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ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, ISSAonline, How to Become a Running Coach: A Simple 5-Step Process

How to Become a Running Coach: A Simple 5-Step Process

Reading Time: 7 minutes


DATE: 2023-07-26

Like any type of personal trainer, a running coach helps clients set and achieve a specific goal. They may want to compete in their first full or half marathon, for instance. A running coach can develop the training program that gets them ready. Or maybe they’ve been a runner for years but want to improve their speed or time. Working with a coach offers this ability. 

If this sounds like the type of coaching you’d like to offer, you may wonder what you need to do to specialize in running. We’ll definitely get into that. But before we talk about how to become a running coach, let’s first go over a few of the benefits of offering this type of service.

Benefits of Being a Run Coach

If you’re passionate about running, becoming a coach enables you to share this passion with others. Your excitement can help more people fall in love with the benefits that running provides. 

As a running coach, you also help clients avoid injury. The Cleveland Clinic shares that as many as six in 10 runners will suffer an injury that is serious enough to stop their training for weeks if not months (1). Imagine how satisfying it would be to lower this number. 

Creating a program that builds strength and aids in recovery can reduce injury risk. Think of all the people who could continue their running regimen solely because your program helped keep them injury-free.

Expanding your services to include running coaching is a great way to get more clients and make more money. According to Glassdoor.com, the average total pay for a running coach salary in the United States is $49,137 per year (2).

Is This the Right Coaching Pathway for You?

Of course, becoming a running coach isn’t the right choice for everyone. To help determine if it’s a good choice for you, it helps to answer these questions:

  • Do I have a passion for running? When you’re passionate about something, you have an excitement that becomes contagious. Your clients pick up on it and begin to get excited too. Passion can also keep your training from feeling monotonous. Your love for all things running pushes you to stay engaged with your clients every day.

  • Do I like to stay updated on running science and news? Are you aware of the latest running trends? Do you like to read about the latest running research? If running-related headlines tend to capture your attention, this might be a good coaching pathway for you.

  • Do I have a desire to work specifically with a runner athlete? Think about your ideal client. Are they a runner? If the answer is yes, learning how to become a running coach can prepare you to work with your target audience.

  • Would my current clients benefit from a running coach? If you currently coach clients, have a lot of them shared dreams of running a marathon or other long run event? Do some wish to run more efficiently even if its not for a race? Offering run coaching enables you to help them achieve this additional fitness goal without having to hire another trainer. 

How to Become a Running Coach in 5 Simple Steps

If you’re interested in offering services as a running coach, here’s how to enter this career track.

Step 1: Obtain Advanced Training in the Sport of Running

Running takes more than putting on shoes and hitting the treadmill, roadway, or another running trail. It requires proper form. It also requires training at the appropriate fitness level. Obtaining advanced knowledge teaches you how to address these important factors.

During training, you learn which cross training methods are best for marathon runners. This helps prevent overuse injuries. You also learn how to mentally motivate runners. This can keep the recreational runner coming back for more. And it helps the elite runners work hard enough to improve their performance.

Step 2: Earn Your Running Coach Certification

Earning your running coach certification adds credibility. It tells a potential client that you understand how to create a safe and effective running program. Having your certification can also propel you above your competition. If a client has to choose, a certified coach is more likely to be preferred over a coach who lacks certification.

Some training programs offer coach certification as part of the package. This enables you to move seamlessly from step one to step two. It also ensures that you have the information needed to pass the running coach certification exam.

Step 3: Develop a Training Program for Runners

With advanced knowledge and your coach certification in hand, the next step is to develop your training program. Consider the main goals you want to help your clients meet. If most of your clients want to finish their first marathon, create a marathon training program for beginners. If you’re targeting a more experienced runner, your training may focus on boosting speed or distance. 

Maybe you want to provide training for a specific event. You could develop a training schedule for people who want to run the Boston Marathon, for instance. Let clients know what time they need to qualify. In your training, you could also discuss how not every Boston qualifier will be accepted to run the race due to size restrictions. This helps them not take it personally if their submission is declined.

