ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, ISSAonline, 7 Key Factors to Consider Before Hiring a Running Coach

7 Key Factors to Consider Before Hiring a Running Coach

Reading Time: 5 minutes 45 seconds


Date: 2022-06-22

Running seems like such a simple sport. All you need is a good running shoe and a treadmill, track, or trail, and you’re all set, right? Not if you consider that at least one in two regular runners are injured each year. One way to keep injuries to a minimum is to hire a run coach.

What Running Coaches Do

A running coach can provide a safe, effective training plan designed with the runner in mind. This includes not only a running workout but other exercises too. 

For instance, runners benefit from a strong core. So, a complete training plan would include strength training exercises that target core muscles. It’s also common for runners to have tight hips. Including hip stretches in the program can help keep these muscles from tightening up and causing injury or pain.

A great coach also serves as motivation for the runner. The coach pushes you to continue working toward your goal when all you really want to do is give up. A coach holds you accountable for completing each workout in the training plan. This prevents you from getting off track with your training schedule.

Think you’d be a great running coach? Get certified with ISSA!

7 Key Factors to Consider Before Hiring a Running Coach

A running coach provides many benefits. However, not every coach and client is a good fit. Here are seven factors to consider when looking for a potential coach.

#1: Your Running Goal

The reason this factor is important is that you want a running coach who can help you meet your goal. If you don’t know what that goal is, how do you know if they are the right coach for you?

For example, maybe your goal involves qualifying for, then running the Boston Marathon or Chicago Marathon. Hiring a coach that offers only 5k or half marathon training won’t necessarily get you where you want to be. Instead, you want a coach who offers marathon training. If your goal is to run for the USA Track & Field team, you want a coach who works with elite athletes.

Ask yourself what you want to accomplish as a runner. Keep this in mind when doing your search for a running coach.

#2: Your Skill and Fitness Level

Are you a new runner? You would likely want a different coach than a more experienced runner. Or maybe you’re a recreational runner who likes to hit the trails on weekends but doesn’t do much running during the week. Choosing a coach who works primarily with the elite runner wouldn’t make much sense since the training cycle would probably be more intense than what you’re looking for.  

Also consider your fitness level. If you’re new to running, look for a coach who works with beginners. If you’ve been running for several years, search for a coach who works with a more established athlete. 

#3: How Much Time You Can Commit to a Training Program

Look at your schedule. How much time can you commit regularly to your running program? With an answer in hand, you can find a running coach who offers a plan that matches your schedule openings.

For instance, if you can only train three times per week, you want a coach whose plan is three days per week. If their plan is six days per week, you’re going to miss half of the training days. This isn’t good for you, the athlete because you will fall behind. 

Plus, the program is designed to work with six days of training versus three. If you only do some of the workouts, this opens you up for running injuries. Knowing up front how much time you can commit to training helps you select a coach who offers a program that fits into your schedule.

#4: Whether You Want an In-Person or Online Running Coach

As a runner, you can work with a coach in person or online. In-person coaching is good for people who prefer face-to-face training. It’s also beneficial for a new runner as the coach can more easily monitor your form.

Online coaching may be preferable if you don’t have a running coach in your local area or if you don’t need that face-to-face interaction. You might also want an online coach if your training schedule doesn’t conform to the openings in the in-person coach’s schedule.

To be clear, each type of running coach can help you hit your goal. It’s more about what kind of coaching works best for you.

#5: If You Want a General or Customized Training Plan

Are you looking for a basic running plan—such as a couch to 5k program—or do you want a plan that is customized to you? Some coaches offer the former while others provide the latter. 

A more general plan can help you learn the ins and outs of mastering the long run. Conversely, a plan that is customized takes into account your personal skills and fitness level. It is designed solely for you as opposed to being available to an entire running club, for instance.

It’s also possible that a running coach has both a cookie-cutter program and individualized training options. The cookie-cutter program is likely to be less expensive while still getting clients prepared for a long run event. The individualized program may be a better option for people with a very specific or advanced running goal.

#6: What You Are Looking for in a “Good Running Coach”

What does a “good coach” look like to you? What is their coaching philosophy? How do they motivate their clients? What do they say? What do they do? Answering questions such as these help you identify a running coach who fits this mold. 

Some people think a good coach is someone with a boot camp style, pushing their running clients every step of the way. To others, a good coach is someone who is less direct and more comforting than confrontational. 

Decide in advance the style of coaching you prefer most. Then, look for a running coach who provides that style.

#7: Qualifications of the Prospective Coach

Above all else, your coach should be qualified to teach you the sport of running. But what does being qualified mean? Here are a few things to look at:

  • Their coaching experience. How long have they been a coach? What experience do they have training people to hit their fitness goals? This doesn’t mean that a new running coach can’t be effective because they can. But knowing their level of experience helps keep your expectations in check. 

  • Their level of knowledge and training. Anyone can proclaim to be a coaching expert. To help weed out the real deal from the less-than-qualified imposter, ask about their level of training. Have they completed a fitness training course? How expansive is their running knowledge? Do they know how to create a safe and effective running plan? If they don’t provide satisfactory answers, look for a coaching professional who can.

  • If they are a certified coach. A certified running coach is someone who has passed a competency exam. This provides a certain level of credibility in their abilities as a running trainer. It also says that they’re serious enough about the sport to ensure that they know the proper training techniques. 

One Final Question: Are They the Right Running Coach for You?

After considering these seven factors, it’s also helpful to ask one final question. That question is whether the coach feels like a good fit for you.

A running coach can look great on paper but, sometimes, something just feels off. Trust your gut. If they don’t feel like the right coach for you, keep looking. Continue to talk to potential coaches until you find someone that you mesh with—someone who will motivate you to stay on the running course.

If You Are a Personal Trainer Interested in Becoming a Running Coach

Are you currently coaching clients but would like to specialize in running? Earning your running coach certification is one option. In this type of training, you learn how to help clients interested in trail running or completing a marathon, for instance. You’ll also learn proper running form and technique. This will help your clients complete their training plan with fewer injuries.

If you’d like to coach a road runners club or another running group, it's time to become a Certified Running Coach. You'll learn the elements of the human stride and adaptations for all body types along with running technique and drills. You'll also learn how to program running workouts for all your clients.

Featured Course

Running Coach

Lose yourself on the track? Get the most out of your running ability with the NEW Running Coach Certification with ISSA and share your passion for running with others while training them to reach their personal goals.


Running Injuries. Yale Medicine. (2022). Retrieved 8 June 2022, from

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