If you’ve been following along for a while now, you’ve probably noticed a few words pop up that I haven’t always used in the past: coach, team, teammates, etc. I waited to address the fact that I had hired a running coach because I wanted a trial period. One year and a marathon later, I’m realizing I never mentioned why I made this decision.
After last year’s Saratoga Palio I was frustrated that I was constantly feeling injured, so I started to think of a game plan. I first needed to solve my knee pain and I then needed to find a way to stay motivated throughout a training cycle to step up to a start line feeling as strong as possible. A friend of a friend seemed to be having a lot of success with her coach, so I reached out to her and was immediately hooked after she boasted about her experience. “I must run with him” I thought.
My number one reason for hiring a running coach was for the accountability and training plan. I didn’t want to have to think about when I had to run and how far to go. Yes, I could have searched the Internet for a plan and written it in my planner, but the idea of having a customized weekly plan and having someone reviewing it seemed ideal. I wanted someone to ask me why the hell I skipped a workout or heck, even encourage me along the way. Okay, maybe I was also looking for a personal cheerleader too. Having a coach along the course at a long distance race isn’t too much to ask for, right?
Like every other athlete, I wanted to become stronger and faster. I consider myself a pretty average runner and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Average or not, there’s always room for improvement. The idea of PR’ing at every distance after following a coach’s plan (like that friend of a friend was) sounded wonderful, duh. And because the coach I had found is local (in the Capital District) and not strictly an online resource, he had more to offer me toward becoming stronger and faster: a team and strength classes.
Okay, hiring a coach is (kinda) scary but joining a team definitely intimidated me. “Can I keep up with them? I don’t know if I can run that far, yet. What’s steady state pace?” Not going to lie, I had a million doubts in my head and for a good two months, I didn’t join my team for a single run or track practice. It wasn’t required that I run with them but my coach said something about it being a huge benefit… so I tried it… and hated it… but also loved it. I’m definitely going to address the benefits of running on a team in a separate post but for now I’ll state that it was the best decision I made for myself.
As for the strength classes, they too were a benefit to my exercise routine. I added kettle bell classes 2x/week and felt muscles being used that had been dormant for months. I can officially say that I’ve dead lifted my body weight! I’ve never incorporated strength in the past, especially while running as much as I was, and can definitely say that becoming stronger has made me faster. This has motivated me to return to other forms of cross training that I love and helps me stay strong: cycling and hiking.
Another reason I hired a coach was because I wanted to learn more. A coach should be a wonderful resource, someone to reach out to with pacing, fueling and even stretching questions. I wanted to learn why I should be completing speed work on a weekly basis even if I’m not looking to break 20 minutes in a 5k, how to fuel during a marathon, what to eat after a long run… the list goes on. Yes, the Internet has these answers but a coach should be full of personal experiences and responses. And if they can’t answer something specifically, they should be able to help you find the answer or another resource to help you best. Or maybe not. Make sure to ask your coach prior to hiring if they can be used as a resource or strictly as a training plan generator.
Lastly, I hired a running coach because I could afford to. At the time of hire, I was working full-time at a local institution and had one or two part-time jobs, depending on the week. I live within my means and put every extra penny I have toward paying off my student loans. But then I decided to put some of those pennies toward my health. After leaving that job to work full-time at the beau’s shop in February, I also left any other side job I was doing for extra cash. I can still pay my bills, student loans and gym memberships/coaching, it’s just that other aspects of my life are a little tight. I don’t eat out as much as I use to or splurge on an item of clothing (I really only buy 3-4 items per year), because I want to pay to better my health. As I mentioned to someone earlier this month, if it’s worth it, you’ll find a way.
Here are a list of questions that I came up with to ask a coach prior to hiring:
- How many athletes do you currently coach? And at your maximum? I feel like this is an important question to ask because time is money. If you’re the only athlete your coach is training, one would expect more time spent answering questions, reviewing logs, etc. If there are 50+ athletes being trained, one would expect less one on one time with the coach. This is a question I did not ask prior to hiring my coach and wish I had.
- How do you communicate best with your athletes and how frequently? Oh, this is a biggie. Some coaches require Facebook, prefer text, refuse to talk over the phone but would rather see you in person. Some coaches are strictly online and only communicate via email. Know how to reach your coach and know when it’s appropriate to reach out… and when to expect to hear from them. Also discuss response times: is waiting a couple of days normal or should we each commit to respond within 12 hours? And if you are on a team, how frequently does the coach reach out to you individually? Like any relationship in life, communication is key.
- What are your qualifications? Sounds like a pretty generic question for any professional buuuuuut sometimes the answer isn’t obvious or as easily accessible (on website, in title). Were they recently re-certified? How do they continue learning in the field?
- How is progress tracked? Not everyone enjoys to race each month (me!) or is even capable of that if they are just starting out. Clear expectations should be outlined prior to hire and goals should be set together – and the coach should be able to tell you flat out if you’re reaching. I personally wasn’t necessarily looking for a PR each time I raced; a big win for me was that I was consistently running 3-4 days/week.
- How do you handle injury? Injuries happen: you trip on the sidewalk, pull a muscle while hiking, run too much (or too fast without recovery) and your body starts to break down. I personally hired a coach to help prevent this as mentioned above, but I never asked how he would have dealt with it should it happen. Obviously there are a number of appropriate answers to this question but I think the general consensus is that change is necessary. An added bonus if they have personal recommendations for other professionals in the area (i.e. chiropractor, physical therapist, massage therapist, etc.).
There’s one thing that I’ve learned over the past year: hiring a running coach is for everyone! There are so many different types of runners out there looking to improve themselves and performance. Like any other investment, do your research and make sure to find a coach that is a sure-match. Feel free to chime in below if you have any other suggestions, recommendations, or even reasons as to why YOU’VE hired a running coach.