The training doesn’t have to just be about how to master a long run either. It could also include other exercises beneficial for your runner clients. You might develop a core strength training program for runners, for example. This would help clients boost running performance while decreasing their injury risk.

Step 4: Market Your Running Coach Services

Once your training program is designed, you’re ready to market it. Get the word out that you are a running coach. Help potential clients envision you as the coach who can help them achieve their running goals. (Don’t forget to mention your certification so they know you are qualified!)

One way to get the word out is to offer your training plan to current personal training clients. They already trust you, so if they are interested in running, you would naturally be their first choice. Even if they’re not interested, they may know someone who might be. Their referral would carry a lot of weight. 

Another option is to reach out to a local running group or road runners club. Share your training with them so they know it exists. You may even give their members a discount on your coaching services to sweeten the deal. 

You can also talk about the benefits of running fitness in your online blog. At the end of the post, share how a coach can help improve performance and reduce injury. Then mention your training and coaching style. Help the reader make the connection between hiring you and becoming a stronger, healthier athlete.

Step 5: Stay Current with Continuing Education Courses

You can’t just become a certified running coach and call it good. Like with any sport, we continue to learn more about running over time. Staying updated ensures that your clients have access to the best training protocol. It also establishes you as a coach who is innovative and on-trend.

Continuing education courses can help you keep your education and training current. You learn the latest coaching and training methods. You’re informed as to what does and doesn’t work based on the newest research.

If Your Goal is to Work with the Elite Athlete 

Do you dream of working as a running coach for some of the top athletes in this sport? Can you see yourself training competitors in the USA Triathlon or working with members of the USA Track & Field team? 

This is completely possible, especially as a certified running coach. Earning your certification helps prepare you for a higher-level head coach role. It gets you one step closer to the athletics coach position you want to hold.

Qualities of a Good Running Coach

Certain qualities can help take your running coach career to the next level. Qualities of a good coach in the running space include:

  • Has running experience. Clients will be more willing to take your advice if you have experience running. If you don’t, they may find it hard to take you seriously. It’d be like hiring a yoga instructor who has never done a pose. It wouldn’t make much sense.

  • Is motivational. Running isn’t easy. It’s even harder when those runs are long or intense. A good coach can keep a client going even on the days they want to quit. This coach knows exactly what to say to keep them putting one foot in front of the other.

  • Knows how to build mental toughness. A good coach builds mental toughness as much as they build physical toughness. They help running clients develop the resilience needed to stay the course. The phrase “I can’t” is removed from the client’s vocabulary. Instead, it is replaced with “I will.”

  • Understands realistic running goals. A good coach knows how to help clients set realistic goals. This sets the client up for success versus setting goals that will never be met, causing them to feel discouraged and give up. Realistic goals allow for small wins. They inspire the client to stick to their coaching plan.

  • Implements strength training and cross training in the workout plan. If you want to be a good coach, your training needs to address more than just running. It should also include other exercises beneficial to runners. This includes strength training to build the muscles used in the runs. It also incorporates cross training to keep balance in the body.

Online Running Coach vs In-Person Running Coach

You can deliver your coaching services in person or online. Some clients prefer an in-person running coach because they want face-to-face interaction. Or they might feel more comfortable with someone in their local area.

Others like the benefits that an online coach provides. They’re not limited to a coach within their geographical area. If the training is on-demand, an online coach also offers maximum convenience. They can do the training any time of day or night that works best with their schedule and other demands.

Neither type of running coach is better than the other. It’s more about client preference. It’s also about your preference as a coaching professional.

Ready For Your Running Coach Certification?

ISSA’s Running Coach certification course teaches you the technical details of running form and techniques as well as training drills and workouts. You’ll also learn how to apply these training techniques to a variety of populations. It’s everything you need to thrive as a certified running coach.

Featured Course

ISSA | 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.


  1. 6 Running Injuries and How to Treat Them. Cleveland Clinic. (2020). Retrieved 14 June 2022, from https://health.clevelandclinic.org/the-most-common-running-injuries-plus-how-to-treat-them/.

  2. Running Coach Salaries. Glassdoor. (2023, June 14). https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/running-coach-salary-SRCH_KO0,13.htm

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