What Does a Running Coach Actually DO?

Put one foot in front of the other! Go faster!” Alright, now my job is done! Time to hit the showers.

Strength Running Team

Is that really all that running coaches do?

No, of course not. Coaching runners is a lot more complex than being a cheerleader…

Since 2010, I’ve coached and personally helped thousands of athletes with their running through my coaching programs.

Before that, I learned from over ten coaches during my eight years of running cross country and track at the high school and college levels.

Those experiences have given me an interesting perspective on the role of a running coach.

A succesful coach wears many hats:

  • Architect of a runner’s training
  • Sports psychologist and cheerleader
  • Drill seargent (only sometimes…)
  • Trusted confidante
  • Personal physical therapist

We’ve talked before about what makes a good coach – and also how to be a coachable runner.

Today, you’ll see what my job entails and how I specifically help runners set monster personal bests.

How I Set Runners Up for Success

When I first start working with an athlete, the first thing I do is have them fill out my Runner Questionnaire.

This lets me dive deeper into an athletes history, goals, weak areas, and strengths. If you’d like to look at it, here are the questions.

After reviewing the answers, I have a good idea of a runner’s ability:

  • Current mileage, long run, and any faster workouts
  • Current and previous injuries
  • Strength and cross-training
  • Recent personal bests and upcoming races
  • Short and long-term goals
  • Likes or dislikes about previous coaching, if applicable
  • The type of training the runner enjoys or believes works

Next, I’ll write their first training plan. It’s usually short – about six weeks – so that I can revise it more frequently.

And that’s one of the most important parts of my job: helping my athletes fit intelligent training around their busy lives. If they have a family commitment, travel for work or vacation, or an illness that forces them to miss or postpone a run, then I help them revise their plan.

If you’re frustrated with a training plan because you don’t know what to do if you miss an important long run or workout, then that’s where a coach can help you focus.

Once the athlete has their plan, the communication flood gates open. Does the plan work with their schedule? Can we fine-tune their race schedule? What strength work is important for this athlete’s injury history?

The first training plan I write often needs to be rewritten (which is fine, since my athletes get unlimited plan revisions at any time) to address these new questions.

Finally, the runner now has a plan to get them closer to their big goals. And I’m always available for questions or concerns throughout the week.

Ongoing Support

Arguably the most important benefit to having a coach is not the custom training plan but the ongoing support – the ability to ask any question or discuss any training idea at any time.

The questions that I see most often deal with challenging issues:

  • Injury management – what if a little soreness progress to slight pain? How do you adjust your training and focus on getting 100% healthy?
  • Season planning – how do you schedule an effective season with well-planned tune-up races?
  • Race strategy – pacing, tactics, and course-specific advice for goal races
  • Scheduling – what if a race is cancelled? What if you want to add a race last minute?
  • Long-term planning – if your marathon is 28 weeks away and you want to use a 20-week training approach, what do you do during those first 8 weeks?
  • Athlete development – how should runners periodize their years (hear Nick Symmonds wild swings in training in episode 1 here)?

Issues like these are often complex, which is why I don’t limit communication in my 1-on-1 coaching program. Email me anytime with no restrictions!

All of these topics and the decisions we make together as runner and coach can be complex.

And perhaps the most valuable part of what I do is keep runners from making silly decisions…

“Don’t Do Anything Dumb”

Any mentor – in nearly any area like business, education, and running – will help you avoid doing dumb things. Coaches are a voice of reason, helping you work hard strategically rather than working hard without any direction.

And this manifests itself in many different ways:

I have six weeks until my marathon, can I add this new strength program into our training?

(No… adding new, challenging strength work during peak training isn’t a good idea. Let’s wait on that.)

My main goal is the half marathon on Sunday, but can I race a local 5k the day before?

(Only if you recognize your HM performance will be compromised and you’re not specifically trained for a 5k.)

Friends are doing a Ragnar Relay this weekend! Can I run it instead of my long run?

(Your long run was supposed to be 8 miles and you want to run 20 miles in 3 runs over 24 hours? Let’s skip it…)

I came across a fantastic quote in the morning shakeout from Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz:

It’s not the great play that wins the game. It’s eliminating the dumb play.

So simple. Yet so profound!

How much more mileage would you be able to run if you simply avoided dumb training mistakes?

How many more successful races could you run if you worked hard and smart?

A coach helps you avoid the dumb play by having perspective and understanding the common misconceptions about the sport. That perspective is only gained through many mistakes and lessons learned (as I shared in episode 2 of the Strength Running Podcast).

The progress you’re able to experience through boring but proven application of consistent, intelligent training can be profound.

It’s more powerful than your shoe choice, what watch you choose, or the app that tracks your mileage.

And it’s why I often focus on helping runners avoid the big mistakes when it comes to the marathon, nutrition, training, and injuries.

It’s powerful – and transformational.

Is Coaching Right For You?

For the last year, my 1-on-1 coaching program has been closed. I’ve been hard at work coaching Team Strength Running, getting our t-shirt store open, and launching the new Strength Running Podcast.

But now, I’m ready to coach more runners!

Check out Strength Running’s coaching page with more information on our flagship products and coaching services.

Helping runners accomplish their biggest goals is why I love going to work every day. Seeing your successes – whether that’s a new personal best or getting healthy from a frustrating injury – is thrilling.

And the feedback I get from runners like you just makes my day!

Interested in 1-on-1 coaching? Just shoot me an email and let’s chat.

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  1. […] consider my real job to steer runners away from dumb mistakes (like these) and help them train more intelligently. When that happens, the results are […]