Welcome to the JackRabbit Journal, a digital (for now!) publication where we’ll be taking some deeper dives into what it means to be a runner, how to support your running lifestyle and exclusive interviews with runners from all walks of life.
This week, let’s talk running coaches with our resident journalist, Brian Metzler.
RUNNING COACHING FOR THE EVERYDAY ATHLETE
Do you have a running coach?
You’re a runner, which means you’re an athlete. And it’s well-known that athletes in all sports benefit from having coaches guide them to better performance. So yes, if you’re a recreational runner of any ability level, you should consider hiring a running coach to assist you on your journey.
No matter how long you’ve been running or how fast you want to run at your next race, hiring a running coach can be a huge benefit on the way to achieving your 2021 goals. You might be a first-time marathoner or an experienced trail runner or someone who wants to improve your personal best in the half marathon.
In any of those cases, a running coach can provide you with assistance in ways you might not expect — for example, assigning proper workouts, avoiding injuries, reducing stress, providing day-to-day support and assuring your body is optimally recovering.
We checked in with Kristen Mohror of Microcosm Coaching, Jason Fitzgerald of StrengthRunning.com and Yassine Diboun of Wy’east Wolfpack for their input about some of the reasons you should consider hiring a running coach.
1. BEGINNERS AND LIFELONG RUNNERS ALIKE
You might be a new runner or a novice runner and are wondering if any of this applies to you. Should you get a coach if you’re just starting out? You can certainly benefit immensely if you do and avoid first-timer mistakes and challenges. If you were new to golf or tennis or skiing, you’d very likely considering taking lessons to get started, right?
Think of a running coach in the same way and you’ll be able to get through some of the unforeseen challenges that no one talks about when you buy a pair of running shoes or sign up for a race. At the other end of the spectrum, if you’ve been running for years and have reached a plateau in your training or just haven’t reached the goals you have hoped to, then you should definitely connect with a coach for your upcoming running objectives.
Sometimes as runners we tend to get complacent or are adverse to making changes or are afraid to try new things. “And those are the things that might be able to make a difference in your training,” Diboun says.
2. WEEKLY GUIDANCE
Why hire a running coach? “Because a running coach can help you reach your goals better than you’re able to on your own,” Mohror says. “They can assist you and guide you with workouts, advice and things can come up.” Unless you’re a veteran runner who’s been training for years — and heck, even if you are — a running coach can help you smartly build your fitness, inspire you to train to your fullest, keep you motivated during difficult lulls and help you avoid overtraining. Y
ou might think training for a marathon is a tall order — and it is! — but having a coach guide you can take some of the pressure off, especially on a long-term basis. The guidance and training plan you get from a coach can help turn your long-term goal into short-term tasks that can be approached day by day, piece by piece.
3. RUNNING SMARTS
Hiring an experienced running coach will allow you to benefit from his or her experience. Those coaches have been through all sorts of scenarios in their own training, but also with the many runners they have already coached. That coach understands they type of workouts and mileage you should be running in your fitness build-up and can adjust for your own personal needs as injuries, fatigue or work stress impedes your training.
Without a coach, you’ll likely do your own types of runs and workouts based on whatever you feel like doing or based on what your friends are doing or, gulp!, based on workouts you read about on your social media feed. “An experienced coach knows what works and how to adapt workouts to your personal fitness and abilities,” Fitzgerald says. “That’s so much more effective than a trial-and-error approach on your own.”
4. INDIVIDUALIZED TRAINING
How much you spend per month and what you get out of the coach you hire depends on the level of service you want or need. Generally speaking you might pay as little as $20 and as much as $250 per month for a coach. (Or you can pay even more for truly personalized training if you have the budget for that.)
At the more affordable end of that spectrum, you’ll get training plans and coaching input that’s generally geared toward a group or a specific goal race (for example, the Chicago Marathon) in somewhat of a one-size-fits-all approach with a limited ability to reach out to that coach with questions.
But if you’re paying slightly more every month, you should be able to get more individualized coaching that includes weekly adjustments and adaptations based on your fitness or fatigue levels and the ability to have direct interaction with that coach (even if it is by email). The best way to ensure you’ll get personalized coaching and some sort of individualized attention is to hire a coach in your region that has a training group you can run with on a semi-regular basis.
Having a coach watch you go through workouts and the ability to engage face-to-face can provide numerous benefits. Going with a local coach instead of an online coach shouldn’t necessarily increase the fees you’re paying.
