What can a running coach do for me?

We are successful as a species because we do not have to learn everything from scratch. We can rely on knowledge from others who have already walked the path we want to follow.

Rene Borg

Motivation is the important factor in the relationship between the athlete and the coach and hope is the keyword in motivation. We all have hopes. The coach, the athlete, everyone. But the goal on which hope is based have to be realistic. It’s no good a coach telling an athlete he can run a four-minute mile when he knows damn well he’s not going to do it.” – Arthur Lydiard, Running to the Top (1997)

Coaching is no longer a privilege reserved for elite runners, more and more ‘amateur’ runners employ a coach to help them achieve their goals. I have noticed this upturn personally since I started my own coaching practice over a decade ago.

You will find no studies showing whether coaching improves your chances of reaching your goals and beating your race target times. Yet self-coached high-performing athletes are few and far between, most high-performing athletes work with a coach in some capacity.

When I began my own running career, I wanted to minimise the risk of wasting my time doing the wrong training. I reasoned that the only advantage I had over much more talented elite runners was that I had enough income to hire a coach. As an IT professional I made more money than most elite runners and so I felt I could use that resource to hire a professional coach to shorten my path to success. I never regretted the decision. My coach was knowledgeable and personable and helped me deliver the marathon time I had targeted the first time around. She greatly shortened the time it took me to understand how training works (and this knowledge set me up on my own path to becoming a coach).

A coach can provide you with many things. The legendary coach Arthur Lydiard – known as the ‘Father of Jogging’ – summarised their key input to you as ‘motivation, goal-setting and objective direction’. He felt runners would get the best motivation if they were well-informed and understood their training because it was communicated to them in a sensible way and because they have confidence in their coach.

Human culture works like this in all domains: we are successful as a species because we do not have to learn everything from scratch. We can rely on knowledge from others who have already walked the path we want to follow. Why spend the time to figure everything out anew when you can rely on someone else to do that and instead start training correctly right away?

When you have a goal, you should pour as much energy into executing the activities necessary to achieve it. The more activities you can ‘outsource’ to others who support you in that quest, the better results you will get. A good coach will take care of most of the planning, reviewing, and modification of your training so you can simply ‘execute’.

The benefits of coaching go far beyond simply saving time and energy. Today we know that if you give 20 similar runners the same program then you end up with 20 different results. Each of the twenty people may be similar but each has a unique life situation that directly affects the results created by their training. We’ll explore these aspects of each runner’s unique life situation in future posts but for now, suffice it to say that a coach’s main job is to understand your unique situation and modify training accordingly. Experienced runners may be able to do this themselves but most of us require an outside observer and guide.

Getting a coach can shorten the path to your goals. It saves you the time having to learn all the knowledge and gain all the experiences you may not yet have but that someone else already possesses. You will become an expert on your own running quicker than through self-study. A coach can provide objective feedback and direction on how your training should be altered to your unique life situation and shifting circumstances. They will often curb your worst instincts and help amplify the best.

Still not sure what a coach can do for you? We’ll go more in-depth in future posts about the value of the coach and athlete relationship, why it works and how to make the most of it.