The Decision for a Running Coach

The decision to hire a running coach was a long thoughtful process. I first considered a coach over a year ago, but I decided at that time that having a coach wasn’t right for me. Simply I was uncoachable, as I wrote for Salty Running. I wasn’t ready or willing to give up control to someone else.

Still, the allure of coaching lingered and occasionally I would find myself browsing through various profiles of running coaches. Late 2016, early 2017 I started to consider hiring a coach more seriously. I made a list of things that I was looking for in a coach.

  • Not a personal friend: I have friends who coach and I love them dearly, but I made a conscious decision to avoid having one of them coach me. I know me and I would have a hard time differentiating between friend and coach, and honestly I would be a horror to coach because I wouldn’t feel compelled to listen. Some people feel more comfortable having a friend coach them because they know they’re getting someone who knows and understands them. I’m quite the opposite. I wouldn’t see the need to listen and rely on the fact that we’re friends to get away with not following the training plan.
  • Personalized coaching: I wanted a training plan that was specifically written up for me. I did not want a modified cookie-cutter training plan. I’ve followed several running blogs (still existing and defunct) for many years now and I’ve seen all kinds of things. Some years ago, all of a sudden it seemed as if everyone was getting this one coach (who shall remain nameless to protect the guilty) and everyone was wildly enthusiastic. After a few months, almost all of those bloggers left that coach and the ones who were willing to reveal why, complained that for all the money they spent on individualized coaching, it didn’t appear as if they got one because when everyone compared their plans, all the training runs were pretty much identical down to the mileage. The only difference appeared the pace. They complained that for less money they could have bought a training plan and done the same thing themselves.
  • Flexible, not dogmatic: Running is a hobby, not a profession for me. Therefore, I expect running to fit into my life, and not that my life would fit around training. I wanted a coach who understood this and worked with me to figure out a training plan that worked with the various responsibilities, travel, work, and life issues that came into my life. I definitely did not want a coach to say that it didn’t matter if I had absolutely no time to run on a particular day, if I had to wake up at 3 am to do it, then I needed to do it. Props to people who can wake up ridiculously early to run, but I would break in a couple of weeks.
  • Individual attention and easy to communicate with: If I’m paying $$$ for a coach, I better have their attention. If I have questions, I want answers. If I have concerns, I want to be able to talk to my coach. That coach I mentioned above was notorious for not answering or answering emails quite late.
  • Not ticky-tacky: Sometimes the devil is in the details, but other times you need to let it go. Years ago I followed a blogger whose coach regularly commented on her blog about her training. One of the coach’s philosophy was that you needed to train under conditions similar to what you were going to race; therefore, if it’s a road race, you better train on the road and not on the treadmill. While the blogger did do most her runs on the road, once in a while she ran on a treadmill because . . . well . . life. If it was a question of no running or treadmill running for that day, she chose treadmill running. The coach, without fail, always commented, “It’s good that you got the run done, but next time do it on the road.” The blogger would always try to explain that yes, she does try to do all of her runs on the road, but sometimes she didn’t have time to go out. I found the coach unbearable. I didn’t want this in my coach.
  • Must be faster than me: I feel like this is self-explanatory. Why would I trust a coach to get me faster if I was already faster than them?
  • Have evidence of successfully trained other athletes: I need to know that the coach can coach and can do so effectively. An advantage of the internet and blogging is that I can get an awful lot of info about coaches that they can’t control (i.e., their clients). I noticed that certain coaches got great results from their athletes, but at a great cost (i.e., burn out, chronic injury). I avoided those coaches.
  • Someone I can work well with: If I’m paying a coach for their time, I better be able to get along with them.
  • Price point of somewhere between $75-125 per month: I expect that individual coaching is more expensive than buying a training plan and I’m willing to pay up to a point. I don’t want my hobby to become even more expensive than it is. One of the coaches I had considered was going to cost $200/month. I said good-bye pretty quickly.
  • Preferably located somewhere in New York City so I could have occasional in-person coaching: I really love the idea of meeting with a coach once a month or so to go on a run together and receive live coaching.

I diligently did a search of running coaches all over the US: some famous, some not, some local, some far-flung, of various kinds and ilk. I knew what I wanted, but I wasn’t ready to pull the trigger on anyone I had found.

