Women have an uncanny way of supporting everyone else, before themselves. And worse, of praising others for their achievements (especially children), yet not recognising their own. This can often lead many women to believe they are not good enough, especially when it comes to running. Not good enough to join a club. To run faster. To be better. This is where a coach can transform your running experience and set your confidence on fire.
“For many women, the club system doesn’t work, perhaps due to work or family commitments,” says Ben Noad, ex-GB international runner and coach from Soar Running (soarrunning.com). “Some ladies don’t feel comfortable joining a club, as they believe they’re not good enough, or they want to train at lunchtime so their evenings are free to concentrate on family. This is where a coach can help.” But surely paying for a coach is something you do when you’re a national or international runner?
“Not true,” says Richard Coates, a coach from Full Potential (fullpotential.co.uk). “Paid-for coaching is for any runner. It’s not elitist. Anyone – beginners, those wanting to lose weight, club runners wanting to hit specific times, or ultrarunners wanting to achieve qualifying times – will benefit. In fact, we coach more women than men.”
When you start running, you may believe all you have to do is get out the door and run. As your running journey continues, you realise it’s a little more complicated than this.
“Different types of training will give different stimulus,” explains Olympian and European silver medalist Andy Vernon, founder of Improve Your Running (improveyourrunning.co.uk). “We won’t all react in the same way. The art of coaching is to work out what works best for any individual athlete.”
A lot of coaching success is also largely down to psychology. Being accountable to a coach can transform a runner. “Many runners know what they should do, but don’t train well on their own,” says Noad. “If you’re paying someone and meeting up with them, you will give your best effort. If you take it easy when you run on your own, you’re not accountable to anyone.”
I can verify this. During my own recent experience of a coaching package with Soar Running, I found having both the structure of a weekly schedule and reporting back to a coach made me realise how much I use excuses to avoid tough sessions.
One-to-one coaches should look at all the different factors that affect your running. They will want to get to know you and understand your running, and find out what isn’t working for you.
“They should also be reactive to your running as it’s happening, even if you only meet once a week,” believes Coates. “This means they should look at your technique, your effort as you run, your strength work and nutrition. This is a whole package – they shouldn’t be just talking about your running.”
For one-to-one coaching, expect to pay between £30 and £50 per one-hour session, with prices up to £75 in London. If you’re investing this much, make that hour work for you. Don’t turn up late, be ready to run in the right kit and be prepared to give feedback on the training you’ve done in the last week. Make sure your coach knows exactly what your goals are.
Online coaching is usually cheaper than one-to-one, although you’ll find most online coaches offer varying packages. These will differ in the amount of contact given and how often training plans are sent out. They should also offer some general information about strength and conditioning, nutrition, race planning, goal setting and help with injuries.
“The key is to find a package that suits your requirements and budget,” says Vernon. Most packages will start with a basic training plan sent out on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, and will cost between £10 and £25 per week. You should expect a weekly or fortnightly phone or Skype call, as well as regular email support, for this amount.
“A good coach will only send out up to bi-weekly plans – anything longer and you’re not reacting to changes as they happen,” says Vernon. “I only offer weekly plans, as I think it’s important to find out how the last seven days have been before setting the next seven. I find this makes the plan tailored to each individual.”
If injury/illness or life issues crop up, let your coach know as soon as possible, to give them the chance to adapt your plan for the week ahead. A good coach will be understanding, reassure you and change your training week accordingly.
“We all only have one energy pot for everything we do,” says Noad. “A lot of running is about managing fatigue and this is where a coach’s insight can help to prevent overtraining or risk of injury.”
If your coach is too busy to talk once a week, or takes a week to respond to your emails, they’re not doing the job you’re paying them for.
If a coach promises you vast improvements over short periods of time, it’s probably wise not to choose them. We can all get better, but this normally happens gradually. “If you are going to be great at something, you would probably already know,” says Vernon. “It’s unlikely you’d go 30 years of your life not knowing you had a hidden talent, particularly for something we all do every year on sports day.”
Remember, improvements in running take time. Both you and your coach need to get to know one another and, for the first few weeks, your plan will need tinkering until it suits you. Give yourself two to three months to see results.
Never assume that a good coach has to be a fast runner, either. Many excellent running coaches don’t run, or don’t run fast, but are instead successful due to their knowledge and desire to provide support in all areas of your training.
“A great coach should offer you help, support and motivation,” says Coates. “They’ll probably become something like an agony aunt, too.”
Coaching is for all runners, regardless of their ability, age or purpose. “Whether you’re a 70-year-old six-hour marathoner or a 13-year-old sprinter, absolutely everyone can benefit from a coach,” stresses Vernon.