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How To Become A Certified Running Coach

After you’ve been running for a while, it’s easy to start thinking about getting other people involved in running too. You can do this informally, but if you’re reading this article, you might also have thought about becoming a coach.

If that’s the case, we’ll tell you everything that you need to know about becoming a certified running coach.

We’ll first discuss reasons why someone should become a coach, and what makes a good coach. Then we’ll go into the different types of running coach certifications available in the United States.

Why Should I Become a Running Coach?

In order to do anything well, you need to know your “why.” Before you jump into a certification program, know why you personally want to become a running coach.

Deepen Your Knowledge of the Sport

One reason you might want to become a running coach is to deepen your own training knowledge. Having the responsibility of teaching someone else is actually a great way to learn.

Select From a Wide Variety of Ages to Coach

Beyond just wanting to teach someone else, though, you need to know what age group. You could coach kids, teens, adults, serious track and cross-country athletes, or seniors.

Coaching track athletes is going to be a vastly different experience than coaching senior adults. However, there needs to be a coach for each group of people. Knowing what your strong suit is important!

Get the Opportunity to Socialize

Coaching is ideal if you enjoy interacting with others, because it gives you plenty of people time. If you’re less social and prefer one-on-one socialization, you can coach individuals.

If you’re very social and think the more people the better, then you can coach groups or teams. Amateur run clubs or a group of cross-country athletes are examples. The opportunities are endless, depending on your preferences.

Become a Better Runner Yourself

You’re going to have to be on your A-game to be a coach, and make sure that your running is up to par. Knowing that somebody else is going to be looking up to you to see proper execution of form and technique will help you in your running.

Additionally, since you’ll likely be spending more time running with other people as a coach, you’ll also be running more often, which will level up your running game. You might not be able to convince yourself to run twice in one day when it’s just you. But you will if you have a client to meet.

Earn a Little Extra Cash From Your Passion

It’s always great when you can earn a little extra money doing something that you love. That would be the case as a running coach. While it will probably start out as a side gig, plenty of people have turned it into a full-time job. As you gain experience, you can gain more clients.

If you’ve been thinking about moving on from your job and doing something different, picking up a few clients as a running coach can give you a good idea of whether or not you’d like to have that become your full-time job.

Work Outdoors and In Nature

Finally, working as a running coach means that you’ll spend most of your time outdoors. Who doesn’t like an excuse to get outside? It’s better than any window view from an office.

This is especially possible if you don’t live downtown in a large city. You could also decide to specialize in trail running if you really want to spend most of your time outside.

What Makes a Good Running Coach?

Do many of the following reasons appeal to you? If so, it’s worth considering becoming a coach.

Experienced Runner

First, you need to have plenty of experience running. If you’ve been running for just a couple months and have never done it before, it’s not the time to transition to coaching. Put it in the five-year plan, and get out there and do some more running. Even better, hire a coach!

As a coach, experience and depth of knowledge is one of your most valuable assets. The best coaches have been running for years. That experience gives them knowledge, both broad and deep, beyond what most runners have. This is why coaches are worth it. The more you run, the more you’ll be able to offer to someone else. If you aren’t up to speed yet, consider coaching someone informally for a bit.

Passionate and Patient Individual

You can’t be apathetic about running if you’re going to coach the sport. You have to be gung-ho and ready to get someone else motivated too. This means that running should be a huge passion of yours.

At the same time, you need to know how to control that passion. A good coach will help a client be the best runner they can be. But that means fitting running into their life, not necessarily changing their life to accommodate a professional level of running. That could be overwhelming. While it’s great to feel strongly about something, you also need to be patient when people are learning. Helping set and meet their own goals, rather than your goals, is key.

Good Listener

Likewise, you need to be someone who pays attention and listens. You should know each client and look at their mental and emotional game. This is just as important as their physical condition in helping them really grow as runners.

Growth Mindset

You also need to be someone who isn’t satisfied with anything less than the best effort. Someone doesn’t have to be the fastest runner, but they do need to put in their full effort. That can mean different things for different runners. But one thing all coached runners have in common is that they want to improve. Your job is to help them grow, no matter where they start, no matter where they end.

As a coach, you should be pushing clients to gradually increase their training and performance over time. You want to make sure that your clients have a growth mindset and are always willing to do just a little bit more.

