How to Hire a Running Coach - Advice from Coach Jack Daniels

Whether you love the challenge of competition or your passion rests solely in the simple joys of going for a run, you may have considered hiring a coach before.

Of course, no matter what kind of runner you are, this can seem like a big step - even for someone who takes so many of them every day.

While I’m a passionate runner who has joined running groups and has had coaches in the past, I’m no expert when it comes to the topic.

Fortunately, the expert was willing to take time out of his busy schedule to answer eight questions I had about hiring a running coach.

Everything You Need to Know About Hiring a Running Coach

I’m guessing that the vast majority of you probably don’t need to be reminded of who Dr. Jack Daniels is or why he’s so important to the world of running

However, I know many of you are new to the sport, so let me quote from his bio on The Run S.M.A.R.T. Project:

“Two-time Olympic medalist in the Modern Pentathlon and world-renowned exercise scientist. Named ‘The World’s Best Running Coach’ by Runner’s World, he led Cortland University runners to eight NCAA Division III National Championships, 31 individual national titles, and more than 130 All-America awards. Coached seven athletes to the U.S. Olympic team and has advised dozens of Olympians and medalists. He is world-famous for writing Daniels’ Running Formula, a 1998 book outlining his unique training philosophies.

In other words, Dr. Daniels knows a thing or two about running.

That includes everything there is to know about hiring a running coach. So, with that in mind, I recently sat down with Dr. Jack Daniels to ask him the most common questions about what this process entails.

A Runner with a Runner Coach

1. Why do people hire running coaches?

There are five main reasons that runners decide to hire coaches. They want to:

        • Understand what kind of training is appropriate to achieve their goals (including running and cross training): how much, how often and at what intensity. 
        • Know when they are ready to run a race and at what distance. 
        • Receive positive motivation relative to training and racing. 
        • Learn how to properly incorporate rest as part of training. 
        • Learn about proper hydration and nutrition relative to training and racing.

2. What can you expect from a running coach?

Every coach is different, but at a minimum, runners should expect that their coaches will:

        • Treat them as individuals. 
        • Tell them how fast to run in training and in races of different distances. 
        • Tell them the purpose of each type of training that is prescribed. 
        • Give them consistent feedback and positive reinforcement.

3. When does it make sense to hire a running coach? Is there a “level” you should be at?

Anytime you want to stay motivated, improve fitness and/or your race times. Beginners can learn the most and experienced runners can always benefit from an outside perspective. 

Any level of fitness can benefit from a coach. I was a successful coach with Leukemia/Lymphoma Society runners who ran marathons from about 3 hours to 6 hours in duration and all had positive reactions to my training.

I coached an inmate in a prison who, when released, ran a marathon with his sister. I coached a Navy officer who ran 80 miles per week on the deck of his aircraft carrier. I have coached several Olympians. It is never too early to want, need, or hire a coach.

A Runner Running Outside

4. What kinds of qualifications should a running coach have?

All coaches should have a basic knowledge of how the human body functions and responds to different types and levels of stress.

These things may be a result of continuing education, attending an athletic association, or even having had a very knowledgeable coach earlier in life.

What qualifications would you look for when hiring someone in any profession? Knowledge of subject matter and a willingness to deal with a variety of individuals and degrees of motivation.

An elite runner may or may not be as understanding as is desirable. At the college level, we typically honor coaches who win the most, but that may be the best recruiting coach and not necessarily the best training coach. 

Look for coaches who have a broad base of success which proves they know how to coach all types of individuals, not just the most talented runners. 

5. Are there any red flags that suggest someone might not be a good running coach?

Look for whether runners perform well initially but, over time, tend to lose interest or motivation.

Increasing training stress too rapidly can increase risk of injury and reduce the likelihood someone participates in the sport long term. The body needs to adjust and react to a specific degree of stress before increasing that stress level. Expecting all runners under a particular program to respond equally is unrealistic.

Also, when coaches talk about runners they’ve worked with for some time, just talking about a few who were successful can be misleading.

6. How much does a good running coach cost?

Cost will vary depending on whether you’re working with a coach online and/or in-person, too. A quality online coach might charge $150 per month on average. If you are looking for in-person coaching sessions, the cost will generally run above $200 per month. 

Young Runner with His Running Coach

7. What can I do to make sure I’m making the most of my time with a running coach?

Trust and open communication are most important to making the relationship work. Oftentimes, athletes will try and run faster or run more than what the coach prescribed. It’s important to listen and follow instructions carefully. 

8. Are online running coaches a valid alternative? If so, are there specific things a runner needs to look for in an online coach?

There are many successful online coaches because they understand how to review an athlete’s training profile and individualize training accordingly. Communication is typically done via email, phone, and on our VDOT O2 coaching platform, where coaches can review GPS data to ensure the athlete is always training at the right paces. 

Ready to Hire a Running Coach?

There you have it from the expert himself.

Provided you put in the time to follow Dr. Daniels’s advice, there’s no reason you need to put off hiring a running coach who will help you meet your full potential.

And if you are ready, check out Dr. Daniels’s very own coaching marketplace where you can find the best match for your needs by doing filtered searches.

Before ending this blog post, I want to say a big thanks to Dr. Jack Daniels for taking time out of his busy schedule to help everyone better understand what to look for in the right running coach. 

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