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How to Choose the Best Running Coach in Three Steps

You may be looking to select a running coach or join a coach-led run training group, and it can be a confusing process. And, we are talking about your time, money as well as your BODY! Did you know that many times due to incorrect training, over 90% of runners get injured? And they could also suffer from overtraining syndrome with the wrong program, or at a minimum, wasted time and money toward your goals. Don’t let that happen to you.

Instead, here is what to look for to make an informed decision about where to invest your time and money.

1. Nationally Recognized Run Coaching Training and Certification

Nationally Recognized Run Coaching Certifications are more than just pieces of paper. This gives you evidence that this person is trained to keep your health in good hands. They have gone above and beyond just putting a sign outside their door. With this training, you know you get the best service and direction to reach your personal goals, as well as accurate answers to your questions. Someone just being a runner themselves is very different than being trained, educated and credentialed to show you how to do it in a method that is optimized to you. This may not be the same way they are running.

They require extensive study in such areas as biomechanics, physiology, sports psychology and running nutritional guidance – including what is safe to recommend within their scope of practice. They are knowledgeable about physical training responses. With this you get a professional who knows how to develop and modify programs that keep you on target with your goals while simultaneously avoiding overtraining/burnout and injury.


The two most widely recognized run coaching certifications are the Road Runners Association (RRCA) and USA Track and Field (USATF).

Therefore, ask:

  • Can you depend on the fact that they’ve been trained to help you progress at a rate that both keeps you healthy as well as on target with your goals?
  • If something starts to hurt, are they trained to have the knowledge of what to recommend, potential exercises to strengthen muscular imbalances, or how to modify your program to keep you healthy?
  • Are they affiliated with a network of other professionals to help keep you on the road?

Additional certifications can be helpful, but less so as a MAIN running coach certification. Some examples are personal training, group fitness and yoga certifications. These can be added benefits because you know the exercises you are being prescribed will be demonstrated correctly. Group fitness instructors have been trained in both exercise as well as leading/motivating groups of people. Yoga instructors can provide flexibility help as well as techniques for relaxation, which you may benefit from.

However, these certifications, while a nice addition, do not teach you about safely coaching running – running programs, progressions, workouts or considerations specific to optimizing your running routine. Stick with someone who specializes in what you want.

Also good, but as an additional certification: health certifications such as a physician, nursing, and dietetics. These take time, education and expense to obtain. A person must have prerequisites before even beginning the process, and require specialized training that can take. A physician or nurse can be helpful if you are running with specific medical conditions. And a registered dietitian can help with meal planning and your overall diet, specifically if they are a sports dietitian.

Certifications in areas such as Wellness Coaching train the practitioner in areas such as mindset, overall health management and planning, motivational capacities, positive psychology, goal setting and behavior change. This benefits you by helping you develop strategies for success that can increase performance and health, and keep you going even when life inevitably gets in the way. It enables a holistic, healthy view of you as an athlete that leads to greater progress in sport and life.

However again, while the combination can be beneficial as additional certifications, they alone do not specifically teach a person how to coach running, or apply what they know to runners.

As an example, if you went to a gym and hired a personal trainer, would you want to have just anyone walk over and design your exercise program? Or would you demand a certified, experienced professional who specializes in your area of interest for your time and money?

Training is a complex process involving the proper development of all system of the body working together as a whole. Taking a generic plan and applying it without understanding the fundamentals could lead to training errors and even be a dangerous process without the correct understanding.

If you are considering a group training program:

  • Is the director professionally trained and certified to facilitate this multi-person activity to assure the safety of all involved?
  • Are they aware of how to handle various health conditions such as diabetes or heart disease that may come up in a group setting involving you or others?
  • What about certifications such as CPR and First Aid if a you or another participant is hurt or has an incident in the session?

2. Experience:

Working with an experienced professional adds to learned principles and lends to the development of expert skills. You then get someone adept at handling your specific, personalized needs.

  • Does this person have proven experience in your area of interest with a record of success? If so, how much?
  • Are they a demonstrated expert in their field?
  • Do they have testimonials by satisfied clients explaining their work?
  • Is this person able to inspire and motivate you to bring out your best?
  • What is their coaching philosophy – and does that agree with what you personally believe?

As another example, if you were going to have a serious type of surgery, would you want the doctor who had 20+ years of experience with your procedure, or the person who is doing it for the first time? With more experience you get a person who has worked with a wide variety of people in your situation and will know what to do.

3. Dedication:

You want someone as dedicated, focused and passionate about your targets and interests as you are!

  • How much time does your candidate dedicate to their coaching? Is this a full-time profession for them, or just an add-on gig that they do on the side?
  • Do they devote themselves to coaching your specific area of interest, or do they spread themselves across multiple sports, interests and areas?
  • Do they commit the time required to consistently stay tied in and updated in the science of your field?
  • Do they offer services that take you beyond just running to maximize your entire potential for overall performance and health?
  • What do they provide to help you continue and progress farther after your current goal or program is completed?

Sure, there may running coaches and programs out there that are very cheaply priced. However, quality is on its own expensive to maintain so it’s like the old adage, “You get what you pay for.” You’ll almost never find that a running coach (or any business) can have the most experience, training, credentials, quality and service – at lowest price. What is important to you?

Make the right choice – ask yourself if you really want to take shortcuts with your time, results and most importantly: YOUR HEALTH.

And, let’s face it, when someone chooses to make an investment in something, they’re more committed.  They do their planned workouts more consistently and hold themselves accountable. And they become a member of an incredible community of like-minded people ready to motivate and offer support for one another. All of this reflects back to get RESULTS. Choose to make that investment in YOURSELF.

More questions? Contact me, and I will be happy to assist you! Happy Training!

-Coach Amie

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