How to test if you really need a coach...

I was contacted recently by a woman looking to improve her 5km parkrun time.  She was weighing up whether a coach and a training plan would work for her and wanted to hear more about what was involved.  

As we chatted on the phone, we asked each other questions and it became apparent that she would benefit from more accountability, more structure and from someone taking the guess work out of her training, so we decided to begin working together on her goal.  I have had similar conversations, where it quickly becomes apparent that my coaching would not suit the other person.  From my experience, certain types of people respond well to coaching and training plans.  Others, not so much.  That is absolutely fine.  I have plenty of close friends who would never dream of getting a running coach.  For others, with the help of a coach, they have improved beyond what they thought possible and are getting the personal best times that they were after. Running, training and exercise is highly individual.

So what can I honestly advise people who are asking themselves,"Do I need a coach?”  

My first piece of advice would be to ask yourself the following…. (please answer honestly!!)

  • Am I stressing out about how and when to train? YES / NO

  • Do I like / work well with structure and routine? YES / NO

  • Do I do better with my fitness goals if i am accountable to someone other than myself? YES / NO

  • Do I struggle to keep consistent with my fitness regime? YES / NO

  • Am I prepared to trust and work with someone else on my training? YES / NO

  • Am I prepared to pay for that knowledge and expertise? YES / NO


If you are answering mostly YES to these then I would say that a training plan developed with the right coach could really make your training thrive.  If you are answering NO, then it probably won’t be as effective. That is not a problem.  Ultimately this is about finding the best way for YOU to improve as a runner.

So, for those of you who answered YES to the majority of those questions and have decided that coaching and a training plan can improve your chances of reaching your goals, what should you reasonably expect of an individual training plan and a coach? 

Here are my four things to look out for….

The approach should be unique to you.

The whole point of coaches developing individual training plans, is that they are for you, created with you and that they cater to your individual circumstances.  So this is your plan, no-one elses!  It should take into account the specific dates and work, social or holiday circumstances that you outline to your coach.  The plan should consider your current fitness levels, your health, your lifestyle, your injury history and your personal goals.  There is definitely value in generic plans, but let’s be honest, you are not hiring a coach so they can give you a cookie cutter program!

It should save you time and reduce stress

As we all know, trying to fit your running around kids, dogs, work, gym classes, partners, family and making sure you still have a life, isn’t easy…. a well thought out training plan should help you, not hinder you in managing your time a little better.  Trying to figure out how and when to train can be stressful, especially with the mass of information available to us these days.   The right coach can filter this information, simplify things and point the way to your goal.  That will save you time and reduce stress.

It should be adaptable

The best results come from consistent training, but as they say, "sh*t happens!”  Sometimes life gets in the way, work gets hectic, or you get sick, which prevents you from running.  That isn’t ideal but its not the end of the world.  When this happens, don’t panic.  Let your coach know and they can adapt the plan as they go.  That’s what you are paying them for! There is nothing worse than falling behind on a plan and frantically trying to make up lost sessions, then feeling demoralised because of it.  Nobody, especially your coach wants that.  

It should build momentum towards your goal

Whether your goal is to run non stop to the corner, complete your first 5km, run a half marathon or marathon, it takes time, discipline and consistency to reach that goal.  I believe that one of the most important factors in achieving your goal is 'building momentum.’ Where possible, coaches and training plans should help you build that momentum.  Simple things like having the ability to tick off each session, adds a sense of achievement and builds momentum as a result.  When I asked one of our runners, Allison about her plan she said,

“Having my plan adds accountability, structure and a sense of achievement as you tick things off every day.  It’s amazing to look back at the end of the week and see what I have done!” 

Overall, most of us want to make more time for running, enjoy it and improve our times, but with most of us being time poor, and being overloaded with information, it can be difficult to know where is best to start.  For some people, they prefer to figure it out themselves and for others the right coach and training plan can help simplify things, build momentum and save you time.  The questions above should help you figure out which approach to take.