Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Coach Argument

If you follow the elite runners, then you know that Ryan Hall has been coach-less for a year now. Hall, who is 29, made the decision after withdrawing from the Chicago Marathon in 2010, citing that he was “just way overfried and overcooked.” He went on to say that despite maximum effort, he wasn’t seeing any improvement.

A strong Christian, Hall stated he “wanted God to be his coach.” This led to running by himself, at his own pace, according to how he felt on any given day.

Just seven months after starting his self coaching, he came in fourth in 2:04:58 in Boston in 2011. He was the only American in the top 15. He cut nearly four minutes from his 2010 time.

Hall had hoped to win the Chicago Marathon this year, but came in fifth with a time of 2:08.

Other runners have chosen to coach themselves including Frank Shorter, who won the marathon at the 1972 Olympics and Joan Benoit Samuelson, an Olympic gold medalist in 1984 who still races and sets the American marathon record for women over age 50. She has coached herself for most of her career.

This brings up an interesting question, as was posed in this New York Times article. How necessary are running coaches?

If you are an elite/pro athlete and racing is your JOB, your motive to hire a coach might be different than the recreational age grouper who is trying to get his/her PR. Either way, most people hire coaches to hold them accountable, to provide them with the best overall training necessary to reach their goals, and to take the guess work and time out of completing their own plan.

While the bulk of pro athletes have at least one coach, those like Ryan Hall are the rebels, choosing to make training decisions based on faith, personal preference and intuition. Although Ryan’s self coaching did not get him the title in Chicago, who is to say having a coach would have brought him any closer?

Have you ever hired a running coach? How has it helped you reach your goals? I have never had a coach, so I can’t speak to this. I do know many people who have been coached with amazing results. I would consider it for sure.

Do you think elites should have coaches to maximize their successes? Most of the time, yes. However, in Halls case, he wasn’t seeing results from coaching, so I can see the advantage of trying something new. Taking this step took some balls!


PS: **The Winners are the Champion giveaway are Mandy #42 and Chris #56. Please email me at to claim your prize!


  1. So far I haven't had a coach and really enjoy coaching myself. I'm constantly checking for new training plans and I enjoy finding out what works for me and what doesn't. So far I see great results. Once I see I can't improve anymore on my own, I would consider a coach, who kicks my butt once in a while :)

  2. I think it really depends upon the person and their self motivation and accountability. Some people need a coach to keep them moving, others don't. If an athlete is able to find the support necessary from other sources then more power to them!

  3. I hired a coach to help me reach a specific time goal. I've worked with her the past 6 months. I missed my goal by 4 minutes but it was still a p.r. for me. I trained harder than I ever have in my life & am in the best shape ever. Even though I didn't reach my goal that time (there were several reasons why) I know that I will soon. She gave me all the tools necessary to teach myself. My contract expires at the end of the month and I will go on to run 3 more half marathons & a full within the next 5 months without renewing it. I'm glad I hired her but now even question if it was necessary.

  4. I can't say if a pro should have a coach, everyone has their own personal style.

    As for me I coached myself through my first marathon and half ironman. I enjoy making my own plans and researching what the best training schedule is. But for my first ironman I have hired a coach and will start working with him in a few weeks. For me it's not about accountability, I will show up and do the work. It's about not over doing it and injuring myself. I feel with an ironman there's not alot of room for error.

  5. I felt stressed out about looking for training plans after I decided that I was totally bored with Hal Higdon and some other random guy's plan that I used for my full last April. I decided to hire my coach based on the recommendation of another local runner. She said that he was always available via text/e-mail, and she was right.

    Basically, my coach keeps my head out of my ass, and that's why I have kept him. Even with him, I still managed to get injured (nothing that he did) at the end of July. He's been doing this for 30 years and knows injuries and how to work through them. And how to prevent them, which is what we are doing now. Finally.

  6. What a coach can bring to the table varies widely. And the relationship between coach and athlete is as individual as... well, as each individual in the relationship :P

    I haven't had a running coach in a long time... not in an official capacity anyway... I have a couple of friends who have been helping me assess what might be up with my running and have made recommendations though.

    A good training partner (whether virtual or real) can help motivate you and "kick your butt" sometimes. Getting faster ain't rocket science.

