive relationship with your coach

Adjusting goals and expectations over time