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Thinking About a Running Coach?

by Claudia Piepenburg - from the Road Runner Sports Run Today Newsletter

Before you decide after reading the title that this issue of RunToday isn't for you, take a minute to answer the questions below. If you answer "yes" to just one, you could benefit from the training and motivational tips a coach can provide.

  1. Even though you've been running for many years, have you recently become bored with your same old routine and found yourself lacking in motivation?
  2. Are you a new runner who reads every bit of information available but doesn't know quite how to apply what you're learning to your own situation?
  3. Are you considering making the leap from recreational to competitive runner?
  4. Do you want to move up to the next level of competition, from middle-of-the-pack racer to age group winner or even top local competitor?
  5. Are you planning on running your first marathon within the next year?
  6. Do you have specific time goals you'd like to achieve? Such as breaking 5:00, 4:00 or 3:00 hours for the marathon, 50 minutes for 10K or 20 minutes for 5K.
Even "Old-Timers" Sometimes need a Running Coach!

Motivating yourself to run sometimes becomes difficult, particularly if you've been running for several years. Usually people have specific goals in mind when they start running, such as losing weight, achieving cardiovascular fitness or eventually running a marathon. Sometimes once those goals are realized the runner begins to lose motivation. This is particularly true if they've spent most of their time running alone.

Long-time runners who identify strongly with the psychology inherent in the phrase "loneliness of the long distance runner" often are excellent candidates for a coach who works through a club environment. There are hundreds of running clubs throughout the country, in cities and towns large and small, and many of the clubs provide coaching services free of charge to club members. Training with a group under the direction of a coach, even just one or two days a week, can pump excitement and fun back into an old, stale running program. To find a running club in your area go to the Road Runners Club of America (RRCA) web site: www.rrca.org

I'm Confused…should I Run Every Day, or do I
Need to take a Day Off Now and Then?

New runners often get confused by all the training information available in books, magazines and on-line. Sorting out what makes sense for them personally can often be a daunting task. A coach can offer guidance, support and a sensible training schedule. Most new runners will benefit from the coaching services provided by a local running club.

I Want to take 10 Minutes off my 10K PR

If you want to run a PR, want to win some hardware in your age group, are a first-time marathoner or a novice racer, you should consider the services of a personal coach. The individualized attention you'll receive is invaluable. This person doesn't necessarily have to be a "coach" in the strictest sense of the word; he or she may be someone you respect, usually a good runner who'll work with you in a non-teaching, unstructured environment. Here's an example.

Throughout the later part of 1986 through early 1987 all my training was geared toward my goal of running an Olympic Marathon Trials qualifying time. During those months I trained as often as six days a week with a fellow runner named Dave who I'd met at the local YMCA. He was a good local runner with a ten-mile PR of 54:00 minutes, eight minutes faster than my best ten-mile time. Because Dave trained faster than I was used to, I had to gradually increase my training pace if I wanted to keep up with him. Even our "easy" days were slightly faster than I had been running by myself. We ran hard two days a week; I never knew before the workout what we were going to do or how fast we were going to run. Sometimes we would leave the gym and do what I realize now was a tempo run. Dave would take off and tell me to follow him. Since I didn't know where we were going, or for how long I had no choice but to try and keep up! Other days he would have me do a hill workout. After warming up a few miles I would run hard over a series of five hills on a three-mile out and back course. When I finished, I would take my pulse and when it dropped back down below 130, he would make me run the course again! One of my last long runs was a 15-mile run with a hard 10K in the middle; Dave stayed slightly ahead of me the entire workout. When we finished he told me that we had run the 10K in 6:25 pace, my marathon goal pace. One month later, I qualified for the Olympic Marathon Trials in a time of 2:48:18-6:25 pace!

If it hadn't been for Dave's "coaching" I don't think I would have qualified. The training was perfect for me-I didn't have to think about anything or plan a schedule. I simply showed up for the workouts and ran. It was fun and because I never knew how fast I was running, I didn't feel threatened by the pace. I never had a moment when I thought "I can't do this" and I went into the race confident in my ability to run a qualifying time.


Running faster is sort of like playing tennis. You've probably heard that old adage: "if you want to be a better tennis player, you need to play tennis with someone who's better than you." It's the same with running. If you want to be a better runner, you need to run with someone who's faster. I was lucky-my situation was ideal, not only was my running partner a better runner but he had a good grasp of training principles and knew me well enough to understand how much hard work I could handle, both physically and psychologically.

Finding the Right Coach

If you don't know anyone in your running group who could help you improve, you'll have to look elsewhere for a coach. Following are some good resources.