We’ve all read articles on why we shouldn’t compare ourselves to others on social media, but I have found that social media comparison can be a useful tool. A blogger friend, Judy of So Very Slightly Mad, and I follow each other on Strava. When I met her two years ago, we were roughly at the same level. Our training paces were about the same and we had similar PRs. She is a little older than me. In terms of running, I felt we were quite similar. I noticed that all of a sudden, she was kicking ass. Her training paces dropped and her race times were what my long-term future goals were. This all happened within what I felt was a matter of months. Whatever her Kool-Aid was, I wanted some too. I messaged her to ask what she was doing. She answered that she switched coaches and that she was now training with Leah Rosenfeld and the Run SMART Project. Judy gushed over Leah.

The Run SMART Project is a coaching service that offers customized training plans and private coaching using the training philosophy of Dr. Jack Daniels. I won’t go into detail about his training methods or my marathon training lead up here (that’ll be another post). My running club, PPTC, was planning on using Run Smart’s custom training plan to train for the NYC Marathon. It seemed as if the stars were pointing in this direction.

I looked at the price for private coaching. $139/month. Yikes! That was a bit higher than what I wanted/expected to pay. I hemmed and hawed for a bit and finally decided to bite the bullet. I figured at worst, this was going to be an expensive mistake and a waste of time. (Aren’t I a ray of sunshine?) As I said before, I was having a hard time going out and motivating myself to put in the work to change. I needed someone to kick my ass and I was willing to pay for it. I didn’t have a great race season last year and I was tired


Leah & I competed in the Tracktown Summer Series 5k in NYC. She’s definitely faster than me.

of the small marginal gains that I was making. I knew I needed to change my training, but I wasn’t willing to do it on my own. I filled out an application and submitted to Run SMART in late April. There’s a line where you can request a specific coach, but I decided to leave it blank and let them decide who would be the best match for me. Coincidentally, they gave me Leah, as well.

I’ve been working with Leah ever since late spring and it’s been a wonderful partnership. I can’t say enough laudatory things about Leah. She’s everything I’ve ever wanted in a coach (see above list, except for the price and she’s not in NYC, but rather in Flagstaff, AZ). Under her guidance, I set massive PRs in every distance I raced this year. I saw my times drop in large chunks in a way that I hadn’t seen in over two years. I wrote a testimonial for her right after my huge Wineglass Half PR. In my next post, I’ll go into the 2017 marathon training cycle.

15 thoughts on “The Decision for a Running Coach

  1. All great reasons to hire and not hire a coach. I work with someone occasionally who I think is phenomenal and we do it on both our terms. If I had someone reading my blog and calling me out, I would be absolutely annoyed. Sometimes I think coaches do that to try and promote themselves, but it can definitely backfire.

    • It was rare that someone specifically called out a coach; they were usually more discreet and I had to read between the lines. But it’s pretty clear what’s going on everyone says the same evasive thing.

  2. Being coachable is a good quality to have as an athlete, but you have to trust the coach right? I don’t mind making myself hurt big time in training because I know that what I am doing is going to pay off. If I did not trust my coach, I would be led willing to put myself through it all.
    I am so glad to see you making these gains! Clearly you and Leah are a great team!

    • Definitely trust in a coach is a MUST because you’re giving up so much control over to the coach. This training cycle was so different from what I’ve done in the past that in the beginning, I had a hard time understanding how it was going to lead to my goal. This year has been amazing!

  3. Kudos to you for a) deciding to change things, making a plan, & following through, b) getting really clear on what you wanted in a coach, & c) doing a ton of research before deciding which direction to go in. Clearly it’s worked out great for you so congratulations!! 🙂

  4. So glad I stumbled on this post! Trying to figure out if I want a running coach now. I’ve run quite a few half marathons and 2 full marathons. I’ve never tried to go for time on any of them, though. So I’m trying to figure out if me actually setting a timed goal would be enough to go to the next level of running, or if I should get a coach!

    • Have you ever followed a training plan, like Hal Higdon’s? Or perhaps join a running club? There are lots of other options besides hiring a running coach. It could be the right choice for you, but you should consider other options first. All the best to you!

  5. I always have to LOL whenever a real human is named Jack Daniels. This is an impressive list for finding a coach. I do not know if I love running enough to invest in one.

    “Must be faster than me:” I know exactly how you feel when I see out of shape trainers at the gym. I guess it can be a cautionary tale of what NOT to do.

  6. This is a great list. Too many people hire a coach without thinking it through and complain when they don’t get the results they wanted. Clearly you made the right decision since it’s worked out so well for you. Thanks for sharing this!

    • You’re right, too many people jump in and hire a coach without enough consideration. Just because one coach is good for a someone, doesn’t always mean it is a right fit for you. There’s a bit of faddishness with various “celebrity” coaches.

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