Not Every Runner Makes a Good Coach

About five years ago, I was scrolling through Instagram when I saw that a friend had become a Running Coach™. I absolutely loathed my job at the time, and after applying and subsequently getting rejected for dozens of new jobs, I decided that I was up for a similar career change. I knew right then that I was going to become a full-time blogger AND coach. If this friend can be a coach, I can, too! I looked up the certification she had and found that it only took one weekend of classes and a couple hundred dollars. I absolutely didn’t have the money, but it was an investment in my future, amirite?

Every day I scroll through the ‘gram and find hundreds of bios that state, “I’m a runner AND a Certified Running Coach!” It appears that literally everybody is a coach of some sort these days. I’m going to tell you the hard truth… Not every runner makes a good coach. Whether they are fast, slow, professional, or not, their running performance does not correlate with their coaching performance.

Person wearing black pants and tennis shoes stands on a trackThe coaching boom is all thanks to the running boom we have experienced over the last couple of decades. Don’t be fooled by the Wall Street Journal saying that millennials ended the running boom. According to Outside Magazine, the running boom isn’t going anywhere. Yeah, participation may not be as high as it was in 2013, but we are also exiting the era of Zombie Races, Color Runs, Foam Runs, Obstacle Runs, and the other gimmicky type runs that are copycats of the more legitimate versions of the aforementioned runs. I know that, personally, I am putting my money towards runs that support better charities and trying to compete to be better than I have been previously, also known as Chasing PRs™. I don’t need the gimmicks and frills. And really, if the running boom is dying, why is it harder than ever to get into the large events a la Boston Marathon, Chicago Marathon, London Marathon, et cetera, et cetera? On the other hand, there is a lot of market saturation with running events. In my area, you can find a race nearly every weekend, even in the dead of winter if you are willing to drive a few hours in the snow, uphill both ways. More runners and more races equals more coaches. But not all of them should be coaching.

From personal experience, bad coaching can also be seen in college running. When coaches are focused on good outcomes (winning), they may take the easy way to get there (recruiting easy athletes to work with, not developing their runners properly, encouraging eating disorders). This leads to many people falling out of the college running system because they burn out or experience chronic injuries; sometimes they quit running permanently. Some people flourish, but they may have done even better under a different coach. 

Not every runner makes a good coach!

Let’s work from home! Start your own coaching business, use social media to market yourself, maybe do some marketing in local groups, and coach people online to be runners! In theory, it sounds easy, right? If nothing else, it would make for a good side hustle to cover some race entries and running gear. That truly would be the dream! Add how “easy” that may sound to some entrepreneurial spirit with no certification necessary, and you have yourself an online coach. 

But say the above coach does want some form of certification. I’ll review the different options for becoming a coach in a follow-up post, but RRCA costs $325 and is only a two day course plus an open book exam for the level I course. That puts you on their coaching directory. USATF costs $205+ and consists of two and a half days of classes for just the level 1 certification. Personal training certifications are all similarly formatted or in an online format and similarly priced. University degrees obviously take a little foresight, but many of those degrees may go into other areas rather than just coaching runners. Pyramid schemes will probably always be in existence and for the sake of this article should be ignored. 

Couple the low costs and accessibility to get “certified” through some of these programs with the internet connecting us to the world, and it makes sense why there are so many coaches. Basic websites are cheap. Marketing can be cheap. 

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How to protect yourself

Ultimately, it is up to each individual to interview a running coach properly and determine if they are a good fit for themselves. Know what it takes to call oneself a “running coach,” what each certification entails, and what it takes to continue being listed as a running coach. For example, is there a continuing education requirement or is the only requirement to keep their CPR/First Aid up-to-date?

And if you want to become a coach? If you’re interested in the cheap version, just say the words “I’M A RUNNING COACH!” and you are now, in fact, a Running Coach™. If you want to get certified in some way, know what your goals are and do your research on the classes that you would be taking. 

I thought that if I could get certified, get some clients, and work hard, that I could stop working for “the man” (#DownWithThePatriarchy) and create my own business. What really happened was that I earned a piece of paper that said “Certified Running Coach,” had my name put in a directory, received hardly any leads from said directory for years, lacked the confidence to market myself as a coach (imposter syndrome?), and eventually moved into a better career opportunity. I wanted to help people find running and get faster, but a lot of the inquiries I received were, “I want to pass my army physical fitness test. Please make me run twice as fast in 15 days. k thanks.” Or my inbox would be spammed by companies trying to add to their email lists. I went into the program with a goal of helping people love running and create a positive lifestyle change for themselves. What I got was a lot of frustration and added to a hundred mailing lists. 

Ultimately, I am not disappointed that I went through the certification program because I gained some good resources and I learned that I am not ready to coach others. I have coached a few people and written a couple of training plans, but ultimately I have mostly gotten out of coaching others because I have a lot more theory to study (if I so choose). For now, I’ll keep my day job. 

And that’s the right choice. Being a coach is a lot more than a certification and a name in an online registry.

What do you think it takes to be a good coach?

Blueberry is a very late 20s ex-collegiate runner living with her two cats in the mitten state. She is training to break all of her college PRs but really dreams about running long distances someday, but faster than her last attempts. Her writing is mostly about running on a club team, making kids run, and trying to run faster than men.

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