To Hire a Coach or Not…That is the Question…

I have gotten this question a few times and I thought it was a good time to address it. 

It takes a little bit of a back story though (IE: this post will be lengthy)…Most people know that I swam for 15 years competitively before running.

This is what I looked like swimming…looked (not look since I would probably not make it that far)


I loved swimming, I loved having a set training plan and I really enjoyed the entire team aspect.  Everything about swimming followed a plan: the practice, the time we practice, the amount we practiced, the distance…everything.

I had many great coaches throughout club, high school and college.

Each coach helped me to succeed. In college I did extremely well in conference championships.   This set routine and schedule wore on me and by junior year of college I became extremely burnt out. 

I was burnt out from having an exact training plan to follow.

I was burnt out from going to practice every day at an exact time.

I began to enjoy running because I had no responsibility.  Running wasn’t stressful and I didn’t have any training plan to follow.  I could run when I felt like it and train when and how I wanted.  I wasn’t training by any means but I could do what I wanted (You can read my full running story here).

During junior year of college, I decided to try out for my cross country team.  I made the team.  We were not conference champions (in fact I think we were close to the bottom).  Our primary goal for each race was make it across the start and finish line healthy.  It fairly clear I thrived on that environment of training (I still do).

Probably one of my first instagram shots of cross country


It was the type B training I needed and wanted after so much “type A” training.  In summary:

Running: Relaxed, casual, do what I wanted

Swimming: Follow an exact plan, be at practice at a certain time, etc

This laid back approach translated into my running for a few years after college.  It’s obvious I still thrive and enjoy this training.  I enjoy going out for an easy, relaxing 10 mile run.

My cross country coaches and I.  (those bangs are embarrassing)
My cross country coaches and I. (those bangs are embarrassing)

Fast forward to now: I have been running off and on for about 5 years now.  I work at a running store and I know how I train isn’t conventional.  In fact I know my training is enough to make most coaches cringe.  I’m fully aware that I run 9-10 min 12 mile runs and mostly race below 7 min pace.

I race more often than most runners.  Since most of runs are easy, I enjoy “the thrill” of running faster with races.

Do I think every race will be a PR?  No, of course not…

Do I choose to train for a few goal races each year in hopes they will be PRs?  Yes…

See Atlantic City half last year or the Nike Women’s Half in 2013

I’ve only been running 5 years now.  I’m also 24 years old.  Road races of every distance will be here when I’m 30, 40, 50, 60…100.

I want to be able to run races when I’m older without being burnt out.  I want to have a different mentality about running when I’m older.  Unlike swimming where I have absolutely no interest to get back into the pool.

That is the biggest reason I chose not find a coach for a very long time after college.  Running is life long and with so many various coaches, philosophies and mentalities this is no reason to “just pick” the first coach that you find.  There is no need to rush anything.  If I found a coach, ran high and intense mileage now, I would be burnt out before I’m 30.  Why rush that?

I could write another post about this as well but along similar lines, I still feel young to be competitively racing marathons.  I have a long ways to go before I’ll “peak”, and there is no reason to beat myself and body up at 24.  I would like to still be competing (and faster) at 30.

I have always said there will be a point I will not progress as a runner without the help of a coach or doing speed work.  That is science.  Repeating anything for multiple years will lead in a plateau or injury.

After 5 years of running, I’m approaching that point where my training will have to train.  I’ve gone back and forth debating getting a coach.  I know I have a lot of credentials for what I am looking for in help (most of which I will talk with a coach personally, not put on the blog).

I’m not high maintenance when it comes to coaching but I am looking for someone with experience as well as success.  An important factor for me is that I’m also not looking for someone online.  While it doesn’t have to be daily or weekly, I am looking for someone who I can see occasionally.  I don’t want an internet or give me a plan coach.  I’m 100% not using my blog to look and seek out a coach either but explaining and reflecting upon many years of sports and coaching. I’m also not looking for advice of whether I should/shouldn’t hire a coach…I’ve made up my mind.

