You find yourself looking at some events and races, maybe your first 10k or half marathon, or maybe a bucket list ultra or trail/fell running event, you find an ideal one in 6 months’ time thinking about how much training you will need to do, then you find one of the popular running magazines or websites and find a training plan.  You then look at the plan and think, ‘how can I fit this all in’, ‘what about fitting it in round my job’, ‘do I have to miss my fitness classes I love to do’.

One thing you don’t consider is…. What about a running coach?

Run coaches are for the fast and serious runners, who target sub 3-hour marathons aren’t they?  I don’t run enough to have a coach and don’t have the time for one.

Not everyone needs a coach and many athletes never have one but there are great positives to having a coach.

Have you ever sat down and actually thought about having a running coach? or do you just go out and run, pound the streets, having read that magazine for guidance on completing the event you have just entered, and then wonder why you are getting niggles and injuries, or it’s not fun, you just can’t be arsed, you have no structure and no variety, it’s just the same old pace and route, and it interferes with work.

Distance online coaching has benefits but will never beat face to face and the use of the trained eye and also the use of video footage which the athlete has immediate access to view.  You also have the benefit of someone take a look at your data from Strava, Garmin etc in a non-bias way.

You can’t learn technique and form from a magazine

Then there is trail running and fell running.  Well that’s just for the silly fit runners, you don’t want to go off road, I don’t know where I am going, I don’t know how to run uphill, and downhill is just scary, or is it?  You can’t learn technique and form from a magazine.  Also Facebook is a mine field for poor advice.  Someone will ask a question about some aspect of training and what follows is hundreds of comments which fundamentally give the wrong advice (however kind natured the advice is) and because of the amount of comments, its then difficult to filter the good from the bad.

First of all, a running coach is for everyone, the elites, the experienced, the moderate and average runners, and the beginner.  Beginners are actually the best to coach as you start with a fresh new runner with no bad habits.

All athletes (YOU) are individuals and respond differently to training.  One type of speed of hill training may work for one person but not another, one amount of weekly mileage may suit one person but not another.  You can feed back to a coach, you can’t to a magazine article.

Coaching in the moment

Most coaches offer, 1-2-1, Run MOT’s, guided runs and group training sessions and training plans for whatever event you have entered.  What separates some from other coaches is the experience they bring with them.  This is something you should also ask a coach.  What is there cv, what have they achieved as a coach, and what have there athletes experienced.

I personally have experienced many things in my military and policing careers, and what I have learnt mostly is the ability to adapt.  Coaches need to move away from the ridged routines of training plans and become flexible and adapt to the new way of life people lead.  Coaching in the moment.

By identifying the correct coaching principles and applying them to modern changing lifestyles, to be effective, have flexible training plans and most importantly be flexible on the spot.  A good plan has several and various scenarios and endings, modern day life impacts on everyone, so adapt and overcome, but also apply periodisation and adaptability.

A running coach should have a variety of qualifications and the majority are through UK Athletics, such as the ‘Coach in Running Fitness Qualification.’  Many will also have experience as run leaders, and fitness instructors. More advanced coaches will have additional endurance or sprint qualifications to name a few.  It is also worth to note that not the best coaches are famous athletes, and because they were great athletes does not make them great coaches.  Some of the very best coaches were not well known in the sport that they coach.  Charles Van Commenee the head coach of UKA had to end his career at the age of 18 due to injury, footballer Bobby Charlton was a great player but failed at lower league coaching, but Jack was a poor player and a great coach.  Each of you will have strengths and weaknesses and the best coaches will take the time to identify that and work with you on them.

You are all athletes

My military training taught me to look after the weakest person, in the Parachute Regiment we never leave anyone behind.  Do things together, work and train hard as a team.  Build confidence and challenge yourself, and as a group. There is no requirement to bark orders, no requirement to ‘beast’ people, coach in an appropriate and mature way and you will still get people to push beyond their limits.  These coaches will still take you to that impossible hill and then high five you once you get to the top, and the best coaches will also live the experience with their athlete.  Yes, you are all athletes.

Why a coach and the benefits?

 A good coach should meet up with their athlete or at least chat via phone or skype, and gain that full understanding of what the athlete is wanting to achieve, whether it is a 5k, or a mountain ultra, discuss what time the athlete has available to train, who will support them, and what frame of mind the athlete is in.  A coach will then take all of the thought of training out of your hands, by constructing a plan without confusing you with all the science and reasons why, it’s just there for you to follow.  Practically they observe your form and technique, identify strong and weak points, give encouragement, promote positive thoughts, coach by how you feel, how you look and how you perform, and the best will also show you using video analysis so you can see when they see.

With a training plan they take the guessing out of what sessions you should be doing, and the plan will progress gradually, so you are ready for that goal or event.  I find one of my hardest things is to get people to rest or do less, not more, and ensure you’re recovering enough and also strong enough to do the training, putting the key sessions in the right place.

You still have to motivate yourself to get out there are complete the sessions and turn up to your 1-2-1, a coach won’t ‘make’ you faster, but listening to one and been guided by one will.

Not all athletes will respond the same as others and it can take time to establish that relationship.  I believe in the 80:20 weekly rule and slow miles of aerobic training, which in turn takes time.  One thing that you can’t rush, is the body to adapt, and sometimes it takes a coach to see that and give you that realisation.  Recovery is equally important, and rest days are actually rest days.

Does it cost a fortune to have a coach?

Each coach will charge a fee for training plans and 1-2-1, and the price varies around the country and also from the experience and qualifications that the coach holds.  Always do some research and never be afraid to ask a potential coach about their own experience and results.  Some coaches will do online plans and charge a monthly fee anywhere from £40+ a month, I myself like to personalise my plans for the individual, and although my website states a price for my services, coaching can be an ongoing and long term thing, so prices can be worked out for the individual.  Experience comes at a cost but ask about their own experience.  Coaches should have a knowledge bank from adapting their own training, and trailing different methods.

Also compare the cost of a coach to how much you would spend to tech and kit.  A few hundred pounds on the latest Garmin/Suunto/Polar watch you would find better spent on a coach who would help you gain better results.



Is it worth it?

So of course, as I’m a coach and writing a blog about coaching of course you will think I am stating what I want you to read and hear.

I think it is worth it as the coach is accountable, although so are you as the athlete.  You have to be accountable to do the sessions, but you have someone to question and someone to support you.

A coach will structure a plan and session to fit in with your life, if you get niggles or injuries, adapt so you can either continue or take a rest, and if you need rest, prepare you to continue when you can.  They will be realistic, if it’s too soon to do an event they should set you realistic goals and be truthful.  They take the stress out of a plan and make you accountable for your own plan, but not have to stress about the sessions. A coach should also make the journey enjoyable and fun.

So, if you decide on an event, consider this, can I follow a basterdised training plan that may not suit me and make me feel guilty if I miss a session, or do I want to make this journey a fun and stress less experience.

A coach is worth it in the long run.

Andy Pye - Trail Run West Midlands -