Readers Roundtable: Is Run Coaching a Luxury or a Necessity?

Lately, it may seem like everyone and their Instagram followers has a running coach. Of course world-class Olympic athletes have coaches. And sure, it makes sense for runners trying to qualify for the Olympic Trials. (Indeed, the ready availability and increasing popularity of run coaching may have helped feed the enormous boom in this year’s Trials qualifiers.) But what about us non-elite, non-Olympic, pretty average runners? Do we need coaching? Or is it an extra “thing” to spend money on in this supposedly cheap sport?

What if you’re trying to run a sub-3 marathon? Or qualify for Boston? Or chase other PRs? What about if you’re trying to run your first 5K?

We’ve written about how to interview a running coach, and even how to become one. A number of Saltines have benefited from coaching, and several are coaches themselves.

But sometimes it feels like not only does everybody have a running coach; especially on Instagram, it feels like everyone is a running coach. Have we hit peak Run Coaching? Hiring a coach or a coaching service comes with a price tag – you’re paying what a coach’s training and experience are worth (or are you? Sometimes it’s hard to tell.)

Is run coaching a luxury, or is a coach’s guidance a necessity if you want to achieve ambitious running goals? Under what circumstances is it a luxury or a necessity? What about group coaching? If you had to choose between a coach and something else – a gym membership, say – and run coaching, what would you sacrifice and why?

Give us your thoughts and experiences in the comments!

Tropical transplant to the chilly Northeast. Professional writer and researcher, cantankerous editor, mom to two! inquisitive children, asker of inconvenient questions.

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5 comments

  1. I wonder how many people have OTQ’d without a coach, just working on their own?

    As to the question of luxury or necessity, for me it’s definitely a luxury. I don’t believe it’s impossible to meet most goals on your own, but it can be a lot harder.

    Sometimes I wonder if the proliferation of coaches has made people believe running is way more complicated than it actually is?

  2. Ooo, fun question! As someone who has consistently worked with a running coach for nearly six years, and who is very interested in how coaching works – I don’t think it’s a necessity at all. Loads of people aren’t interested in having a coach. Plenty of runners have goals that might not be very amenable to having a coach. And you can do a lot to improve your running on your own. When I think about what coaches provide, I think of a range of categories:

    1. Accountability. Some people are more likely to get out the door and run if someone else tells them to do so. That’s not bad or good in my book. People are just different. If you are someone who benefits from external accountability, a coach might help. I would be tempted to put accountability not to run too much in this category as well. Sometimes what we runners need is someone to put the brakes on a bit and a coach can often do that.

    2. Organization. There’s nothing “wrong” with “running about” as I call it. Just unstructured running, whatever feels good on the day. But if we want to get faster, eventually we will need to get organized. Some days we should run faster – how much faster and for how long? A coach can make those decisions or we can make them for ourselves. But some structure coming from somewhere can help. Organization can come in the form of a weekly training plan or help organizing a race season.

    3. Information. Some runners like to “just run” and others want to learn about the sport. Why do 400s on the track today instead of 200s? Why a tempo run instead of fartleks? What are fartleks anyway? This information is available in books and podcasts and of course, on the internet. But sometimes a coach can be the one to answer particular questions.

    Personally, I love having a one-on-one coach and that would be the last thing I would sacrifice, but I suspect people are very different in this regard. I’ll be interested to hear what others have to say!

  3. Probably depends on your goals, experience and personality. As a middle-aged runner with 10ish marathons under my belt, I’m a firm believe that it is mostly about the mileage than anything else. If I run consistent, medium-high mileage and don’t get injured, I can achieve my primary goal which is usually to safely BQ. A coach seems extravagent for my purposes but I wouldn’t rule it out should I decide to set some loftier goals, or should I feel like I need some emotional support I can’t get from my running buddies. I feel the same way about personal trainers at the gym… been there, done that and I have a good idea of how to manage a reliable, safe and effective strength training routine… but sometimes it is nice to have a trainer to push me a little and/or listen to me whine (sometimes worth paying for at least for a short time).

  4. I have never had a coach, but have wondered more than once if one wouldโ€™ve got me to my goal of breaking 3:30 in the marathon. 3:32 was as close as I got trying to do it on my own.

  5. I think it’s a luxury that sometimes masquerades as a necessity. When it is the norm among your running group or people you follow on social media to have a coach, it can become an easier thing to justify.