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  1. I say go for it Hollie! You know I believe in the importance of it, and I am sure you would be a delight to work with compared to me with how poor steve gets treated. I think you would benefit a lot. It helps so much having that outside opinion, and you will never truly know unless you try:) If you sit down with your potential coach, and make sure your values match on all the important stuff, I think you will be surprised. I would be happy to help if you need it, and I am sure Kris is a great person to talk to 🙂

  2. Since you’ve made up your mind, any convincing to or not to hire a coach is a moot point :). I agree that after running for a few years, it is something to consider, as most runners will naturally progress just due to time spent running.

    I like the point you made about running races into your older years. That’s an important thing for me. I have lots of masters and grand masters running friends who have been running for years and years. My friend and training partner Larry turned 63 yesterday, I want to be running when I’m that age. We ran yesterday and he was talking about how so many of his friends he used to train with had such damaged bodies or either had given running up due to burnout. I bet you won’t be like that, I could see you running the road races in your 70s just because it’s fun and you love it ;). And that’s how I want to be, too.

    1. I think that’s the problem, people focus on short term goals versus long term. I’ve thought about where I want my running to go in 10 years…the only thing I’m sure about is that I want to STILL be running and not burnt out.

      1. I ran my first marathon when I was 19, and now 4 kids later and at 37, I am faster than I ever have been! No coach, not even a training plan. I just kinda go for it, and go by feel, and see what happens.

  3. I may have set this a few times, but I’ll say it again: I love how well you know yourself and can do what’s right for yourself at such a young age. I know plenty of people in their 40s who still haven’t reached that place. Keep on doing what you’re doing–it’s working!

  4. I enlisted the help of a coach a couple of years ago because I just could NOT stay uninjured. Even though I am very much a hobby jogger compared to many, I was sick and tired of making the same mistake in 100 different ways. I must say that it was a complete success and, while my performance in a competitive sense did not suddenly become Olympic bound I was able to do what I wanted in a healthy way.
    You have a ton of talent for sure and you also seem to have a very logical training plan that works for you. I completely agree that following a strict plan takes the joy out of running and makes it feel like a big drag. (also for me- I’ll NEVER be a sub 3 marathoner and I had trouble justifying the expense of a coach for my level of ability. I’ll save those dollars for the sport that I’m actually good at haha…)

  5. You said it well—to self-coach and maybe get faster, or BE coached and make real progress.
    Both have negatives.
    Self-coaching makes you free & happy; BEING coached gets you to your REAL potential, but might make you need MORE coffee (to de-stress)!
    As a former runner who RACED all the time—even in training—I say GET A COACH!
    IMO, you have the potential to go MUCH faster than you have.
    BUT you need to move from “jogger” mentality to “Racer” mentality.
    That means TRACK workouts—intervals, ladders, sprints, repeats!
    That means track RACES—-1 mile, 5000, 10000!
    That means WANTING to run 1:16 and 2:39 for the Half and Full.
    And that means dedication, perserverance….and PAIN!!

    Your choice, Hollie!

    1. I really appreciate your feedback! I think the problem is that a lot of people don’t realize Aaron is that I never had a few years of “base building” or running that I enjoyed or didn’t have pressure. You don’t take a young child or someone just beginning to enjoy the sport of running and tell them to ladders or repeats. That is how we have middle school girls that are burnt out. Similarly I needed a few years to build a strong foundation in running…it just started later since I didn’t begin running until later in my life.

  6. The thing with having a coach, and if he/she is worth a damn, they would actually be more pleased with you “long term approach” mindset. I often see both coach and athlete set to near term goals and push too hard to get to it, only to leave the athlete injured and or burnt out. If the marathon was your goal distance to race, then only being 24 now, you could really come into a nice peak 5-10 years down the road. Clearly, if you go with a coach, finding one that supports completely all your goals, is the key. With that said, you’d also have to accept being pushed out of your comfort zone a bit (that doesn’t have to mean intensity or anything). I’ve said it multiple times before, you really have the talent and ability to be a great runner and with some structure and good programming, the opportunity is there for you to become a serious contender in road running.

    1. Thanks for your comment Dennis, I appreciate that. I agree that a coach should push you out of your comfort zone and be in tune with your goals. That is such great advice!

  7. A coach might not take away your carfree runs. A lot of times, my coach has “go run for an hour” in my training plan. And I’m not too bound by the prescribed time, if I feel like running a little longer, fine, a little shorter, also fine. You might find a coach who supports your running a lot of easy, base miles however you feel like it. You’d likely only get pacing prescription for 1-2 workouts a week if you find the right coach, the other runs are just running because running is fun.

