Coach or no?

Should you get a coach or will that free programme suffice?

This conversation crops up a bit here and it’d be great to say there was one answer that best suited everyone. But there isn’t. We’re all different and there’s loads of solutions out there to choose from.  If you’re making the commitment to run something massive like Surf Coast Century, Margaret River Ultra, or Ultra-trail Australia, you’d want to ensure you had the right support FOR YOU.

Firstly – Don’t let anyone tell you “YOU NEED A COACH”. Especially a coach. A coach that advertises, boosts posts, spams “join now” messages is a crocodile with a “come hither” glint in his eye. Don’t swim with crocodiles.

For most, we recommend coaching support for that first big running goal and then you can reassess what you need later. A good coach will not just give you the information to achieve your ambition but the tools and understanding to be able to do it yourself (with time).

Downloading a programme is a car without any driving lessons for a vehicle that may not be right for you. There’s a million free online plans out there but they all fall short on applicability to you and appropriateness for your goal/race. “Go for a 2hr long run” who me or the 120kg newcomer that hasn’t any previous experience? “Train 5 times a week” who me or the 74 year old grandmother that entered her first half marathon? If you are plastic enough to adopt an online plan by volume, what support does it give you going into the race? I use extreme examples but we’re all ‘not a little different’.

What do you need to know about pace management, nutrition, hydration etc? An online plan wont navigate you through the minefield of important detail you’ll either assume or collect of the social media misinformation superhighway. Likely they’ve been written by someone that shouldn’t even be writing programmes in the first instance. Your online plan wont help select the right shoes for the race, what to put in your drop bag and it wont be online to help you when your Garmin shits itself – yet again. A downloaded programme doesn’t know about the importance of recovery. It serves work and wont support your understanding of the adaptive stimulus to the applied stress. The part when you’re actually getting better as a runner.

A downloaded programme may tell you (roughly) what to do but almost certainly not WHY you’re doing it. Understand how to complete a session is important but what’s your investment in it if you don’t know why it’s important?

No, I’d recommend you skipped the tempting free online plan.

Getting a coach is like choosing whether to get your car serviced by the dealer or your enthusiastic-yet-slightly-dim neighbour Gary (sorry Gaz). I like Gary but he’s not a fulltime mechanic. He’s a recreational backyarder. Like so many coaches where coaching isn’t their profession, they’re not professionals. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend a coach who was a ‘hobby coach’. Choose a coach that wakes up each day and coaches. Coaches all day. Then goes to bed dreaming about coaching. If they’re not coaching they’re investing in becoming a better coach. I want the best for my car and I’m okay to pay extra for someone that knows what they’re doing. As a professional coach, they will have qualifications from recognised and trusted governing bodies like Athletics Australia and IAAF. Broad and diverse supplementary qualifications in nutrition, biomechanics, etc.

A professional coach will also be a legitimate registered business. A professional coach will pay tax, have an Operations Manual, formalised access arrangements and permits with landowners like NPWS and all the required insurance and health and safety documentation. As a consumer, this may not matter to you but it should help your decision-making process knowing that the person you’re planning to work with takes themselves serious enough to do the right thing by the law of the land.

Choose a coach that specialises in what you’re planning to do. Most events now will have a coach affiliated with them that is the specialist in that event. That coach likely knows the course intimately and has helped a good number of people complete it successfully.

Choose a coach that is invested in you. I attend enough events to see the complete absence of coaches and I wonder why it is they were willing to take people’s money but not care enough about them to be there to see them attempt/achieve their goal. I’d choose a coach that was going to be there on race day. To see you start, to smash your hand with a high-5 at half way, and to applaud your finish. Take a coach on your training journey but ensure there are present when you end it. A free downloaded programme or disinterested coach wont let you crash at their place when you’re in town and need a bed. Find a coach with an open door and show up at their place to laugh at their insane carpet choice…

Choose a coach that is recommended by many. We’re all reasonably smart and capable individuals and over time we’ll vote with our feet. The best races sell out quickly or are attended by thousands. A good coach will have testimonials or referrals that attest to the quality of service provided. On mass. Most coaches have a facebook page or reviews on google maps. This bit of research takes seconds – do it.

Choose a coach that has actually achieved something or can genuinely empathise with your position. There are many coaches out there that will tell people how to run but are terrible at it themselves. If they haven’t ever applied their principles to themselves for great success do they really know what they’re talking about? That said, some of the worlds best coaches weren’t the worlds best runners so this can be complicated but it shouldn’t take much to sniff out those that know what they’re talking about and those that don’t. You should know a car salesman shark when you meet one.

Choose a coach that places your athletic ambition over their own. Too many professional coaches run 200kms a week and travel the world racing. They care about themselves first and you second. Fine within reason but there’s a limit, right? All the accolades in the world seem like a good idea on paper but if they’re not replying to your facebook pm within the first few hours – where are they?

We’re fortunate in Australasia to essentially have 3 tiers and you should demand the best quality from the greatest investment. If you’re spending $45/w on a coach you’d want them to really be committing the time to you and you really should be taking your running pretty seriously. At that level you both have an expensive dog in the fight. I’ve seen enough programmes in my time to know a good one from a bad one and I am pretty certain that at $12/w (+GST) you can actually get a higher-quality product than something that costs 4x as much.

All this said, no coach will be there to lace up your shoes and push you out the door into the rain on a cold winters morning. Ultimately the training is done by YOU. Don’t make the mistake of paying for motivation. No coach will make you fit if you treat them like the ‘Bowflex’ machine you bought off the telly then slid under your coach never to be seen again. Unused training equipment wont make you fitter no matter how much you payed for it.

Choose a coach but choose wisely.