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We have had a lot of enquires over the last few months about coaching, whether we offer the service and if it is worth it or not. While we currently don't offer coaching, it is something we would like to implement in the future. We thought it was relevant to therefore give some guidance on the subject.

We asked Sarah Cooke, running coach, Event Listings and Social Community Manager at the fantastic RunUltra, to share her thoughts on what a coach can offer you in order to help achieve your running goals.

What does a coach do and do you need one?

Photo: Sport Sunday
Running coaches are trained to work with runners of all distances, abilities and experience. If you are reading this, then you are probably at least considering UK Ultra’s South Downs 100k, so I will focus on what a coach might work on with a distance runner who isn’t a complete novice. I will then consider who may benefit from employing a coach.

Any coach worth their salt will tailor their approach to your specific needs. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but below are some of the things a coach might do with someone training for an ultra.

Help you develop SMART goals
Any training plan needs to be designed to help you meet your running goal(s). It is a collaborative approach – you decide what you want to achieve, what obstacles you hope to overcome and what is realistic for you in terms of the time you can dedicate to running. Your coach uses their expertise to design a plan that fits. SMART goals are:

Develop a training plan that helps you avoid under or over training
This is probably the biggest thing a coach does. They take your goals, the information you’ve given them about your running, fitness and lifestyle and use their knowledge and skills to produce a plan that is realistic and designed to enable you to reach your goals.

A training plan offers structure and your coach will be thinking on several levels. Each session will have a focus such as speed work, hill work, distance or recovery. They will also be looking at each session in the context of your whole week so you don’t have all your tough sessions bunched together.

Your coach will also look across the whole plan and load each week differently. This helps you avoid the over-training that comes from consecutive hard, high mileage weeks and ensures you get an easier week periodically. It also ensures you don’t ‘coast’ through successive easy weeks and under-train for your goal. If needed, a coach can also offer basic nutrition advice to help you get the most out of your sessions.

Help you address motivational issues
Any coach should be able to address both the physical and mental sides of running. However, each coach will have their own approach and strengths, so it’s worth doing your research and finding the right match for what you need.

If you are highly motivated but in need of advice to push your results to the next level then you may need a different coach from someone stuck in a rut and struggling to get out the door. If motivation is problematic for you, then your coach can offer an objective view on the barriers to you running and how to break them down.

A coach and a plan also offer accountability which some people find boosts their motivation. If it’s written down and your coach is going to know whether you ran or not, it may give you the kick you need. Once you are in the habit of running regularly, then that sense of achievement tends to motivate you to keep up the good work.

Advise you on strength work and cross training
A good strength and conditioning programme and cross training can go a long way towards keeping you injury-free. A coach can advise you based on your mileage, frequency of running and history of injuries.

If you do get injured and are unable to run, then your coach still has a role in supporting you and suggesting ways in which you can safely maintain some fitness through other activities. They will also help you evaluate whether your goals remain achievable and adapt your plan accordingly.

Support you to develop a mindset that will aid success
Learning to ride the peaks and troughs experienced during an ultra, cope with fatigue and think positively under stress are as important as the physical aspects of training. If your mind is defeating you then it’s something a coach can help you work on. They can also help you develop a race strategy to increase the chances of you doing yourself justice.

Do YOU need a coach?
Hopefully, the areas outlined above will give you some idea of whether working with a coach is likely to suit your needs and preferences. Do you have goals for your running? Do you want goals? Are you successful in achieving them on your own? Are you comfortable with structure and willing to try to stick to a plan?

Whatever their ability, any runner could benefit from the addition of a coach to keep them on track if they want to stay on track. Just make sure you check out the qualifications and/or experience of your chosen coach.

Many people hire a coach for a period of time to help them focus on a particular race or goal and then have a period of doing whatever they want for a while. Some people prefer structure all of the time. Others achieve their goals without ever having a coach.

If you are a goal-orientated person or you struggle to motivate yourself to train consistently then I recommend giving a coach a try. If you are happy using running to unwind and enjoy yourself without focusing on achievement, then that is equally valid. Good luck!

Previous Blog Post: Sarah Sawyer - Training and Staying Motivated in COVID-times