Coaching Options for Everyone


Whether you are an experienced runner or a beginner interested in improving your endurance and consistency, you can benefit from hiring a private coach. Dozens of private coaches call the Chicago area home, and through their training can help you improve your fitness, increase your stamina and surpass your goals on a short- and long-term basis.

But how can you find a coach suitable for you? Depending on your skill level, what benefits can you expect form a private coach? What if you can’t hire a private coach for the time being? What alternatives to one-on-one coaching exist that you can consider?

According to Mike Norman of Chicago Endurance Sports, Megan Sullivan of the Chicago Area Runners Association and Brendan Cournane, a Chicago area running coach, private coaching benefits athletes for the following reasons:

Structure. Private coaches provide a structured training plan tailored to your specific running goals. Training plans should always be challenging, yet realistic and achievable.

Modification. Coaches can also help you modify your training, especially if you encounter injuries or illnesses that require substantial recovery time, or your fitness, endurance and performance improves over time, leading you to adjust your training goals.

Feedback. By working with a private coach, runners receive priceless feedback as they discuss their strengths and weaknesses, brainstorm new training methods and achieve their goals in a timelier manner than they would if they had trained on their own.

Accountability. Private coaches provide structured training plans and hold runners accountable to the plan, constantly motivating them to exceed their own expectations even if they are tired, nervous or lacking confidence.

Sport-specific skills. Coaches also oversee a runner’s execution of drills and exercises, as well as his or her form and sport-specific skills that some runners can’t manage alone.

Coaching options for elite, professional athletes

If you’re an elite, professional runner, you should consider hiring a private coach that works with experts in fields like nutrition, sports psychology and strength to help you discover your potential and further improve your performances.

“In the last 10 years, training groups have formed around the country to address elite runners’ complete needs: running, psychology, strength, nutrition and recovery,” says Rick Wemple of CoachUp, a service that connects athletes with private coaches. “By having multiple coaches, runners can maintain their elite statuses for years to come.”

Having guidance in a variety of disciplines can give elite athletes the edge they need to overcome other obstacles such as mental struggles.

“Sports psychologists are extremely helpful for many athletes, who often underperform due to negative self-talk,” Wemple says. “Also, nutritionists can help elite, national-caliber runners transition to the next level: the international stage.”

But what if you can’t hire multiple coaches? Cournane suggests hiring a private coach who personally works with psychologists, nutritionists and other professionals. In doing so, they can assist you in other capacities aside from coaching as they receive backup support from other specialists.

At the same time, coaches that train elite runners will maintain weekly workout schedules that include cross training, speed, strength and tempo workouts and long runs, providing balance for their athletes.

“The coach monitors the results of each workout, as well as athletes’ physiological changes, while also modifying the intensity level, the length of workouts and aggregate mileage, more so than with ‘average’ runners,” Cournane says.

In addition, if runners are competitive but not yet considered elite, they should also train with a private coach, while also running with athletes that are more advanced than they are.

“Competitive runners can gain strong technical and interpersonal support by training with elite athletes, whether they compete locally or nationally,” Bill Leach, a Chicago area running coach, says.

Why should average runners hire coaches?

Let’s face it: the majority of runners are “average.” They will never win a local or national marathon. Should they even bother hiring a coach? Is it worth the time and money?

According to Chicagoland endurance coaches, experts and athletes, private coaching is invaluable, even for average runners, despite the time and money required. Consider the following:

Multitasking. Since average runners don’t earn their living by competing in races, they’ll have a lot of commitments away from the track or field, from family responsibilities to full-time jobs. Coaches help average runners maximize the time they have to train by creating personalized and structured training schedules.

“All runners need to do is follow the training plans that their coaches have developed and then communicate their training performances with them, so that coaches can make any necessary adjustments to their training to help them progress towards their goals,” Norman says.

Advanced performance. By improving their techniques and receiving consistent yet progressive training, average runners can advance their skills considerably.

“If you’re just out there running the same route at the same pace all the time, you won’t see much improvement,” Norman says. “A coach can give you valuable tips on running form, while also challenging you with different workouts designed to help you improve.”

Motivation and recovery. By having coaches monitor their workouts, average runners will feel more compelled to train and to complete their workouts. Such motivation should not be understated.

“Also, if runners get sick or are injured, coaches can help them get back on track with their training in a safe way,” Norman says.

With this in mind, if you are indeed an average runner, you may now be more curious about the private coaching options available in the Chicago area. Who should you contact in order to find a coach?

Groups and associations. Groups like USA Track and Field and the Road Runners Club of America maintain lists of certified coaches. The Chicago Area Runners Association also provides runners their own personal, Chicago-based coaches.

Referrals. “Many coaches are known in the community and are referred to runners through running stores, doctors, or physical therapists,” Cournane says.

Meanwhile, if you are interested in advancing your skills but aren’t sure if private coaching is your best option, consider joining running groups, which provide camaraderie and motivation.

“Some people just need the motivation of running with other people and can improve by running with a group of athletes that are either at their level or slightly faster,” Norman says.

“Runners, like all humans, seem to be very social beings that almost always benefit from running with a group,” Leach says. “They tend to be appropriately stimulated, especially when they train with a compatible group, which helps them improve their results.”

Another option to consider: online coaching

Runners have a variety of responsibilities that affect their training and performances. At times, these responsibilities may even lead them to consider an entirely different coaching option aside from personal interaction: online coaching.

“Our stable of online coaching participants includes a full spectrum, from beginners to runners that are trying to qualify for Boston, or even win races,” says Greg McMillan of McMillan Running, an online resource for distance runners. “Some of these athletes either live in areas where interpersonal coaching options aren’t available or they have hectic work schedules, so online coaching is actually ideal for them.”

Sometimes athletes just want to track their own performances or record their times on the Internet. They may even prefer to train alone and only communicate with coaches online whenever they have questions or requests.

“A lot of online users have higher expectations of success, even if they aren’t in the ‘elite’ level,” Norman says. “They may have limited time to train, so they want to maximize every minute by having coaches analyze their workouts and constantly make adjustments.”

To find reliable online coaches, runners can use the following resources:

Word of mouth. Talk to other athletes and see which types of online coaching options they utilize. Talk with online coaches and see how they respond to your questions and requests. Also consider whether or not they understand (and can help you achieve) your goals in a timely fashion.

Groups and websites. In addition to groups such as USA Track and Field and the Road Runners Club of America, which offer lists of certified coaches, CoachUp is a credible resource for Chicagoland runners, as it connects them with nearby private coaches.

By enrolling in an online coaching program, runners will likely notice the following benefits, whether they are elite or average athletes:

Everything in perspective. “An online coach can help put workouts and training in perspective,” says Jeff Gaudette of Runners Connect, a community of coaches that provide training plans to athletes. “If runners want to run through an injury, coaches can hold them back and keep them focused on the long-term.”

Priceless conversations. “Since you will probably have some bad workouts during your training, having a coach to share your concerns and fears with, even if you only communicate online, is priceless,” Gaudette says.

Good planning. “By having a well-planned out training strategy, you will accomplish your goals sooner than you imagined – and run faster than you ever thought possible,” G