Clear Values/Philosophy

In order to be an effective coach, you need to have a clear idea of what your values and philosophy are. Communicate that to your athletes. They should always know what you hope to accomplish and what the foundation behind your training is.

Concerned About Overall Well-being

Being a running coach means focusing on more than just running. You should be willing to look into and advise in other areas of life. Sleep, stress, nutrition, and so forth all affect running and health. As a coach, you should look at the overall well-being of your clients.

Educated/Certified

Finally, education is important. It’s not just because of the piece of paper. Being certified means that you’ve taken the time to learn your craft and that you’ve learned from and with others. It gives you extra credibility in addition to all of your personal experience.

What Things Should I Consider Before Becoming a Certified Running Coach?

Now that you’ve figured out if you’d be a good candidate to become a certified running coach you need to ask yourself several questions before taking the next step:

  • What certification am I going to get?
  • What will my coaching philosophy be?
  • How will I distinguish myself from other coaches?

Answering these questions will give you a more concrete plan going forward as to what types of clients you’d like and what program will be the best option for you depending on your goals.

How Do I Become a Certified Running Coach?

The process to become a certified running coach isn’t surprising: coursework and a final exam. You have two options to complete the coursework.

In-person

Some certification programs are only in-person. If you’re someone who wants a more personal environment and would like to get to know the instructor and the participants, you’d prefer an in-person class. Real classes are great for networking, as well. When you are trying to build up a client base, networking can be invaluable.

In-person classes will be more focused, because the time is structured. Getting to learn with others can provide more motivation and inspiration, as well.

Online

That being said, in-person training means that you’re committing to a certain amount of time at a location away from your home. Online means that the training is flexible. You can study anytime and anywhere.

Virtual learning costs less, and you don’t need to factor in travel time or gas money to get there. You may even be able to complete the coursework faster. If you’re someone who has a young kid at home, or just want to do it in your pjs, this might be the ideal option.

What are Some of the Running Coach Certifications Programs in the States?

Below are some of the most popular running coach certification programs in America, and each one is a little different to suit different needs.

Road Runners Club of America (RRCA)

This certification program will cost you $325, and the fee includes the two-day in-person course taught by RRCA-approved instructors, course materials, continental breakfast and lunch, and access to the online certification exam.

Due to COVID-19, the 2020 Level I courses have been moved to an interactive online learning environment. In order to receive the certificate, you must pass a 100-question test online within 30 days of completing the in-person course. Passing is a score of 85% or higher.

You will also need to submit electronic copies of First Aid and CPR credentials. It’s best to do this within 60 days of completing the course. You have six months from the start of the course to complete all steps in the Level I Coaching Certification process.

There is also a Level II option for those who want to add a more scientific focus on running, as well as the business side of gaining clients.

United Endurance Sports Coaching Academy (UESCA)

This option is all-online and costs $399 in one or two installments. You will have to complete 22 robust online training modules that are also downloadable PDFs. There are demonstration videos as well as a sample test and free retest (if needed).

The course should take you approximately 22-25 hours to complete. There is a 30-day money back guarantee. UESCA does not require certification candidates or coaches to carry CPR certification if you don’t want that additional step.

The North American Academy for Sport Fitness Professionals (NAASFP)

This option costs $300 and includes three different designations to choose from: Marathon Running Coach, Running Coach, and Walking Coach.

In order to select the Marathon Running Coach designation, you must have completed at least one marathon and two half marathons.

The training includes four modules: the exam, a case study that requires the coach candidate to create a personalized plan for a specific runner’s profile, a First Aid/CPR course, and a practical that requires the coach candidate to work with a volunteer client.

USA Track and Field (USATF)

If you want to become a USATF coach and be able to help youth, this is the program to select. It costs $65 to take the 2-3 hour online test as a foundation. The program is hosted by two Olympians, and you have plenty of courses to choose from.

National Personal Training Association (NPTA)

Finally, you could complete this option, which is completely online and does not include the need for any manuals. You’ll receive immediate scores on all online exams. And you can take as many practice exams as you wish. Exam retakes are also included, and are unlimited.

Final Thoughts

In short, it’s great that you’re thinking about becoming a running coach and taking your passion to the next level by training other runners. Knowing your goals and expectations before you select a certification program will ensure that you’re picking what’s best for you.

Whether you want to coach young kids or senior adults and whether you want your work as a running coach to stay a side gig or become something more permanent, we wish you luck in your endeavors!

The Wired Runner