5 Reasons You Need a Running Coach

Running coaches aren't just for elite runners

Running is recognized for its simplicity. It doesn’t require special equipment or pricey gym memberships—just lace up your sneakers and hit the road, right?

Not so fast. While running may seem uncomplicated, when you get into the thick of training for a performance-oriented goal—whether it’s a 5K, 10K, half marathon or marathon—it can become confusing and overwhelming. How many miles should I run this week? How fast should I run those miles? What kind of cross-training should I do? What about strength training? What should I eat before a race? What kind of rest and recovery do I need? When should I replace my shoes?

Many runners first consult the internet to get answers. Magazines, training books, blogs and podcasts can all offer great general information. With that said, if you’re looking for a complete running education and personal running advice, getting yourself a coach is one of the best things you can do.

I’ve been a runner most of my life. I’ve also coached a wide variety of runners and taught university students about the fundamentals of running. As a running journalist, I spend my work days reading and writing about running-related studies and other literature. Even still, I find great value in hiring a coach when there’s a big goal I’m chasing. In fact, I’ve run my best races, from marathons to an Ironman, when I had a coach guiding my training and offering advice along the way.

Milwaukee-based elite runner and coach Matt Thull, who has coached beginning 5K runners up to U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon qualifiers, insists that runners of all experiences and ability levels can benefit from having a coach. “The goal is the same for every runner,” he told me. “That is to stay healthy, be consistent, have fun, and by following an individual coaching schedule, work on your own personal strengths and weaknesses.”

Coaches can come in various forms: In-person, online, over the phone, one-on-one or in a group. One isn’t better than another; different approaches work for different athletes. A good coach serves as a trainer, cheerleader, motivator and counselor regardless of how the coaching is dispensed. Here are five reasons you should consider hiring a coach to guide your training in 2018.

1) A coach will help you identify goals.

Goal setting can be tricky business. The most common mistakes runners make are as follows:

-Not setting any goal

-Setting a goal that is too general (ie. run a 5K at some point in the next year)

-Setting an unrealistic goal (ie. run a sub-3-hour marathon off of two months of training)

James Lally, an Orlando, Florida-based coach, explains the importance of goals, saying, “If you don’t have a goal, training can begin to feel disheartening. You need to have a good idea of what your goal is to keep you motivated.”

The job of the coach is to cull the many relevant data points an individual runner should consider when setting ambitious, but still realistic, goals. “A coach can help gather information, stats, and injury history to put together the starting goals, the mid-goals, and the long-term goals,” adds Thull.

2) A coach will individualize training.

In the same way that goals should be tailored to your unique experience and needs, so should your training. A coach takes the guesswork out of this complicated process.

At the outset of training, Lally works with his athletes to gather information not just on their running experience, but the greater landscape of their lives. “How might it be best to build up distance and speed? How many hours will you be available to train each week? A good coach will write a training plan based on these things,” he says.

“An individual running plan keeps runners happy, healthy, and motivated,” says Thull. “A general plan out of a book or online typically misses the ‘little’ things within training that a coach can provide in terms of nutrition, motivation, confidence, physiology and overall planning.”

3) A coach keeps you motivated.

Even the most dedicated runners have days when they’d rather skip their workout. Coaches play an important role in helping you continue to put one foot in front of the other through the long haul of training.

“It’s inevitable that every athlete will encounter low motivation at some point,” Lally says. “Having a coach is crucial in these moments because you’re going to have times when you have a bad run and maybe you give up—the coach is going to turn around and say, ‘it’s okay, don’t worry about it, write it off and move on.’”

4) A coach will help you avoid injuries and adjust training when they do happen.

This is big. More than half of runners end up injured on an annual basis, and many of these ailments are due to training mistakes. A coach can help you skirt many of those mishaps. And when injuries do pop up, they can tweak your training in important ways to help get you back up and running.

“A coach helps build a foundation of long and strong running, all while safely introducing longer distances and harder workouts,” explains Thull. “There is way more to running than just going out and running—the nice part about an individual plan is that a coach can work with a runner on specific areas of training that they need to work on to stay healthy.”

5) A coach inspires confidence.

Whether you’re a veteran runner or a newbie, building confidence is an essential component of optimal performance. “Coaches play a huge role in helping runners build confidence and self-belief, they are really important cheerleaders for athletes,” Lally says.

Not only do you gain confidence from the fact that a professional is guiding your training, a good coach will also provide you honest feedback on how training is going. When they tell you you’re ready to race, you can rest assured you are. In those moments of self-doubt, the coach’s words provide reassurance that you are indeed up to the challenge.

Mackenzie L. Havey

Mackenzie L. Havey is the author of the forthcoming book, “Mindful Running” (October 2017, Bloomsbury Publishing, www.mindfulrunningbook.com). She writes about endurance sports and mind-body health and fitness for Runner’s World, Competitor, Triathlete, TheAtlantic.com and ESPN.com, among others. She holds a graduate degree in sports psychology, has completed 14 marathons and and Ironman triathlon, and is a USA Track & Field-certified running coach. Check out her work at www.MLHavey.com.