When you’re training for a big goal like a marathon, you sometimes need an extra bit of accountability to keep you focused and motivated. When you’re training on your own or even with friends, it can be relatively easy to inadvertently reduce hard workouts or shorten a long run without any recourse.
But when you hire a coach, you give yourself an extra layer of accountability. Sometimes it’s necessary to adapt workouts (and a coach can help you do that), but hiring a coach can create a certain pride and accountability tied to following a training plan.
It’s natural that sometimes you might wake up feeling unmotivated or perhaps you’re having a hard work day or traveling. “Having a coach to report to and a training plan to follow can help you get through those challenges,” Mohror says. “I tell all of my athletes, ‘I’m here to help, support and keep you going!’”
6. IMPROVING PERFORMANCE
If your goal is to break 3 hours in the marathon or run a sub-40 minute 10K or qualify for the Boston Marathon, a running coach can help immensely, Mohror says. Not only can the coach provide a good training plan that provides both long-term and short-term development markers, but he or she should be able to guide you to a proper training vs recovery balance, she says.
Having a coach will keep you in check from working out too hard too often and overtraining with too much volume. But a running coach will also make sure you rest and recover so the proper training effect can take place. Your muscular, cardiovascular and neurological system adapt to training during rest when your body is recovering, Diboun says.
The continued stress of training without proper rest breaks will lead to overtraining, fatigue, illness and injury, he adds. “There’s a basic equation for growth, whether you’re an athlete, artist, or businessperson, etc., and that’s Stress + Rest = Growth,” he says. “I like to take on challenges and make myself uncomfortable (stress), and then follow those challenges with recovery & reflection (rest). Then rinse & repeat, with a slightly greater or different challenge or goal.”
7. REDUCING INJURY RISK
As runners, we often keep on running despite small bouts of soreness or pain. While sometimes that’s OK, sometimes it’s not, Fitzgerald says. And when it’s not, it can lead to serious, long-term injury.
Having a coach to talk to about those bits of soreness or pain can be helpful to understand how to proceed. Should you keep running? Should you see a physical therapist? Are there additional things you can do — for example, icing, stretching, cross-training — to help keep a serious injury at bay? How do you know when and what to do? Those are all things your coach can advise you about to keep you as healthy as possible.
Overuse injuries are common for runners but often they can be avoided or reduced in scope and intensity. A coach isn’t meant to be a doctor or medical professional, but their experience and understanding of running injuries can be a valuable resource, Mohror says. Sometimes it might just come down to taking more rest and seeing how your body reacts in a few days.
A good coach will sometimes have a better long-term perspective than an athlete because it’s not vexed by the eagerness to reach goals, she says. Avoiding those injuries and staying healthy is a key factor in the ability to make it through your training plan to the starting line of your goal race. “The ability to understand what a runner is going through during any given week is one of the key benefits of having a coach,” Fitzgerald says.
8. RACE-DAY PREPARATIONS
Are you already nervous about the race that you just signed up for, even though it’s still months away? That’s normal, no matter if it’s a 10K, marathon or an ultramarathon like a 50-mile trail race, Diboun says. The ability to manage that stress and excitement is important as you start to train toward that goal, he says.
If you hire a coach who has a lot of races under his or her belt, you’ll be able to benefit from their personal experiences and reduce the stresses of race weekend. Getting tips and insights about tapering, rest, travel, nutrition and preparation will go a long way to achieving your racing success, Diboun says.
Even if you’ve been through the motions before and have run several half marathons or marathons, having a coach serve up those reminders can be a huge benefit. (The nerves and excitement of race weekend often cloud our thinking!) Most of all, having your coach help you develop a smart race strategy appropriate to your level of fitness and expected race-day conditions will be enormously helpful.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brian Metzler has run races at every distance from 50 meters to 100 miles. He has wear-tested more than 1,500 pairs of shoes, is a three-time Ironman finisher. He occasionally participates in the quirky sport of pack burro racing in Colorado.
He’s the founding editor of Trail Runner magazine, is a former senior editor at Running Times. He was and editor in chief at Competitor Magazine.
As an author, he has penned “Kicksology“, “Running Colorado’s Front Range” and the co-author of “Natural Running: The Simple Path to Stronger Healthier Running” and “Run Like a Champion: An Olympian’s Approach for Every Runner.”