    Also, racing at sub-7 pace and running a 9-10min/mi is not poor training. That’s just developing good aerobic base, a lot of coaches would be supportive of that.

  8. Obviously we come from very similar backgrounds with swimming and how we got our start with running (i.e. burnt out from years of pressure and “type A” training in the pool). That’s a big part of why I don’t really “train” for specific races- It brings back those emotions I had with swimming that I never want to feel again. I think you have so much natural talent though and you’ve shown how successful you can be on your own, but you’re right- if you want to progress further, a coach makes sense. I like that you waited for a few years first and did your own thing. I never want running to feel like a chore and there is a time and a place for a coach. It’s obvious that you know your body and yourself better than anyone (of course!) so I’m sure you’ll know when it’s time for you to make that switch.

    1. I think swimming us such a hard sport after you’ve done it for so long. It’s mentally tiring and causes a lot more burn out then a lot of other sports.

  9. Love this post. I kind of feel the same way about coaches.and I want to be that 70 year old finishing a marathon. That’s honestly my biggest goal, maybe I’ll never be the fastest runner, but I want to run forever.! and I agree, there is nothing like in person coaching 🙂

  10. I am actually working on a post about his right now too. I say go with whatever works for you. I really think there are pros and cons for each so you have to determine what you want most 🙂

  11. Sneaky little cliff hanger there 😉
    I think you have a very sensible head on your shoulders. And if your decision was to find a coach then having a solid discussion with them as to what you wanted would clearly outline your goals and intentions and as a good coach he should help you do that.
    Good luck!

    1. Ha Anna,

      I added that line at the end because I have made up my decision. I don’t have an interest to be coached online and I know I wouldn’t work well with it. I do think eventually I’ll get a coach.

  12. I can relate to getting burnt out. At the end of seasons in HS, I was ready for a break. After each goal race I have picked, I have been ready for a break. Running is great because you don’t need a team/coach/teammates… But you can have all that if you want it. I struggle maintaining a schedule and just like to do what I want to do, so as of right now, a coach would be the WORST. But then again, finding the perfect coach for you should be able to take these things into account and push you without pushing you over the ledge. I’m excited to find out what your decision is at some point 😊

  13. I came across running in an incredibly similar way – just substitute ski racing for swimming! And that’s why I still don’t want a coach, to be honest. I think it will be so exciting to hear about the progress you make with yours! I mean, considering how fast you are now the OTQ people should be ready.

  14. Obviously since I’m a coach myself and have seen such huge improvements from the athletes I have coached (both in person and online) I have to say there a lot of benefits to having a coach.

    Personally I understand wanting the freedom to be in charge of your own training. I haven’t had a coach in several years and it is nice being able to do whatever I want and not feeling guilty for missing workouts or feeling like I have to run on vacations, etc.

    I think that ultimately you have to do what will work for you- every person is different. I think if you ever decide to look for a coach, you’ll just have to find someone who fits with your personality and is more laid back about things.

    1. I’ve always enjoyed your coaching mentality Mollie and your athletes benefit so much from your services. I agree that I think I’ll need someone as laid back as I am as well.

  15. You know my thoughts on this as I went through the battle of to coach or not to coach for a long time and obviously ended up getting one (whom, I work really well with). I’ve told you a million times I think you have a lot of untapped potential and that maybe having someone help work with you on bringing that out could be helpful. But you have been damn successful on your own as well, either way I know you will do what you want and what is best for you.

    If you were to hire a coach now it doesn’t mean that you would 100% be burned out down the road. At least I’d hope not since I’m only a few years older and have a coach- and obviously want to run long into the rest of my life. The right coach won’t make you change everything you do. In fact- the right coach will embrace your strong suits, and use that as the base of your training but then add in some new stuff to mix things up for you. Either way though, excited to hear what you decide to do and can’t wait to see what more you can do!

  16. I always joke my running coach has me on a tight leash, and for speed workouts, he does: very specific paces/intervals, amount of rest, etc. The majority of my runs though are easy 3-6 miles, plus one steady run and one run off the bike. (That’s a very specific, focused one too.) Bottom line, I needed to hand off the reins to someone more experienced, and it’s worked out really well so far. Also, I’m totally with you re: continuing to do this (and get faster) as we age. Can’t wait to see what we do in our 30s! And because of that, it’s crucial to train smart now.

