To be coached or not to be coached 

PG and JS
Me with coach Paul Giblin after winning Glenmore

I guess anyone who has read this blog, and more so the run reports over the last 12-18 months, will know the importance of coaching to me. But the thing is, I have never really thought about the ‘why’ when it comes to coaching for me. Until now.

Many runners will be considering at this time of year, and I thought it would be useful to share some views on the factors to weigh up when it comes to a) deciding to get coaching, and b) who to get

Before you read on, this won’t be a eulogy on Paul Giblin’s coaching, but naturally much of the effect of coaching comes from that. In fact, that leads me on to my first point.

What will I get from a coach?
Arguably if that is the question you are starting with you are asking the wrong one. Don’t ask what you will get, instead, ask what do you want?

For example:

  • Do you want someone you can meet face-to-face or run with? That means local, not online.
  • Do you want someone with specific background (ultras, 5k, 10k)? Look for someone who has experience in that field
  • Do you want someone who can help with running form, technique?
  • Do you want someone who you can chat to regular?

And so on…

The point is, know what you want and why you think a coach will help. Know that before you decide who you want. There is no point in getting a sprint coach to work with you on a 100 mile ultrarunning plan, and vice versa.

I know what I want, but there is so much choice. How do I choose?
The internet is awash with coaches all professing to be this and that. My personal advice is qualifications is one thing, testimonials and results is quite another. Consider the results of a coach’s clients for example, or even the personal and real feedback you can get from people you know. Don’t just look at soundbites and quips on a website. Speak to other runners you know and trust and get a view from them. Think about clients whose abilities are comparable to yours and see how they have got on.

No matter who you decide to go with, there will be a leap of faith involved.

Take the lead in any relationship
This applies to many aspects of life, but in the runner/coach relationship, don’t be scared to set the tone and be demanding. Your coach will be demanding of you, expect you to try your best and to push yourself. You should expect the same from them. Chances are you will be paying a fair sum of money for support, plans, contact and feedback. Make sure you get all of that. Ultimately, coaches will have view on how they prefer to interact and will apply that bias if not prompted by the athlete otherwise.

This may see some action

Expect, nay embrace, the unexpected
There is no point in going to a coach and asking for them to repeat the things you already do. Things don’t need to change dramatically. But they will be different. You might expect a coach to increase your workload massively, but actually the change may be to train smarter and not harder. One of the first things Paul Giblin had me do was slow down a lot of my training in order to speed up. That was an anathema at the outset. For me this meant I was hitting regular speed sessions fresher, which meant harder and faster. You can guess what happened after that. Moreover, instead of skipping or shortening speedwork as I had been in the past due to tiredness, I was looking forward to them with relish.

Therefore, don’t be surprised if a coach has you doing things very differently to how you envisioned it to be. At the end of the day, you engage them for that very reason.

Hold yourself to account, as well as your coach
Some folks think employing a coach means an automatic improvement. Eh, no. What brings the improvement is hard work, following a plan and taking PERSONAL accountability for your training. Yes, a coach can write down stuff on paper, a spreadsheet or an online programme, but you and only you can lace your gutties up and go do the work. No amount of guidance will overcome a lack of desire and hunger on your part. Make sure you commit, and you will get the results.

Don’t be scared to call out things which don’t work. Feedback is a gift
I absolutely review every single session I do. Whether it is an easy 6k recovery run or a 50k with efforts. Sure, I get a wee bit more excited by the longer efforts. But I recognise that the feeling, output and numbers related to an easy 6k is just as important as the longer runs in the round, so I give them the same care and attention. This also means I can be quite vocal about the experience of a short-run and write more about that than a long one. If a speed session, or shape of the week, doesn’t work for me. I will say. If I don’t get bought in it is likely I won’t then fully commit. Then, if my coach has to explain the make-up of a session and the benefit, or gives me assurance on why it is right, I can absolutely follow the old disagree and commit idiom and get on with it.

Training can be fun sometimes

Be prepared to hurt more, but also smile more
I find it really motivating to know that someone is watching my training and both rooting for me, and more importantly, expecting certain things of me. I am the type of person who likes to please others so I genuinely enjoy the fact that my coach might get a kick out of my progress as much as I do. That makes me smile. It makes me hurt more in training. So does the knowledge that the plan is working. I see that in my numbers, in how I feel and how I perform. The more I’ve hurt in training, the more I have smiled in racing. Funny that, eh?

The message is simple. If you are dedicated, want to improve, inquisitive and prepared to listen to good advice and work hard then a coach may be for you. My running has been revolutionised by it, yours might too.

I get my help from Paul at  but as above, the coach you want needs to be right for you, and right for them, make sure you pick well if you choose to go down this route. Good luck!


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