Getting a running coach is the best way to smash a new personal best

Whatever your running goals for 2019, be prepared to devour lots of sweaty kilometres.

But you don't have to do it alone. Apart from you - there's someone else that can help you achieve your new year goals.

A running coach.

Shifting gears

Previously I'd toyed with the idea of getting a coach, but wasn't sure what the payback would be. Instead, I had a haphazard approach to my training. As a result, my running was mediocre. I ran a steady 5:15 per kilometre pace, and never really shifted gears. You could call me a happy plodder, who was also a little bored with running.

All that changed when Nike Run Club coach Dave Ridley developed a training plan for me 10 weeks out from the Medibank Melbourne Marathon. As a newish mum, I was upfront about how much training I could commit to (three sessions a week), and I nervously spoke about my goals for the race: which were: 1) finish and 2) come in under 3:45.

Immediately, I felt I was in safe hands, and that we were on the same page. Ridley's workouts pushed me, but they also helped me to enjoy running again. Four weeks into the training program, I'd shaved 15 seconds off my pace, and knew I could go faster still.

Come race day, I crossed the finish line with a huge smile on my face, and tears of joy in my eyes as I paused my watch at 3:29:50. I'd achieved more than I thought I was capable of, and I'd learnt a lot about running along the way.

Expert help

Head coach and founder of GoRun Australia, Chris White says if you want to improve your running it helps to have a coach on side.

"I've seen the benefits of having my own triathlon coach, and as a running coach, I see the benefits that my runners get from being coached," he says.

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"Each runner will get something different from their coach, but the main ways coaches help runners to achieve their goals is through more accountability; providing better planning and structure to workouts; sharing the burden and stress of training; providing constant monitoring and feedback; giving advice on how to avoid injury; and sharing their running expertise."

White says coaches can also help runners restart their training after a hiatus.

"Coming back to running after a break can be a daunting task, and the number of people who get injured at that point is really high. When restarting running, it can be hugely valuable to get help from a qualified coach to help a runner safely start over."

How to choose a coach

Just as each runner is different, so is each coach. Coaches have their own views, philosophies and methods for getting the best out their runners, so you need to choose one that aligns with your personality and approach.   

White says runners should look for a coach where there is respect both ways, and where they can see themselves progressing and enjoying their running.

"A great coach doesn't have to be the best or fastest runner themselves, but they do need to know a lot about running, be approachable and know what makes people tick.

"If the coach runs a training group, then the vibe of the group is usually a good reflection of the coach. Runners should go along to a few group sessions to see if they feel comfortable in that environment."

Also consider how much help you want, and whether you want face-to-face support or are happy with a digital program to guide your training. Many coaches offer both, but some only provide online programs.

The real deal

Like any profession, there can be lots of variability in the quality on offer. Running coaching is no different. While many great running coaches, such as Arthur Lydiard and Bill Bowerman, weren't certified, it's important to check the coach you're thinking of training with has formal accreditation and insurances from the relevant governing body, such as Athletics Victoria.

Choosing a certified running coach means you're in safe hands, and research shows that your chances of getting up-to-date training advice are better.

White says you should look for a coach that is constantly looking to learn themselves.

"No coach knows everything. Even those who coach world champions are experimenting with new ideas or training methods," he says.

"In my time as a coach, so much health and sports related evidence has been challenged and hundreds of trends have come and gone. Coaches need to be aware of these, because their runners will be exposed to that information as well."

The goal of one day completing an ultra-marathon inspires running fanatic Laura Hill to clock up the kilometres each week. With a day job in the corporate world, Laura loves nothing more than lacing up her runners and hitting the pavement to clear her mind and challenge her body.

Follow Laura Hill on Twitter

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