6 Tips for Hiring a Running or Fitness Coach

Hiring a Running Coach
Photo by @criene for Twenty20

Whether you’re considering a coach for running, general fitness, triathlon, or weight loss, you can’t just close your eyes and pick any name from Yelp. Know why you need and want a coach, seek a flush fit, and treat the relationship like you would a good friend for maximum success. For the purposes of this article, let’s focus on hiring a running coach, as I recently did just that.

Hire a Coach Even If You Think You Know Everything

I knew I needed a coach when I couldn’t fathom planning my training for a 100k race that was eight weeks out. I’d taken the holidays completely off from structured training, skied way more than ran, and suffered a sacrum injury scare.

I couldn’t force myself to write a workout plan in my calendar, as I honestly didn’t know what plan would best prepare me for the upcoming 100k. The fact that I am a professional trail runner and have had decent success coaching myself for the past two years doesn’t mean that scenario was destined to continue. I needed help.

In came elite coach and elite trail runner David Roche. I’d asked Roche for some advice in the last six months since meeting him at a race that his wife had won (the USA 30k Trail Championships), in which I’d placed second. He was impressed with my speed considering I was training for my first 100-miler. His advice was well received, but I still glowed in my free-spirited attitude towards life and training after winning the Leadville 100, proud that I had coached myself to that win.

But then the glow faded. I didn’t know what workouts to do for my next races. Overtraining was a constant fear, as I was increasingly fatigued. I asked David for more advice. “Get blood work,” he said. I found out I have Hashimoto’s disease, a thyroid disorder that means I don’t make any hormones myself, thus I need to take medicine daily for the rest of my life. Obviously, discovering this was crucial to my running career and health.

Hire a Coach on Your Terms

After the downtime of the holidays, my 100k in February loomed. David couldn’t have been smoother about agreeing to coach me. Even though we were friendly, he didn’t know the second thing about my time running at Princeton, about my health issues, or whether I struggled with X,Y, or Z, so I filled out an extensive questionnaire. He ruminated and made a training plan leading up to the 100k race. “If we don’t jive, then no hurt feelings. I just want you to be the best runner you can be.”

This is very important: Avoid coaches that require a long-term commitment. You might discover in the first three weeks that you can’t stand each other. A good coach will always let you break your coaching relationship if it isn’t working.

Hire a Coach to Help Prevent Injury

Janet Hamilton, registered clinical exercise physiologist and running coach in Georgia, says her responsibility as a coach is simple: “to orchestrate your training plan in such a way that optimizes your performance and simultaneously minimizes your injury risk.”

If you persistently suffer injuries, whether mechanical, overuse, or struggle nutritionally, hiring a coach is a smart move that can improve your performance and overall health. David helps me stay healthy by constantly asking if I’m eating enough (especially protein), if I’m taking my iron pills, and if I’m getting my blood checked regularly. These coaching check-ins have changed my perspective on taking ownership for my own health and nutrition. I’ve been humbled into realizing that I don’t, in fact, know it all when it comes to my own health and running.

Choose the Right Coach

Amy Clark in UltraRunning Magazine points out a very important fact of ultra running coaches: “Coaches are popping up left and right in the ultrarunning world, so do your homework… If you ask someone to coach you simply because you’re in awe of his or her race times and physique, you might make a big mistake.”

Liza Howard of San Antonio, Texas, a USA Track & Field national champion in the 50-mile, corroborates this point“The fact that someone is an excellent runner does not mean they will be an excellent coach.”

Don’t Pick a Coach Just Because He or She Is Fast

Take me, for example. On paper, I have a lot of experience that may suggest I could be a good coach. In high school, I was one of the best runners in Colorado and was recruited to run cross-country and track at Princeton, an NCAA Division I school. I majored in biology and have since scribed in emergency rooms. I coached myself to winning the Leadville 100 just a few years out of college running and fresh to the trail and ultra scene. Yet could I ethically sell myself as a half-decent ultra coach? Hell no.

I want to only focus on the workouts I need to do. They are mentally taxing enough. Just thinking about training other people already gives me anxiety. But how would a prospective client know this? They wouldn’t.

There is also a considerable amount of psychology with coaching. People lie about their training, nutrition, gumption to achieve goals, and schedules, and not necessarily even on purpose. Look for a coach who understands the mind games associated with fitness and athletics.

Find a Legitimate Coach

Look for a coach with known experience and reviews by clients who testify to the coach’s abilities, and ask him or her what makes them a good coach.

Want to try someone who’s new to coaching? Make sure it’s free or discounted. If they’re smart, they know they need to build their client base from the ground up.

Once you start the journey of being coached, have fun and be yourself. A coach is there to help mold you to be the best athletic-version of yourself.

Have you have had a coach or personal trainer? How was your experience?