Ultrarunning: Working with a Coach

December 13, 2011

This article is part of Endurance Planet’s ultrarunning article series. If you have questions, comments or feedback about “Working with a Coach”, please leave it below in the comments section…

Ultrarunning is a very personal sport. Almost the entire time in the race the runner is alone, navigating the terrain. This unique appeal of ultrarunning – the solitude and the control it affords the runner – is one of the reasons why so many athletes are captivated by it.

Given the independent nature of the sport, it’s but understandable for some ultrarunners to find it hard to even consider enlisting the help of a coach. Working with a coach is definitely not for everyone. But there are a handful of positives which only a seasoned and highly qualified coach can provide.

Setting the target

Determining training and racing goals can be tricky at best. The runner can set very high goals and end up getting burned out or injured in the process. Of course, the runner can go the other way and impose very low goals and never realize his full potential as a runner.

But with a coach, goal setting can become more focused. Of course, it will be the runner who will set the race goals at first. It’s then the coach’s job to point out whether or not the set goal made sense. And if not, or if the coach thinks the runner can do so much more, then goals can be set accordingly by both parties.

Hitting the target

Goal setting is just a tiny part of the battle. Most of the challenge will come during the training. Fail to achieve the set goals during this crucial phase and the runner is bound to chase cutoffs in a harried state if at all he gets this lucky during the actual ultramarathon.

Working with a coach, there is a much greater chance of achieving the set targets. Since the coach knows not just the science but the actual rigors of the sport, training can then be done in a more systematic manner. A coach can help establish a conditioning routine that while strict, still takes into account crucial factors such as rest to ensure the runner doesn’t end up overly trained or injured.

Regulating the runner’s urge

Ultrarunning is such an addictive sport that runners sometimes find it difficult to take significant rests in between major races. This is particularly true for athletes with fortunate strings of successes. Since everything is going so well, practically winning every race they get into, they tend to forget that it’s crucial to rebuild strength and endurance too. The danger is of course race fatigue, and for some very unlucky athletes, irreversible injuries.

Just as it is the job of a coach to persuade and motivate a runner, so is it his responsibility to coax the athlete when it’s time to stop and rest from running ultramarathons.

Finding a coach isn’t easy. He should be someone who has himself achieved the race goals you want to achieve for yourself. This ensures that he has firsthand experience and that his particular approach or philosophy is aligned with yours. Skills and qualifications are a given, but for the process to work there must first be a meeting of minds between runner and coach.


Do you have questions about running coaches, or what you’ve read so far? Do you have any ultrarunning pointers of your own to add? Please leave your feedback, comments and questions below, and we promise we’ll respond.

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