Contemplating a Coach? Here’s Why I’ve Had One

In my [copious amount of] free time, I’ve noticed a lot of talk on Twitter, running blogs, and such about running coaches. Why would anyone get one? Is it worth it?

Steph took me on as her charge in November 2010 and I’ve kept her as the head of my running brain trust since. That poor girl has put up with far too many neurotic emails for what I’ve paid her.

Steph, this is what you're working with. Good luck! :)

Steph, this is what you’re working with. Good luck! 🙂

I originally approached Steph with a very specific, calculated plan in classic Meggie Smith fashion (ie very specific and detailed). I wanted to qualify for Boston in the spring of my 3rd year of medical school (New Jersey Marathon 2011) in hopes of running Boston 2012 right before I graduated medical school. Check it off the life checklist [because life always follows a neat and linear checklist-like plan, right?]. To be honest, I initially thought I’d have a coach through NJM 2011 and then I’d go on my merry way.

My guiding principle in life. The almighty checklist.

My guiding principle in life. The almighty checklist.

Turns out I didn’t qualify for Boston in 2011 (or 2012), I really liked having Steph has my coach, I took a year to do research in infertility, I decided I hated the marathon, then decided I liked it again, and finally, by some stroke of luck, actually qualified for Boston right before I graduated medical school.

Boom! 2.5 years and I finally got it.

Boom! 2.5 years and I finally got it.

[Wow, Steph, you’ve been through a lot with me!]

Steph, what's harder: coaching me or this workout?

Steph, what’s harder: coaching me or this workout?

The cash flow as a med student is slim to none (or rather retrograde seeing as you are paying tuition) so there were plenty of times where I financially questioned keeping her on. Luckily, I was able to pick up enough babysitting and tutoring jobs to make it work, but below outlines many of the reasons I came up with to keep a running coach.

Steph and her groupies

Steph and her groupies

In the end, the decision was always fairly simple. Running made me happy and training to become a “better” runner made me even happier. And, we should invest in our happiness, right?

[Unless it’s cocaine or cigarettes that is making you happy. Then, please, don’t invest in that.]



My first three reasons for having a coach somewhat go hand in hand so its hard to talk about each separately.

Let’s get real. I’m not training to run a world record or become the next Mary Cain. I could, indeed, read a book or follow an online training plan.

What does reading a book require? Time! And time is money in my world.

You know what else I don’t have a lot of? Running experience. I’ve played thousands of tennis matches since I first started competitive tennis at 14 years old. There are certain elements of the game that you only learn through experience; those unteachable tricks, tips, and expertise that you take for granted once you know them. I imagine running is the same. Steph is the experience I lack and the expertise that I need.

Last, as a member of over-thinkers anonymous, sure I’d read the book, but then I’d spend a month thinking “should I do this workout or that workout” or, we’re getting even deeper here now, “what physiologic system is this working and am I working the right one?” I’m sure I’d wonder if I was pushing myself too hard or not enough. I’d probably doubt what I was doing constantly and change my plan more than Taylor Swift changes boyfriends.

Knowing me, I’d make the process of coming up with a training plan way too complicated and time consuming. Solution? Have an expert do it for you.

Boom! Plan handed to you. Time and mental energy reserved for other things. Plus, if you trust your coach (which I do), its fool proof! Follow the plan and you can’t fail (or, at least, my chances were minimized versus making my own plan).

With two of my running faves, Steph and Gia. And, looks like someone forgot their sunnies!

With two of my running faves, Steph and Gia. And, looks like someone forgot their sunnies!


This is one I don’t struggle with that much. If you give me a plan or list, I’m fairly good at following it [translation: slightly neurotic about following it]. However, on days where my motivation waned, having someone to report back to (albeit virtually) usually gave me whatever kick I needed to get out the door. Plus, let’s get real – if I’m paying someone to give me these workouts, I’m going to do them. Not doing so would be like having a gym membership and not using it (ie throwing money down the drain).


I think this is probably the real, subliminal reason I’ve had and kept a running coach. When I first started running, I always thought of myself as “destined to be a slow runner” (sometimes still do). I figured the best I could get was hobby jogging. My reasoning? If I didn’t like running for the first 23 years of my life, I probably wasn’t very good at it, which is why I never picked it up as a kid. And, I was very happy with that [hobby-jogging] for a while.

Hobby jogger no more...

Hobby jogger no more…

Somewhere along the way, I remembered that at some point, I was a pretty good athlete. I had fleeting thoughts that maybe, if I put some work in, I could translate that athleticism to moderately good running. Keep up with my friends. See how fast I could get.

Turns out, with a little work, I became faster than I ever really thought when I first got Steph as a coach. It’s been fun to sort of discover myself as a runner with her by my side.

So, thanks, RC!

So, thanks, RC!

While I may have reasoned keeping a coach in a very linear fashion (I pay a you, a professional, to render me a service), I like to think that the coach-athlete relationship I have with Steph is a bit more complex than that. I like to think (I can’t speak for her, obviously!) that Steph is somewhat invested in my success and accomplishments; that we’re more of a team than a purely business relationship.

Steph’s belief in me has often been more than I’ve had in myself. A lot of times, that’s my mental “wild card” in races — if Steph believes I can do something, I should, too.


BOTTOM LINE: Having a coach has saved me time, mental energy, and has made my running and racing experience that much richer. 


