There comes a point in every runner's life when "Running is fun" becomes "I wonder if I could go harder, better, faster, stronger..." And while there are many ways to get faster, run longer, and train smarter—books and the internet and run clubs, oh my—one of the best ways is to enlist a running coach to help you reach your goals. Here's what you need to know when it comes to finding and working with a running coach.
First, ask yourself what you hope to get out of working with a coach.
"Before you start looking for a coach, you need to know what your goals are as a runner," says Steve Mura, Assistant Manager of Runner Products at New York Road Runners in NYC. "There are many coaches out there, and most have their specialties. Some coaches are great at working with first-time runners, while others will get you to the Olympics." If your goal is to qualify for the Boston Marathon, you'll want to hire a coach who has trained runners for that same goal.
Then, begin your search.
The search for a coach can be overwhelming—but that's a good thing, because that means your resources are vast and expansive. "The best way to find a coach is to talk to other runners," says Mura. "Ask your runner friends about their coaches and whether or not they liked working with them." Don't have runner friends? Look to running blogs and see who your favorite blogs train with, or hit up your local running store and ask for recommendations. (Many running stores have coaches and run clubs in house.) Sites like RunnersConnect and Road Runners Club of America can also help you begin your search.
Next, consider the type of relationship you want with your coach.
Do you want to go only weekly runs with your coach? Or is an emailed training plan enough to hold you accountable and get you where you want to go? Just like in romantic relationships, everyone thrives differently in coach/runner relationships. Some people want a really hands-on approach, while others just need a plan and can attack it on their own. "Whenever I meet with runners, I go on a run with them," says Mura. "We go on a three-mile run at a conversational pace, and that's a time for me to find out their goals and if we'll work well together. Your coach is your training plan—so if you have a coach, he or she should make sure you're comfortable with the plan that's being created for you. It should be tailored to your needs and abilities, and should be adjusted throughout training as needed."
Make sure the coach is legit.
Look for a coach who has a certification or plenty of experience—and take both into consideration. "I would rather have a coach who has been coaching for 10 years but isn't necessarily certified than someone who just received a certification but has never actually worked with a runner," says Mura. "Experience is so important." (Hungry for running advice? Here are 76 invaluable bits, from runners, for runners.)
Consider the coach's personality—and yours.
Are you someone who wants a pat on the back, a gold star, or an A+ after every completed workout? Or are you content without much praise-worthy feedback? Those things matter, so think about whether you want a hyper-enthusiastic coach or someone who's a little more subdued, but still gets the job done. (Either one is fine—it's about what will motivate and work best for you.)
Ask plenty of questions and don't settle!
You wouldn't settle for a significant other, right? Then don't settle for a running coach you're not super comfortable with. "Don't just talk to—or run with—one coach," says Mura. "You want to look around and see who's the best fit for you and what you want to achieve. Do you want a coach that works with lots of other runners, or one who will work only with you?" Ask your potential coach about his or her training methods, about what types of workouts you might be doing, and about past success stories with runners. "Trust your gut," says Mura. "Do you truly believe this coach will help you achieve your goals as a runner? That's all it really comes down to."