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What Makes a Good Running Coach?

Reading Time: 5 minutes 10 seconds

By: ISSA

Date: 2022-06-06


The best running coaches get results for their clients, but that’s not all. They are motivators and experienced runners and competitors. They know when to be a drill sergeant and when to be a friend. They both push and inspire. 

If you’re looking for a coach to improve your running, don’t settle. Know what to look for and spend your money on the best. If you are a trainer considering becoming a coach, find out what clients want and need in a great running coach. 

What Does a Running Coach Do? 

Like any type of coach, a running coach wears many hats. In its most basic form, a coach is someone who trains and motivates someone to meet specific goals. To do this, a running coach must do several things for their clients: 

  • Get to know clients as individuals and runners

  • Assess clients’ current running and fitness levels

  • Create personalized goals

  • Develop a training plan

  • Revise the training plan as needed

  • Provide plans for stretching, mobility, recovery, strength training, and preventing injuries

  • Provide motivation and accountability 

  • Check in with clients on a weekly basis at a minimum

  • Answer questions and address concerns

  • Prepare clients for race day with advice on fueling, rest, and more

  • Provide ongoing support for injuries, scheduling, long-term planning, and more

What Makes a Good Running Coach? 

Whether you are thinking of putting your running experience to use as a coach or are a runner looking for a good coach, it’s important to know what sets a good coach apart from the rest. These are the traits, skills, experiences, and habits of the best running coaches. 

#1. They Have Extensive Personal Experience

It sounds obvious, but the best running coaches have plenty of personal experiences with their own running. You wouldn’t go to a personal trainer who never works out, right? And you wouldn’t go to a coach to run your first marathon if they have no experience at that distance. 

This doesn’t mean someone has to be a former college track star and have won marathons. It simply means they should be a runner, someone who puts in the miles because they enjoy it. It means they have faced their own personal challenges on the course and in races. They have practical experience with training, fueling, adjusting workouts, facing race-day nerves, and accepting losses. 

Are you a trainer or coach with a client dreaming of completing a marathon? If so, check out this handy guide to marathon training

#2. Good Coaches Have Credentials

All the years of experience with personal running is great, but it doesn’t replace education and training. Good coaches take what they do seriously and back up personal experience with professional learning. At a minimum, a coach should have a personal training certification from a reputable organization. 

Even better, is a recognized running coach credential. A certification in personal training gives a coach a solid foundation in fitness, body mechanics, muscle imbalances, nutrition, and exercise. Add to that a running coach credential, and you have the makings of a real professional, who takes their work seriously. 

#3. A Good Coach Personalizes Services for Each Runner

Any runner can find and purchase a training plan online. You can find plans for nearly every distance of race and pace. These work to some extent, but what a good coach offers is a more personalized, adaptable approach. 

Good coaches evaluate their clients first and only then create the training plan. Not only that, but they adapt and change the plan as needed throughout training. 

Personalization goes beyond the training plan. A good coach also tailors their approach and motivational strategies for each client. A coach might have a certain style and tried-and-tested training strategies they swear by, but they should also be flexible enough to tweak the approach after getting to know a client.

#4. The Best Coaches Get Results

People hire running coaches to meet goals. For most, this means finishing a particular distance or getting a personal best time. Following any coaches training plan will likely get you fitter, but the best coaches help you hit those more specific, challenging running goals. 

A good coach should be more than willing to share past results with prospective clients. They are generally excited to show others what they have helped clients achieve. If a coach can’t show a new client what’s possible, they might not be the best at what they do. 

The best coaches are backed by previous clients who are happy to talk up how they helped them meet their goals. Good coaches have excellent references and word of mouth. When runners have good experiences with coaches, they share them. 

Getting results means putting in the work. Here are some useful exercises and drills that build speed for runners. 

#5. They Are Available

While you can’t expect your running coach to answer questions outside of normal hours, they should be available to their clients within a reasonable time frame. Improving as a runner is about so much more than sticking to the plan. It’s a mental game. The best coaches make their clients feel comfortable contacting them with worries and questions and when they just need some encouragement. 

What Makes a Good Running Coach Working Online? 

Coaching is increasingly happening online. There are a lot of benefits to working with an online running coach. Mostly, it’s convenient and allows clients to access coaches outside of their area. 

There are challenges too. Coaching online requires many of the same skills and traits as standard coaching, but it’s a different animal. A good online coach has all the same qualities of an in-person coach, and then some. 

For instance, all good coaches are responsive. If you can’t see your coach, though, it’s even more important that they respond to emails, texts, and calls. 

It can be easy for a client to confuse an online coach with a generic training plan for sale. The best online coaches emphasize personalization, so their clients get the full experience even from a distance. They make it very clear what an online client will get from them and how it might differ from in-person coaching. 

How Do I Become a Running Coach? 

The first step in becoming a running coach is recognizing that you have the passion and experience and the qualities needed to be good at it. If you’re ready to get started, consider taking these steps: 

  • If you aren’t already a personal trainer, consider starting with this certification to build a solid foundation of knowledge and credentials. 

  • Look into running coach certification as well. Training and coaching are not the same things, and this will help you build additional skills. 

  • Decide whether you will work online, in-person, or both. Regardless of which you choose, build a good website. 

  • Check out coaching software and apps that will make your job easier and allow you to track and connect with clients. 

  • Start building a social media presence to get the word out. 

  • Consider doing some pro bono work with friends or family to get started. You can build your practice and skills with people you know and trust. In exchange, they can leave reviews and refer you to friends and acquaintances. 

Working as a certified running coach can be a really rewarding career or second job. If you’re passionate about your own running, and you like to help others, consider training to work as a coach. 

Earning a personal training certification is a great way to launch a career as a running coach. The ISSA’s Certified Personal Trainer – Self-Guided Study Program teaches students the fundamentals of fitness, training, coaching, nutrition, and more. Get started today!


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