Five Steps to Choosing an Ultra Coach

My time on the trail is generally when most of my ideas come into my head. So as the rain drove down in the Jamieson Valley on Sunday morning and the pain of the chaffing on my groin disappeared for a few brief minutes, I started to consider what things you need to think about when choosing an ultra coach.

But why would you even want an ultra coach? I have to admit that maybe four or five years ago, I would scoff at the idea of an average Joe such as myself using a coach. My view then (as a non-married, childless individual) was that it was simply a waste of time and that any average Joe employing the services of a coach was simply lazy or clueless.

My thinking place
My thinking place

Well this average Joe has now been under the wings of a coach for nearly two years and in that time I think I’ve learned a few things about what makes a great runner / coach relationship. So here’s my five tips for choosing an ultra coach

1.) Running coach 0r ultra coach?

I think this is quite an important distinction to make. What I am NOT saying is that coaches who don’t run ultras don’t know anything about coaching ultras. I think there are plenty of examples of coaches who might not necessarily excel at a sport, but they understand the very foundations of what makes a great coach and are clued up in their chosen past time. However, experience counts and I know that when I was considering a coach, I want someone with the credibility to match. Someone who’s been through the pain and anguish of a 100 miler and who has done well to boot.

I also want someone who’s qualified and has spent time learning and understanding their profession. Someone who can pass views that might challenge the norm or present very logical answers to the questions I might have. In other words, you want someone who knows their shit.

2.) Accessibility

This is a really important one. How much contact do you have with your coach and how much time do they give you. On the face of it, coaches are relatively affordable at around $20-30 a week for a programme. But while piecing together a weekly programme might not take hours and hours, you certainly want to be in a position where you can bounce ideas and thoughts off your coach.

Coaches are no longer just for elite runner
Coaches are no longer just for elite runners

As you might be able to tell, I love running and so I love to ask questions and bounce things off my coach. He might not always answer straight away, but he does answer and offers suggestions and thoughts. If anything, they’re there as a devil’s advocate and someone to provide a sense of level-headedness too. As athletes, we swing in a few directions. We can either be over-confident about our ability, or in some cases underestimate our potential. A coach can act as a very good guide and independent source of inquiry and balance.

3.) One size doesn’t fit all

While I’ve never been a running coach, nor have I heard of anyone doing this, but one thing to watch out for is if you don’t feel that your running programme is being tailored to you personally. The whole point of a coach is that they spend time learning and understanding who you are as a runner and what it is you want to achieve with your running goals.

It must be tempting at times to simply ‘rip and replace’ i.e. same programme, different name. Naturally, runners will be at similar levels in their programmes and ability under the guidance of the same coach, but if you feel as though you’re just getting a stock standard 100km programme that isn’t focused on where you feel you are right now, you might want to consider seeing what else is out there.

4.) Number, numbers, numbers

In a similar vein to the above, it pays to ask a coach how many athletes he or she is working with. There are quite a few variables in relation to this point, but I think any ultra coach that goes beyond 50-60 runners is running the risk of not being able to provide that level of personalisation a runner would want.

How many athletes does your coach train?
How many athletes does your coach train?

As I said, different coaches will have different levels and tiers of coaching in terms of what they offer. Some do offer a very simple and standard coaching programme, and that is fine if you know that is what you are getting into and would like. However if you’re seeking a higher level of personalisation and you’re number 87 on the list of athletes, ask yourself if you’re really getting what you need.

5.) Same wavelength

This one is a little harder to make tangible and explain, but you also I feel, need to work with a coach that is on a similar wavelength to you, your philosophy and perhaps outlook in life. I say that because this type of stuff carries over into your running too. Different coaches will have very different styles.

Some will focus heavily on the numbers and very specific race goals. For others, it’s more about the journey of training, beliefs and learning along the way. I’d advise that you work out what type of person you are and what you want to achieve with your running. While one coach might be able to get you a 100km PB, would the journey to get there be an enjoyable one if you’re someone who doesn’t count the stats too much?

So there are our five tips to consider if you’re on the lookout for an ultra coach. But I’ll leave you with one final thought. Always remember that it is you that gets you to your goal. While a coach can help show you the way, nothing beats hard graft and dedication and only you can decide how much you will follow a coaches programme and how hard you train.

Responsibility starts with accountability.

Feature Image – Lloyd Belcher Visuals

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I'm a mediocre runner who can bat above his average when I train hard. A man of extremes, I do enjoy everything life offers and consider it an absolute pleasure just to be able to put one foot in front of the other and let my mind wander somewhere different.

3 thoughts on “Five Steps to Choosing an Ultra Coach

  1. or think laterally a little… I used a tri coach for training in ultras. Her specialty was ironman- quite a bit of relevant experience and knowledge there.

    1. Great call Rohan, kind of along the lines of what I was implying around experience. Some of the best coaches have never played at the highest level, but bring very different points of view or techniques and can innovate a sport. I’m a massive believer of that.

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