  7. I had a coach when I was training for Ironman. When I was working on running this summer, I asked her to watch me run to critique my form. This was very helpful to me, far more so than getting a schedule would be.

    Having a coach can be useful. I found it good to know when was enough, and getting all sorts of tips and advice. But having a bad coach can be much worse than no coach.

  8. I'd love a coach... but simply because I need the knowledge-base that comes with them & the motivation. I don't have the time to do a lot of research... like say an elite does. I mean running IS their job, and they're pretty savvy on it already. No one knows your body best than yourself.

  9. I wouldn't pass up on having someone coach me on my runs and strength training. I can motivate myself to get up and move, but knowing what that movement looks like is a different story. And also because I'm not looking to be an elite running machine, I would be happy with the guidance for how not to hurt myself.

  10. I haven't ever had one but I just started with a tri coach. But she is a friend and is doing it for free, so how can you say no to that! I am hoping she can help me get over my OWS issues. I think some people don't like coaches because they don't like being told what to do. I have two older sisters so I'm used to someone bossing me around and telling me what to do.

  11. I would have a coach if I could stay injury free OR I probably need a coach to stay injury free. It's either way.

    He's done great things with his own training. I think though with Ryan Hall the verdict will be out on his training until he win's a marathon.

  12. As a running coach I am going to be biased and say "of course you should have a running coach!" haha. I coached myself through several races before working with a personal running coach who not only helped me improve my running but really gave me a new out look on how I approached running in general. Afterwards I was inspired to become a certified coach myself to help others, especially beginners, learn more about running and become a better runner. However I still have plenty of friends who prefer to do things on their own and I say if that's what works for them then great!

  13. I only run for fun, but sometimes I think I could use a coach! I mean, some people have personal trainers, so why not a coach? I am terrible at making effective training schedules and worse at ticking to them, so I bet I could use one.
    In the "old days" I think athletes were more likely to self coach (just like they were more likely to also have a full time job in addition to their sport) but now I wonder if a coach isn't a necessity given the intense competition and training.
    I just had a great idea. I need an eating coach to tell me what to eat! (puts down wine and chocolate guiltily)

  14. I am a recreational runner and I know I will never BQ nor do I really desire to. I do wonder sometimes how much better I would do if I was held accountable for my training though. I need a coach to help me realize I am a better runner than my race results show.

    PS: I volunteered at the Grand Rapids Marathon today and I saw a woman runner wearing your Shut Up and Run shirt. I turned to my husband and said, oh I read that blog. If that woman is reading this comment, way to rock that run!

  15. my husbansds coach (Matt Dixon) actually consulted with Hall. I think that maybe the way to go for some elites. Coaching themselves with some consulting here and there. But then again, if youre like my husband, you need that extra attention because your ADD. haha.

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  17. I have a coach, and I think it helped me. I think a lot of the help I get is for actually doing my speedwork, and having someone to bounce ideas off of - I know without her, I'd likely have run a marathon too soon after coming back to running. I also like the fact that she can analyze how I run, and can help me improve my stride sensibly, and with the least risk to injury (for example, I tend to turn my left foot out when it hits the ground. I knew that I did this, but if I were to try to fix it on my own, I likely would just try to force it straight, rather than strengthen certain muscles to have it correct on its own). I didn't have a coach for my first half, and since then have knocked 12 minutes off (to be fair, the first 9 I knocked off had a lot to do with my fitness level improving a lot just with running for a longer period of time). I likely would improve on my own, but I'm not sure I'd see the results so quickly.

    I think if you are close to a time goal (e.g. Boston qualifier), and don't know how to get there on your own, a coach can potentially be really useful.

    It comes down to personal preference and needs, I think. I know some runners that are crazy fast, some with a coach and some without, and it comes down to what they need, and where they are in their running.

  18. I think it could be cool to have a coach to tailor a program to my needs. I'm never going to be "fast" but I have been using free programs out there and have been slowly improving my half marathon times. I guess a coach might be able to help me figure out if an upcoming time goal is too aggressive or too conservative.

  19. I think the advantage of the coach lies in different contexts. For the amateur, it's basically a how-to manual type of relationship. "Hey coach, how do I get faster."

    When you reach Hall type talent, the role of the coach (or anyone of the elite inner circle) is more along the lines of preventing them from drinking their own kool-aid, whether it's hubris or a crisis of confidence.

