As I stood at Mile 18 of the Boston Marathon this year, coaching my athletes and cheering on friends and colleagues, a couple of things stood out to me: 1) people are fit! And 2) women’s running is on fire.
Now, as someone who’s been coaching for the past 17 years and visits Boston every year to cheer on his athletes, this isn’t exactly a revelation; I see it all the time. But as a whole, it was amazing to see the 2019 Boston Marathon dominated by hundreds of women in that 3:15-4:30 marathon range. The race is tougher to get into now, technology and gear are at an all-time high, and all the info for a training block is just a Google search away.
The internet offers a million plans with an equal amount of methods and paces and workouts, and it is dizzying to sift through. With so much information out there, it’s more important than ever to find someone who can apply that knowledge directly to your training. Because there’s one thing that most of those running Boston this year had in common: real-life coaching.
For me, there is no better time to be a coach. The industry is hot and everyone is looking for help. But what I commonly see from the get-go is athletes who have previously had bad coaching experiences, including self-coaching. They were either too afraid to reach out, or when they did, they were afraid to ask certain questions and ended up going down a road that didn’t fit their personality, training style, or physical abilities.
It shouldn’t be that way. A coach should be a perfect complement to your running. To ensure that success, it’s important to pin down the questions you should ask a run coach before signing on. The truth is, any coach worth his or her salt wants to hear your questions and you deserve to ask those questions! We are basically taking your running into our hands and it’s literally our job to deliver the best product we can.
Below are some key questions and tips I have heard, learned, or think you should ask a coach when reaching out for help. These provide a great platform for a starter conversation. As I mentioned above, coaches want to understand you 100% before taking you on as an athlete. And you should understand your coach, so grill them a little bit!
1) Communication. Hands down the most important aspect to a quality coach/athlete relationship. Every athlete has a certain way to be coached. Some need more love than others. But find out how much your potential coach talks to his or her athletes. Here at Ame For It I talk to my runners 2-3 times per week, and weekly phone calls with our Elites. I’ve heard horror stories of coaches taking 4 days to get back to an athlete with a simple question about a workout. That’s not cool!
2) Career or hobby? You don’t exactly have to call them out on this, but it is a valid concern to think about. If you’re on Instagram, you know that everyone is a running coach today, but it is a select group of us who do it full time. Those of us who do this as a career, it is our true full-time passion. Don’t get me wrong, there are those who do it as a side gig as well. But sometimes when it’s a hobby, I’ve seen a lack of interest and diminished quality from the coach to the athlete, simply because it’s not their number one priority. The communication piece ties into this as well.
3) Background. Where did they come from? How long have they been doing this? If you want to get into Boston, are they successful at getting athletes to BQ? See what their track record looks like.
Be wary of Elites. While some former Elite runners have become very solid coaches, fast race times don’t always translate to expert coaching. I see many athletes who can’t handle the training load of their Elite coach. The coach doesn’t understand that their athlete can’t handle the same workouts that they do on a regular basis. To top it off, they can sometimes be outrageously expensive.
4) Can they actually coach? This is a serious question. Anyone can write a block of training, but can they help the athlete ride the highs of a PR? More importantly, do they lift the athlete up after a poor race or sub-par block of running?
Ask the coach how he or she handles success vs. defeat. Do they have phone calls with their athletes to recap races? Do they work on the mental aspect of running? I tell people all the time, I am 50% coach, 50% psychologist. Man, I’ve seen some dark times as an athlete, but I’ve also seen some rough stuff with those I coach. Over the years I simply became more comfortable helping them through these times. It now comes naturally. Without failure, it is rare that an athlete will see success.
5) How does he/she write training? Dig deep here with the potential coach of yours. Again, we like these questions! Are they a high mileage coach, or low mileage? How many workouts per week to they do? Are they aerobic or aerobic/anaerobic? Do they use hills in a block (we run them year round). Is the training individualized to you or is it a template? Are they actually coaching you, or when you pull back the curtain, are you just a name and age in a computer program? These are all valid and perfectly acceptable to ask.
6) Personality. Most of the time I’ll immediately click with an interested athlete on the first phone call. Coaches who have been doing it for a long time can sense a good or bad vibe immediately. We also have the right to turn an athlete away if we don’t think it’s a good fit.
For example, I get a ton of runners reaching out for coaching 12 weeks before a marathon—I mostly turn them away, as I believe in using a condensed version of the entire Lydiard pyramid.
In terms of personality, is the coach laid back or more of a drill sergeant? Personally, I take my coaching seriously and work extremely hard for it, but I also live at the beach in Cali and am so laid back! Running shouldn’t be a chore. I make this fun for our athletes, but we get insanely fast times and we work hard. Whatever style you prefer, it should align with your coach.
Feel your coach out on the phone. Ask other athletes who have used them. The proof is usually in the pudding.
7) Pricing. Man, there is some pricey stuff out there nowadays. My goal was to always give a huge amount of help to the runner, while also not breaking the bank. Whatever price you pay, communication should be unlimited. No coach should have office hours—we need to be here 24/7. It breeds the best success.
There are other things to consider, but these are the main factors any runner should think about when choosing a coach. We in this industry love you all and are here to help! And 99.9% of us are not weirdos.
We are passionate, committed and willing to get you every goal and dream you want in running and hopefully change your attitude on life as well! If you have any questions, feel free to email me, check out my website at www.ameforitruncoaching.com and give me a follow on Instagram.