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Finlay McAndrew  •  Running Training •  21.06.2019 •  5 min read

What makes a good running coach?

Most professional athletes that compete in running, or other endurance sports, have a coach that oversees their training and helps them get to competitions in peak physical condition. Runners and endurance athletes, who aren’t professional, are becoming more aware of the benefits of specific coaching. This has resulted in more of them seeking the services of a running coach. There are a considerable amount of companies and individuals now offering coaching for sports like running, cycling and triathlon. So what makes a good coach and how can he/she help you improve your running?

Being a good running coach involves many elements. Strong from their experience, they'll help improve your run with their knowledge, skills and attitude.

A good coach:

1. Tailors the approach

Firstly, a coach has to have a desire to understand exactly what someone’s aims and objectives are. Why someone is running should act as the basis for all decisions and be at the forefront of a coach’s mind. This will result in an effective training plan being created, as the plan will be completely bespoke and tailored to that runner’s needs.

As discussed in the article, Running principles – The importance of training at different intensities, the quality of training is the most important factor in a training plan. A good coach will create a training plan that compliments someone’s work/life stresses and demands. This plan should make best use of the time that someone has available to train.

Why someone is running should act as the basis for all decisions and be at the forefront of a coach’s mind.

2. Ensures consistency in training

A good coach will also work out what type of training is best. Everyone responds differently to training stresses and working out what produces the best results for a runner is very important when constructing a plan. Science should be used when appropriate to make objective decisions about training plans. Coaches should never be bias when making training plans. The stresses and demands of an individual have to be taken in to account but training will always require some form of sacrifice by the athlete/runner and it is ultimately hard work at times. Good coaches will take the emotion out of decisions and create a plan that is optimal to attaining the goals set out from the onset. A coach makes the plan but it’s the runner who does the work.

Running side view

3. Reacts, advises and adapts the training

Communication and feedback is an essential part of a coach and athlete relationship. A good coach should ask for feedback from their coaches so they know how they’re feeling and coping. This means that training can be tweaked and altered if needed. It also means that a coach can plan future training effectively.

A good coach will create a training plan that compliments someone’s work/life stresses and demands.

Knowing what is working and what isn’t working enables a coach to tailor a plan to be as effective as possible. A coach should also provide an athlete with feedback when necessary. At times, positive reinforcement and praise is useful because that can boost motivation. However, feedback is really important when training isn’t being done correctly.

For example, if a runner does a long run that is meant to be easy, but it is done too fast, this could result in significant fatigue. If the runner is then too tired to do a harder session at the right intensity, a coach should speak to the runner and highlight this issue so they don’t make that mistake again.

A good coach will try and teach an athlete what they know and help them understand why they’re doing certain training. An athlete is much more likely to execute a session effectively if they know why they’re doing it and what the benefits are.

4. Brings motivation and support

Coaching is also more than providing training information though. Being someone’s coach is a very unique relationship. A coach will gain insight into an athlete’s most personal thoughts at times and be there when the stresses in life can feel like too much. It’s at these times a coach needs to find a way of connecting with their athlete and help them deal with difficult situations. Sometimes an athlete will need to be told to step up their efforts and other times they’ll need to be told when backing off is the right choice. There is a very fine line between which one is the right decision and it’s not an easy decision to make. A good coach will read the signs and know what decision is best.




5. Adopts a holistic approach

There are multiple areas to consider when coaching an athlete. Training volume, training intensity, nutrition, strength training, psychology, recovery protocols, stretching/flexibility work and equipment to name a few. A training plan is arguably the most important component of coaching for a runner. However, to ensure the best performance, the other components of training need to be addressed.

Good coaches will look at all elements of an athlete’s needs and advise on other areas as well as running volume and intensity. Not getting injured is a critical part of getting to a race or event in the best shape possible. Doing the right volume and intensity of running will help reduce the chances of injury but other factors play key roll too.

For example, a muscle or tendon may get a significant tear if it isn’t strong enough to cope with a load. Running itself won’t make us stronger so doing specific strength work will help reduce injury rate. It depends on the level and ambitions of a runner to what extent these other factors need to be considered but coaching should encompass all facets of performance.

Good coaches won’t be rigid in their approach to coaching. They’ll apply their knowledge to each person differently and find the best way of working with each one. Ultimately, a coach should consider all the factors in your life and then work out the optimal way to help you achieve your goals.

If you are considering getting coaching for you running, or another sport like triathlon, look at what options are available and don’t be afraid to speak to different ones before making a decision. Consider the points highlighted in this article when speaking to them. Coaches will form certain styles and offer varying services that will suit people differently. It is an investment that can be very worthwhile if you get the right one.

What's Your META?

If you're looking for a first experience with a coach, What's Your META? specialise in cycle, triathlon and run coaching. Based in Edinburgh, they can provide their service in person and online, no matter your level of experience. Check our their website:

An athlete is much more likely to execute a session effectively if they know why they’re doing it and what the benefits are.

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