Until next time…

21 thoughts on “Contemplating a Coach? Here’s Why I’ve Had One

  1. I have been thinking about hiring a coach a lot lately. This is so super helpful, Meggie! I think I have similar secret aspirations to be better than I’ve ever dreamed, but in truth, I have no idea what I’m doing 😉 Definitely something to keep in mind.

      • Hi!

        For me, having someone local wasn’t super important as just because the odds of me being able to match up my schedule with another person’s was slim to none. I think initially sometimes I did wish I had her there to ask a question or something, but she is so easily reachable through email that it was never a problem. I think being “on my own” rather than having someone over me also made me take ownership and responsibility over my running. Like Steph gave me the blueprint, but I needed to figure out how to build the house…if that makes any sense. Learning how to self coach yourself to a good workout translates well to racing, too, in my experience.

        In a nutshell, having a “virtual” coach worked just great for me. With the internet at our fingertips most of the time, getting in contact is so easy.

        Hope that helps and definitely email me if you have any more questions!


  2. Holy smokes! My times are your 2010 times and I honestly thought there is no way I could get that much faster. This gives me hope that one day I may be able to BQ. Hmmmmm I think I want a coach now.

  3. are you going to keep a coach in residency? that is really awesome she finds ways around the medical world schedule! seriously that alone might be worth it, along with the motivation to get out the door. i feel like after 12-14 hour days all i’m going to want to do is sit my butt down on the couch.. or faceplant into my bed.

  4. I think having someone to bounce ideas and training troubles off of is a huge deal, whether it is a coach or not. My husband and I pretty much coach each other. He can see when I’m worn down and need a day off and I remind his lazy butt to stretch and ice his problem spots.

  5. Wow! Your times are really impressive. You improved a lot with your coach. I would definitely say that you are no longer a hobby jogger!

    I loved the idea of having a coach and had one for pretty much the exact same reasons as you. However, my coach ended up being a complete loser so I kinda fired him. Not sure if I will do the coach thing again. I feel really hesitant about it. I like putting together my own schedule, even if it is stressful at first. I don’t have anyone to hold me accountable or check in on me, which could get tough. I think that it’s a good thing I plan on just running for fun and doing races with no real time goals for the rest of the year.

  6. So interesting! I worked with a coach for the first time this spring when I won her blog giveaway for a training plan and one month of run coaching. It was really great but it wasn’t long enough for me to get a real sense of what long-term coaching would be like. I spontaneously registered for the RRCA coaching certification course when they opened one in NYC for this summer (it sold out within an hour!) because I’m interested in coaching beginner runners for 5K/10Ks but even more than that, I’m interested in learning how to coach myself. I know there won’t be the interactive aspect, but I’m excited to learn all about what goes into coaching and creating training plans. I’m thinking of trying to find a running group to get that experienced-marathoner-wisdom and camaraderie while still being my own coach!

  7. I’ve thought about getting a coach…but can they work around the “Well, I work Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday night this week….and Sunday-Wednesday next week…and then I have a week off and then I work Thursday-Saturday….” schedule? It’s hard enough for me to get through!

    I do see the results…which would be awesome…

  8. Yeah, I haven’t really entertained the idea of getting a coach because I’m not sure I really “deserve” it yet (whatever that means), and I think I’m at that stage where I’m still seeing a ton of improvement because I’m still so new at running. But I did spend probably, what? WEEKS? putting together my marathon plan for my first marathon this fall, which was sort of stressful and I maybe just made a big mess of it. I definitely see the appeal of a coach, if only so that I can outsource all of the second-guessing to someone else!

    • I also felt like I didn’t “deserve” it — too slow (my times are about Meggie’s old times), I work with crazy-fast coachless people, etc etc. I decided to pony up for a custom training plan from a coach & see how that goes. Maybe from there I will go full-time coaching, but the $$ commitment is much smaller with just a plan & no 1:1 support.

  9. yes! i hired jess (pace of me) to coach me for eugene- but that ended up being put on hold. i wanted her for the same reasons, i over analyze, want someone to do it for me (no time), want to be pushed harder than I would normally, etc. etc. I will start back with her once I can run again.

  10. My husband is a USATF level 2 certified coach and has coached state championship high school teams and all Americans but I have stayed self-coached – we tried having him do a plan for me once but it ended up quickly becoming incompatible with work/life and he was upset I didn’t stick to it so we gave up in frustration. Given I have been running for 30 years (!!) and have found time over those years to read all the books (Daniels, Pfitzinger, Tim Noakes, etc.) I actually enjoy planning out my own training schedule. It is part of the fun of the process for me, if that makes any sense – setting the longer term goal, planning the path to get there, executing and adjusting as necessary. I am sure I could probably benefit from having someone to bounce things off of or to get feedback from when things don’t go exactly according to plan but it has worked out pretty well on the running side especially recently with my recent marathon/BQ using a plan I built using Pfitzinger as the basis. Suspect I could benefit from this more on the tri side as I have a lot more learning to do in the swim/bike front and on how to balance workouts in multiple sports each week and ensuring I do enough but not too much…

  11. this is great! I liked having a coach last training cycle but am going it alone this time around for various reasons. I really liked not having to think about workouts and what’s next, though. And I wish Steph could be my coach, but am fairly certain I can’t afford her! She has a pretty good track record (haha pun intended) 🙂

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