My first marathon was in 1996—NYC. Since then, I’ve run several and have even gone beyond the 26.2 on a few occasions. I’ll be honest, outside of aiming for a few long runs, I’ve never followed a special training program. When I ran my first marathon there were no running apps to download or fancy mileage tracking systems—I thought I was pretty cool in my standard Timex Ironman watch—wore it like a badge of honor. Fast-forward to present day and there seems to be endless resources, gadgets, and options to help runners achieve their goals, including the Running Coach.
A running coach is no longer just for professional athletes or Olympians—a coach can be beneficial for any runner, regardless of speed, ability, or goal. And they are gaining traction, too—Road Runners Club of America, one of the many organizations that offers certification programs estimates they have certified about 3,000 coaches over the last few years.
But what exactly does a running coach do? When is a good time to bring on a coach? And what can you expect from your investment? I caught up with Dana Katz, ultrarunner, certified running coach, and founder of UltraU to help answer the question, “should I hire a running coach?”
What are the main benefits to hiring a running coach?
A running coach takes your performance to the next level. A coach allows the runner to focus on his or her workouts, while letting the coach mastermind the plan tailored to the individual. The runner gets to leave the stress of “Am I running enough? “Am I running too much?” to the coach. A coach makes the plan and adjusts it to how the athlete responds and can look at the data objectively. A coach also provides accountability and can bring out your very best performance.
What can you expect from a coach and what should you look for in one?
A good coach creates a plan based on an athlete’s particular goals, background, and ability. This means that you should expect a coach to get to know you in the first few weeks of training, including a deep dive into your running history and preferences. A good coach is first and foremost a good listener and is grounded in the science of training. Combining what they know about your personality, your ability and the principles of proper training, you should expect a plan that is achievable, flexible, and changes based on your feedback.
Different coaches have different systems ranging from generic training plans to programs that may or may not include feedback on workouts or progress. Be sure to understand fully what to expect when you hire a running coach.
When is the best time to bring on a coach?
Nothing makes me happier than an athlete who gives me six months or more before a goal race. Since I coach ultrarunners, I have athletes who have a goal race that may be over a year away. If you’re running long distance, improving aerobic conditioning can take months. I require athletes give me at least three months from a goal race assuming they’re at a level of fitness that I could make a difference. Bringing on a coach a few weeks before an event generally does not allow time for a coach to have a meaningful impact.
Can you share a memorable coaching success story?
A great coach will be a partner in your training and share in your successes and support you on your rough days. When athletes are racing it’s the ultimate test of my coaching—on weekends when many athletes are racing I’m on the edge of my seat waiting for texts and emails to come in with race reports. Some successes include:
- A runner dropping a minute per mile off his aerobic time in six weeks of running.
- A runner whose longest distance was a half marathon ran her first 50k in four months and then her first 50-miler in seven months!
- A non-runner who started with repeats on her driveway and ran a sub-five hour marathon a year later.
What is your best advice for runners?
Run easy on your easy days. If you’re checking pace and worrying about how fast you’re going on your easy days you’re doing it wrong. So many runners go too hard on recovery workouts trying to hit a specific pace to make it feel like a “real run” and end up going too fast. There is no such thing as a “long recovery run” or “recovery hill repeats.”
Can you offer suggestions for finding a coach?
Talk and read. Talk to runners with coaches and ask how they like them—do they provide good service, is the training plan showing results? Also, read blogs, tweets, and articles on running. This is a great way to find training philosophies you’re interested in and see who is writing about it, commenting, etc. Coach’s websites are another great resource and should list their training philosophy, so do your homework here and then get in touch. A coach must match your style and desired communication method. If a coach only communicates by email and you are a phone person, think again.
Why did you become a running coach?
I had a corporate job doing environmental auditing. It was a dream job but something wasn’t right. I started coaching by getting some co-workers running and then started writing training plans and it snowballed from there with mass amounts of geeking out in classes and certifications. I moved to Portland in 2012 to start my business, UltraU and have been a full-time running coach since. The long-term planning and researching training methodologies paired with data analysis is just perfect for me. I’m lucky that my best days at work include athletes going farther and faster than they ever thought they could.
Do you have any favorite running apps that you recommend to clients?
I recommend two apps to all of my athletes. One is the Nike Training Club app. This free app has strength training workouts you can do at home or in the gym that last from 15-30 minutes. I think every runner should do strength training at least 2x per week and it doesn’t have to be at a gym. The other app is a metronome. A metronome allows runners to do cadence drills, as often a higher cadence will encourage good running form and can minimize injury.
If you’re not running or coaching what keeps you busy?
I love cooking and making yummy healthy(ish) treats. I take on gardening projects every year and I travel whenever the opportunity arises. I’m currently testing the limits of how long I can ride my Razor Scooter (not long yet).
Is there anything else you would like to share?
GET IN TOUCH. I love talking to runners. If I’m not the coach for you, I can help you find a coach or a plan that works for your budget and goals.
You can find Dana coaching free trail runs on Tuesday nights at 6:00 pm at Road Runner Sports in Portland and teaching Strength Training for Runners at Evolution Healthcare and Fitness on Wednesday nights from 5:00-6:00pm and 6:00-7:00 pm. You can contact her about coaching through her UltraU website.
Special Offer for Portland-area athletes: Leave a comment here by Saturday 4:00 pm PST and share your running goal(s) for a chance to win a free class with Dana at Evolution Healthcare and Fitness. One winner will be selected at random.