Not sure if you need a coach?
Coaches provide many benefits to a runner and their performances. Coaching isn't just about setting out a training plan. If it was you could just get one off the internet and you'd be all set. So let's start by looking at what a coach could bring to your training and then some reasons why you might decide a coach isn't for you right now.
Why hire a coach:
1. You're not sure where to start or how to progress
Even experienced runners can find it challenging to design their training plan and worry that they're not making good decisions. This is a valid concern, after all, you don't want to have worked hard and then have a set back by getting injured, or not reach your goal by being overtrained or under-prepared. A coach will be able to design you a plan that fits your lifestyle whilst meeting your goals as they can objectively look at your current ability level and set out a sensible plan and provide feedback to you.
2. You struggle to be accountable for your training
This is very common and one that some runners don't necessarily realise they have a problem with. Being accountable to someone other than yourself can be very powerful indeed. It's so easy on that cold rainy winter evening to not do your planned run. You tell yourself that it's just this once you'll skip it and you easily give yourself permission to curl up on the sofa and relax. But how do you to explain to your coach why you missed that run? Your coach isn't there to bully you to run but instead, they need to get to the bottom of why. Were you starting to fall ill, exhausted from a tough workday, if you've been training hard maybe this is a sign that you're overtraining and the plan needs adjusting, that you need some new motivators or training stimuli?
3. You're a destructive Type-A
This is linked to point 2, where the runner isn't able to hold themselves accountable and to realise when their training method is destructive and unproductive. This is a runner that tends to be frequently injured and exhausted leading to big swings between high workload training and then resting to manage an injury. A coach will smooth out the peaks and troughs of the training and address the mental reasons why this athlete has strong beliefs in hard intense training, e.g. the "no pain, no gain" mantra. With the correct balance in their training, they can attain goals.
4. You want to step up and set new goals
Once you reached a particular goal we usually want to move our focus on to our next challenge as soon as possible. With your coach you can discuss new targets such as setting PBs, increasing distance, change in terrain, doing a non-competition challenge (Bob Graham, fastest known time), fundraising. It's good to work on short and long terms goals and your coach will help you set realistic inspiring ones which can be modified as you progress. With your aspirations set your coach will support you through to achieving them with mentoring and a properly tailored plan leaving you confident you're on the right path to achieving them.
5. You lack confidence
This can take many forms and affects us all at one time or another. These range from general running confidence, fear of injury or falling, increase in distance, new challenges. A good discussion with your coach will help as now you are no longer on your own in dealing with it but your coach can reassure you. By understanding your limitations you can both work together how to improve them and make sure you're not asking too much of yourself too soon.
6. You're in a rut
This could be mentally, physically or both. Training should be regularly changed to create the stimuli required to improve fitness, strength and skill. Doing the same routine you've always done will cause you to plateau, neither improving your performance nor keeping training interesting and fun. An assessment of your training will recognise stagnation and identify opportunities and spot weaknesses. Your coach will regularly look at your data and gain your feedback to do this, understanding what makes you tick and putting lots of variation in to keep you engaged.
7. Your race strategy doesn't work
To attain a race-specific goal you need to not only have trained correctly leading up to the event but also know what you're going to do on the day. For instance, a common mistake is going off too fast, this could be due to not respecting the distance or being a 'Type A'. To manage this your coach will have got you to understand what race pace feels like in your race build-up and work on the mental side of racing of not getting caught up in the adrenaline at the start. Pacing isn't the only consideration come race day though, there are lots to think about such as distance, heat/cold, time of day, equipment, trainers, eating and drinking, terrain, altitude etc. If you can put all of the pieces of your race puzzle together you stand a great chance of hitting your goal by being fit and smart.
8. No geek outlet
Your enthusiasm for running may not always be shared by your friends or family and having someone else to discuss your thoughts and ideas can be really important for you. It can help maintain your focus and support you in making good choices for future races, selecting kit and improve your understanding of the hugely varied discipline of running. Your running buddies and forums can certainly help with this but sometimes it's good to chew the fat with someone who understands your running interests.
When you might not need a coach
Some runners are more inclined to achieve their goals without outside support. Here are a few reasons why that might be.
1. Your goals are not SMART
SMART as in Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound e.g. that you run for the joy of it, stress relief or are content with running a few days a week with no race focus in mind. What I mean here is that your running goals are lifestyle focussed.
2. You have strong accountability
This is where you do not struggle with the points made earlier on accountability and being a Type-A. You are motivated and are good at setting realistic goals. Often it is experienced runners that are good at managing their training and who have previously made mistakes and learned from them. They are good at listening to their bodies and can assess what has worked well for them and what does not.
3. You are a member of a running group or club
There are several benefits to joining a running club or group. They provide structure by meeting up regularly which will help you develop a routine for your training. They have a great social side which again will keep you motivated. Most clubs will have a running coach who will train groups of runners where each group will have a specific target event, e.g. a local marathon. Although group-driven, the coach should still treat each runner as an individual and give advice specific to each runner's ability. Clubs are great platforms for learning running and you should seek one that is a good fit for you. They are especially good if you're new to running as they will have beginner groups or if you prefer running with others. They're not for everyone though, especially where meet-up times do not fit with family and work commitments.
There's no getting away from the fact that there is a cost involved with having a coach versus obtaining a generic online plan, researching training methodology yourself or joining a club. When you factor in the costs associated with running e.g. shoes, race entries, travel costs then it can get expensive without then including coaching fees as well.
5. You have a relevant background
Similar to the earlier accountability point but with more emphasis on sports physiology and psychology. If you have had formal training in these then you will understand the stress running places on the body and the mental challenges. If you can realistically self assess (not many of us can) then you can tap into your expertise and device your training plans.
At the end of the day always remember you are unique. Your goals, training needs, lifestyle, stress levels, health etc is not the same as someone else. Heck, it's not even the same for you day to day, week to week. On the internet, I witness some terrible advice, suggested training sessions and see people trying to emulate their heroes. This isn't healthy for you mentally or physically, especially if you copy their training with aspirations to be as good as them. So whether you need a coach or not is a personal choice and there isn't a right or wrong answer. The points listed here are food for thought and there will be more reasons either way whether a coach would be right for you. The most important thing is to never compare yourself to anyone else and copy what they are doing. Be realistic about your current fitness levels and listen to your body. Don't be afraid to adjust course as you go along as this needs to happen to keep you happy and healthy. You'll thank yourself for it later.