    In Hall's case, as I said in my post here , I believe a coach would be helpful in keeping Hall from believing his own bullshit.

    Unless he gets a coach to smack some sense into him, he's going to be an "also ran" and it will be entirely because of his attitude.

  20. I'm one of the coaches at UCT and I can tell you that if I (the coach) wasn't there most of the guys would just 'go for a run' and in the years to come, they would still be just running. Which is great for some people. Then there are others who want help to make the 'team' to break 90min for a half or what ever. Now with these 'kids' (or should I say young adults) I try and teach them what is needed to help them train for the PR, so in years to come if they want it they know what to do, and don't need to then go and find a coach, but can go it alone.

    I think Hall has had enough coaching over the years to know what is needed. Good luck to him.

  21. I would definitely say this is one of those things where everyone (elite or average joe) needs to figure out what works best for them. I would love to have a coach if I could make the time & financial commitment... maybe if/when I try a full IM.

  22. I have a Coach and love her but I know it's not for everybody.

    Here is my reason for hiring a coach:
    I was struggling with my swim and needed help. Once I had hired her and found out that I was doing everything wrong in terms of training I stuck with her. Then after a bit I realized that I didn't have the time nor did I want to create a training plan.

    As a 'robot' it is so much easier for me to look at my training schedule for the week and do it as opposed to creating the training schedule. For me that is way too much work and I also don't think I know enough to string together a full blown training plan.

    All that being said, come February I will be heading to Arkansas to get RRCA certified and begin the process of getting to the point where I could coach myself, but I still don't think I will.

    I love having a Coach to report back to. To discuss my feelings of the training and how to get the most out of it.

  23. I've been coached and saw amazing improvments. I think the biggest benefit from coaching comes from having an outside persective that can keep you from overtraining and injury. As runners, we are primarily a type A bunch. Most of us will run ourselves to the ground without at least a plan. Or a coach to know when to hold us back or let it rip. I work at my running store and I often see runners who are setting themselves up for injury because they are so obviously overtraining. There is usually nothing you can really say to them to get them to understand. Until of course they are injured. Then you can always look back and see where you went wrong.

    I don't think it's about "having your ass kicked."

  24. I just hired a coach and really think it was a great decision for me. I had never done speedwork and was a bit intimidated by it. So decided to hire a coach for track workouts. It has given me so much more confidence as a runner and now I believe I can push harder than I ever thought was possible.

  25. I am a certified coach and so far have coached friends and family.. I LOVE the relationship that I have built through the coaching process. By no means could I ever coach and elite, but I believe that the motivation, advice and inspiration I can provide through coaching would benefit even the most experienced runner.

    Having someone to share the GREAT runs with and someone to pulse when things are not going as planned is why people chose to hire coaches.

    Needed? Maybe not

    Beneficial if done the right way? For sure!!

    Great post.

  26. I have never hired a coach per se. The guy who runs our Running Group is a coach and I sometimes ask questions, but he doesn't give me drills, watch and evaluate me, or anything like that.

    I think elites can benefit from coaching, but it may be that to continually see improvement, they may need to change coaches every so often. I say that because once someone reaches a particular performance level, it may be a different approach, method or routine that brings about the next improvement.

  27. I think one of the reasons elites like Ryan Hall and Frank Shorter did so well on their own without coaches is that they already had so much running knowledge from years of high-level coaching. Once you're that elite, you should be an expert on running...and you also know your own body better than anyone else.

    I imagine neither of them would have gotten to where they are without coaches.

    Average runners need coaches for one of two reasons:
    1) They need someone to encourage them to do more.
    2) They need someone to tell them to stop over-doing it.

    I like having a coach, but then I've never had to pay for one...

  28. One thing you should know is that while Ryan Hall claims he has no coaches, he actually has multiple coaches he talks to regularly. You're right in that he decides what to do every day - he doesn't follow a plan that someone else gives him - however, he does have plenty of coaches (including his own father) that he takes advice from.

    With that said, I think that having or not having a coach is a completely personal choice. For most beginner athletes, it's beneficial, but as you get closer to elite, it can be very difficult to see an improvement.

    I would love to be an elite without a coach, but how many non-elites know as much as a veteran coach?