  • Go to the United States of American Track & Field (USATF) web site. The site has a coach's section. Depending on where you live, your local or regional association may also have a web site. The USATF URL is www.usatf.org
  • Talk to runners in your area who race a lot and/or typically finish in the top five in their age group.
  • Check with local specialty running stores. The staff may know of coaches in the area. Coaches will also sometimes post flyers on bulletin boards.
  • Look in the classified sections of local or regional running publications. Coaches often advertise their services.
  • Talk to a local high school or community college cross-country coach. They may be willing to coach non-students.
On-line vs Local Coaching

There are several coaches around the country who offer on-line coaching. Many of them advertise their services in local, regional and national publications. Before you sign on with an on-line coach find out the following.

  • Their credentials. Where they've coached, who they've coached and what certifications they have.
  • References from athletes they've coached in the past.
  • If they'll occasionally talk with you via the phone. Obviously face-to-face contact is the best coaching. Next best is regularly scheduled telephone conversations and email. Strictly email communication is the least desirable.
  • How they bill. Be wary of a coach who asks you to sign a long-term contract, payable up-front. Legitimate coaches usually work on a month-to-month or quarterly payment schedule.
What about Cost?

If you find a coach through your local running club, usually there will be no charge; your yearly dues include services like coaching. Fee schedules for coaches who charge can range from $20.00 to $100.00 a month or more. Fees depend on the coach's background and credentials, what part of the country they're in and whether the coaching is a full-time job, part-time or second job. Sometimes the coach may offer additional services for a fee, such as a monthly or weekly half-hour telephone session above and beyond short, unscheduled calls during the month. If you're physically meeting with your coach once or twice a week, he or she will probably charge more than if you're being coached via email.

About the author:
Claudia Piepenburg has been running for 21 years and is the current editor of Peak Running Performance. She holds or has held state age-group records in Michigan, North Carolina, Florida, Tennessee and Virginia. In 1990, she was ranked 18th fastest masters woman in the world and 8th fastest masters woman in the U.S. in 1990 and 1991. She competed in the 1988 Olympic Marathon Trials, was 20th woman overall in the 1987 Boston Marathon and women's winner of the 1986 Virginia Beach Marathon. She has been coaching running since 1984. She can be reached at cpiepe@roadrunnersports.com.


From the Coach's perspective…
By Mark Redpath

It has been said that the best athletes are coach-oriented but not coach dependent. When an athlete chooses a coach, he or she assumes the responsibility to submit to that coach's discipline. In turn, a good coach must be a good example and also be well rounded to make value judgments with certainty and honesty.
The success of the coach / athlete partnership depends largely on mutual trust. A coach with the slightest doubt about an athlete's dedication or whether the athlete is doing the work assigned is a frustrated coach. The coach must have confidence that agreed upon assignments have been completed by the athlete. It's equally important that the athlete only do those assignments agreed upon - nothing more. (The athlete must not do greater or higher intensity of training than assigned by the coach. If the coach is unaware of such additional training, then the coach may misinterpret the effect of the training workload. The coach then has the difficult task analyzing the athlete's physical and emotional progress, hindering the affect of the next training plan.) In turn, the coach must also be sensitive the athletes' unique needs and must consider those needs when looking at the big picture.

In an effective coach/athlete partnership both minds need to work together. A critical part in this partnership stems from the coach's ability to assign the work of training and raising or lowering of work volumes to adjust to the athlete. Therefore, the coach must be able to identify small changes in the athlete's physical and mental health and react to those changes with changes to the training program. The more intense the training becomes, the more aware the coach must become. Great coaches are aware of what needs to be done; they don't make assessments from Neanderthal gut reactions or tote around multiple stopwatches shouting out orders. A great coach will be tuned to an athlete and will be able to discuss overall progress in such a way that both coach and athlete can delineate a sensible plan of action.

Biomechanical analysis, podiatry and chiropractic care, strength and conditioning training, laboratory treadmill testing, sports psychological counseling and nutritional advice, all of these quantify the coaches ability to successfully guide you to your goal. Coaches need to establish a working awareness of all these sources of assistance and to interweave their potential into the development of the master plan. When implemented in the correct manner these resources improve the overall environment in which the athlete can refine their talents with minimal risk of burnout and injury. Remember that a coach cannot know it all, and if he or she claims so, then I suggest you find another coach.

Mark Redpath is the Campaign Manager and National Coach for Athletes Helping Athletes. He is also a former Team in Training coach and has coached 15 Ironman finishers. A native of Zimbabwe, Mark ran a 1:49 800 meter at the age of sixteen and has gone on to run numerous marathons, ultra-marathons and triathlons since. He can be reached at mredpa@roadrunnersports.com.

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