I have been thinking about getting a coach. Someone to design workouts, someone to go to for ultra-running advice, and FKT know-how, someone to guide me “From 5km to FKT in one year”. I see lots of social-media-savvy runners referring to their ‘coaches’ for advice and race planning; I have had good (and bad) experiences with coaches in the past and have seen varied results – both on the football pitch, and on the track/field.
My first coach, was a no-nonsense, potty-mouthed, working class builder who doubled as the coach of the local football team. His son was the centre-forward, his building company sponsored the team, and his attitude towards under 12s local league football was abhorrent and slightly scary.
Then, Graham Marr, the coach of my second football team. His son was also in the team, but he understood that hard work and talent were more valuable than bloodline when it came to picking the team. We won things, some of our players went on to play professionally, and then I got into running.
At Harrow AC, I met Peter Barry, middle distance coach, maths genius, and general all-round-legend. He took me from scrawny borough champion to serious national contender, and could have taken me even further had I taken training more seriously, and given up beer!
Now, in my running resurgence, I am once again thinking about how best to achieve my goals. I got back in touch with Peter but I knew it was a long shot – he is extremely busy – anyway, he gave me the details of another guy who, apparently, has run every London Marathon, has run across America, and is a seasoned veteran of the ultra-running scene. I am yet to hear back from him but I am hopeful about an ongoing relationship and what it could mean for my training/racing life.
So, why do I need a coach?
1. Minimize Risk Of Injury
This is a biggie — especially if running is a lifelong interest. According to research, up to 80 percent of runners get injured, says Hamilton. A running coach is a small investment for running injury-free for years to come.
“When a runner respects their body, and listens to their body’s feedback they are injured less often. When you are injured less often, you can train more consistently,” says Hamilton. “When you train more consistently, you become a much better runner.” That’s something every runner wants.
2. Teach Proper Training
If you’re new to the sport, your goals will be different compared with a veteran looking to qualify for the Boston marathon. A good coach will teach you how to manage different training loads.
They help beginners and experienced runners avoid common training errors, such as running too much too soon, not including enough rest and recovery time, pacing in a race, and reminding them when to change shoes. They will teach you when to run at an easy pace, when to should schedule a long run or if you need to adjust your form or technique. You’ll learn how to “maximize the volume and intensity that your schedule, goals and motivation allow,” says Coster.
3. Provide Motivation And Support
Hamilton calls it the voice of reason. Knowing when a client shouldn’t sign up for a race — you know the type. He just ran a marathon a week ago and he wants to race the next weekend. “You need to hold back right now,” says Hamilton. “I know you feel like a million bucks right now, but you really need recovery time.”
Knowing when to rein them in and help them understand that recovery and rest are part of training. “It’s not during the workout that you are getting stronger. You are weaker at the end of the workout than when you started,” explains Hamilton. “During recovery your body is hard at work building new muscle fibers and building new mitochondria and adding blood volume and aerobic enzymes; building all the infrastructure to support what you are trying to do.”
People are going to push themselves, but a good coach will provide the best guidance for a bad plan. This includes offering encouragement to a new runner nervous about his first 5K and dreading he may be “last,” but reminding him the work is done. He’s ready and helping him choose the right gear for race day. Or during marathon taper when runners tend to get anxious and edgy, fearing they will lose fitness. Your coach will offer safe workouts to keep you sharp and fit without impairing the taper phase.
4. Rehab After An Injury
For runners that took time off to nurse a sore knee, or a bad ankle (a good first step) but don’t know what caused the injury, addressing the underlying factors that contributed are essential. Returning to running symptom-free without this key piece is a setup for re-injury.
“That’s a big thing a lot of athletes don’t get,” says Hamilton. A knowledgeable coach can help you determine the problem, suggests exercise strategies to get you on the road to recovery, or refers you to a medical specialist.
5. Improve Performance
Identifying what motivates an athlete and then helping him or her with goal setting. “It could be pretty straightforward, wanting to see how fast they can run, or maybe someone thrives on pushing limits,” says Coster.
Running coaches design training plans to systematically build your performance towards achieving your goal. This includes strength training, injury prevention routines, and form running drills “It’s the systematic part that a lot of athletes miss out on,” says Hamilton.
Maybe they read a great article on how to run your best 5K ever, but the information is more suitable for an athlete at a different point in training. “Race preparation and strategy will always be something an athlete can rely on from their coach,” adds Coster.
Not all coaches are created equal. When searching for one, look for a certified running coach (via the Road Runners Club of America or USA Track & Field), and consider your needs as an athlete as well as the coach’s area of expertise.
“Don’t be afraid to ask questions,” Hamilton says.