  17. If it’s what you want it’s the right choice. Finding the right coach is what matters. I recently started working with a trainer for my non-cardio and told her my goals were to stay healthy and not get injured so that I can stay active. Having a long term vision is important. I give you a lot of credit for knowing that.

  18. It’s such a personal and individual choice and you know yourself (and your training style) well enough to know what you need. I love my coach but I also love when I have no plan!!!

  19. I couldn’t agree with you more about wanting to actually enjoy running. When I think back on my skating days, my body literally aches. Then again, you obviously have a ton of natural talent as a runner, and I can totally understand the drive to realize your full potential. I also hope to still be racing at 100. 🙂 Pineland Striders Independence 5K: 2085!

  20. Well said. I like the freedom I have not following a set plan. I try to do what I can even if it’s not the smartest. (A long run in the AM and then a friend randomly wants to go for a bike ride…SURE WHY NOT?!) I want to enjoy running forever, no matter how that happens.
    Also lets be honest, hiring a coach is EXPENSIVE especially, knowing me and I won’t follow the advice 😛

  21. I like that you’ve found the perfect balance of training. I too remember swimming and the coaches we had and the exact feeling of just being burnt out from it all. That’s when I switched to running and then now to Crossfit. I agree with you also that I want to continue to exercise forever. This isn’t just a short term 3 year plan, I hope to either crossfit, or run, or zumba well into my late 70s!

  22. Of course do whatever is best for you. I’m kind of at a point in my fitness now where I just do whatever I feel like doing, but with the goal in mind to push myself whatever I do. It’s very relaxing. I have no plans. I just want to be healthy and have fun. Maybe I’ll get a coach in the future but right now I don’t need one. Good luck with whatever you do!

    1. Good luck with your choices too Aja. I think it’s important to enjoy what you are doing. Very few of us will become elite athletes so why force yourself and be miserable?

  23. You’re a wise runner! Most people do not focus on the long term. I want to keep running when I’m 99 years old. And that means staying healthy and strong! I’m 29 and currently training hard, beating my body up so to speak, to ‘race’ my 4th marathon. The first three were just for fun because I love the distance so much. But as I’ve casually ran for three years I’m ready to kick it into high gear as a matter of personal choice. I’ve never had a coach. Good running buddies and a great plan off Runner’s World but that doesn’t cost much. 😉 I enjoy your genuine thoughts and how true you are to yourself and your readers. Kudos to you!

  24. Find someone that is willing to get to know you, in and out of your running life. That will help them fully gauge where you are when you have bad or good day running. Training to be a faster runner takes a holistic approach and your coach should understand that.

    A coach doesn’t have to be an older man with a stopwatch hollering at you at the start of a 400m track. A coach (or coaches) can be friends or training partners that you run with. People that you can trust to bounce ideas off of.

    Anyone can read Daniels, Pfitzinger, Lydiard, Igloi, etc, understand basic training theory, and give you relatively coherent workouts. But I think the “outside looking in” point of view is really what a coach is for. Left to our own devices as distance runners, we have the tendency to be stubborn and burn the candle from two ends. The well versed coach can pick up on that, advise, and correct well before burnout.

    Running can easily be a life sport. Gotta find the right person to either tell you to chill out, or get your ass in gear.

  25. I tried a coach last summer for Ironman.. huge waste of money and stress on my part. I thought I picked a great local coach, but what I really hired was a “pretend friend”. I could rant about this for hours. I won’t. Some people thrive with a coach, and some people don’t need it.

  26. I LOVE THIS POST!! you probably already know I was also a swimmer and I feel exactly the same! Running was an escape mentally and physically! Now that I am Ironman training, to fit everything in I kind of HAVE to have a schedule which is so draining mentally and physically! Great post!

  27. I agree with Mollie. Being coached doesn’t mean having shackles on. If it’s done right, there should be LOTS of communication between the athlete and the coach. At the end of the day, you have to find someone who you trust and respect (and are local enough to meet up with).

    Good luck with your search!

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