Two things happened last week that made me pause and think about the difference between a running coach and a personal trainer. The first thing happened at the uber cheap globo gym I go too. Apparently they’re starting a running club. When I inquired about it, one of the personal trainers told me he is trying to get a group of people to do 2 or 3 miles once a week. No training for races. Oh, and he hates running. No enthusiasm on getting people excited about running.
Are they starting a run club just to say they have a run club?
He said there wasn’t much interest so far.
I wasn’t surprised.
The other thing that happened was a conversation that reminded me how little I knew about running coaches or running clubs when I started running seven years ago. I realized…
…adult onset runners may not have a clear picture of what a run coach is or can be compared to other types of fitness trainers.
And really, why would we know? If you’ve never had a run coach before or been in a run club before, what frame of reference would you have? Seven years ago, if you would’ve asked me what a running coach was, I wouldn’t have been able to give you an accurate answer. I would’ve thought of either a high school track coach or the only other type of “fitness service providers” that I had seen >>> personal trainers at gyms who measure you, lead you through workouts, count your reps, motivate you to work harder, and often cost a lot of money.
Running is just one section of a larger sport/fitness world.
Beyond running alone, there are a lot of adults out there stepping into the health and fitness arena for the first time in their life. Some people have never had a coach of any kind before. Some people may think all personal trainers are like Jillian Michaels on TV, or that all group fitness classes are like CrossFit or P90X. Not everyone knows that running has it’s own little cultish world of nerds.
Many adults coming into the running world have misconceptions or simply incomplete knowledge of what is available to them.
For a beginner runner, understanding that a run coach is not a personal trainer could make a big difference. Similarly, understanding that a run club is more than just buddies getting together to run, but not quite the same as a group fitness class, would have been helpful for me.
Run Coach Vs Personal Trainer
So let’s hash this out in a bit more detail, even some of the “obvious” points, because I would have benefitted from this 7 years ago. Here are a few thoughts on how a run coach and a personal trainer are similar… but not the same.
- Run coaches don’t care about your body fat percentage.
Okay, that’s not entirely true, but the point is that a running coach is not focused on things like weight loss, muscle definition, or even your general diet. They are focused on your ability to run and meet your running goals. Obviously they will encourage you to increase your general fitness and diet if you need too, but they are not likely to tell you exactly how to do that. A run coach isn’t necessarily going to calculate your BMI, look at your food journal, and make sure you are ready for beach season, like a personal trainer might. I’m sure there are exceptions, but you’re not likely to need or want that kind of run coach.
- Personal trainers hate running with a burning passion.
Just kidding, but I got your attention. Truth is many personal trainers also love to run. However, I would argue they are the exception to the rule. Like the young trainers at my cheap-o gym, many are former athletes in sports where running was punishment and generally they see running as little more than a necessary, yet effective evil. Some even believe running too much is downright sinful, and if you worship large muscles, they may be right. The main thing to remember is that while your Certified Personal Trainer may be runner-friendly, they don’t come with built-in knowledge or experience about marathon training.
- Run coaches don’t count your laps.
Whereas your personal trainer might work with you several times a week, telling you exactly what to do, counting your reps, and cheering you through a workout…you’re not likely to get that from a run coach. Generally speaking, a run coach won’t go on all your runs with you, with a stopwatch in hand, telling you when to speed up, counting your laps for you, etc. There may be run coaches that do that, but that’s not common. Typically, you’ll see your run coach once a week or maybe just a handful of times during the months leading up to your race. The rest of the time, you follow a training schedule they give you and communicate via phone or email.
- Run coaches are less expensive.
You can easily hire one for less than $100 per month, maybe even less than $50 per month. You could easily pay a personal trainer $50-$100 per hour. Even though both help you toward a fitness goal and motivate you, and both should know about exercise physiology and how diet impacts performance, etc, the nature of the services offered are very different. If you find a run coach who is just as expensive as a personal trainer or more, they are coaching pro athletes, not beginner runners.
- Both should adapt to your level.
If you’re not truly a beginner, a good coach or trainer won’t treat you like one. They’ll both take the time to learn where you’re at mentally and physically and help you improve from there. If reaching your own declared goals really does require revisiting some of the “basics” of form or bringing you back down to shorter runs, they should be able to explain to you why that is truly in your best interest.
- Both have to be a good fit for you.
Whether run coach or personal trainer, finding someone whose personality and communication style is a good fit with yours is important. Not all run coaches will be the same or even offer the same kind of services. If you need a run coach who is very involved, giving you detailed workouts, keeping you accountable, on-call for all of your questions and needs, you can find coaches who are willing to do that. Alternatively, if you want someone to just give your training a glance every once in a while with a few tips or ideas, you can find that type of coach as well.
Coached Run Club Vs Group Fitness Class
Let’s go one step further and talk about running clubs. They are not all the same either and the beginner runner may have no idea what a running club is or can be. I used to think “run clubs” were only for local elites who were serious about winning.
- Run Clubs are more than just a group of running buddies. There is a founder, or president, or head honcho who runs the show, and often someone who deals with the business/money end, and maybe a decision-making board of some kind. Some are non-profits. This official run club status may seem like much ado, but it makes it possible for run clubs operate legally, safely, and give benefits to their members. They may have started as just a group of buddies who ran together, but they should be much better organized than a casual meet up.
- A run club coach isn’t a bootcamp instructor.
Almost all run clubs have coaches. Their presence as a leader or instructor does not turn the group run into a bootcamp class. Sure the coach probably leads warm ups and tells everyone the route for the run that day. However, once the run starts, they won’t force the group to stay together while they bark instructions at you. Quite the opposite. They’ll encourage runners to run at their own pace. They may designate “pace groups”, putting runners of similar paces together and encouraging them to run together. Then the coach may hop around from group to group during the run to check in with you.
- Run Clubs train for specific races.
Most run clubs have a set list of local races that they train for. You don’t necessarily have to sign up for and train for those races, but group runs will be structured around training for those specific races. The coach will come up with a plan for each organized run based on where the group is at in training for the next race. Even so, members can usually run more or less than the group that day if they need too.
- Run Clubs are less expensive.
While a group fitness class may charge you $10 to $40 per class, a run club usually just charges a membership fee. Monthly fees could be $10. Yearly fees could be $50. Depends. With that you usually get some kind of club shirt and the privilege of running with the group and following their training plan for local races. Sometimes you even get a discount to local races! Normally you get to run with the club for the weekend long run, and they may provide aid station support for that, and sometimes an additional mid week speed workout as well.
- Run clubs aren’t level specific. Usually.
Some group fitness classes are labeled as “beginner”, “intermediate”, or “advanced”, and if you’re new they might make you do the beginner one first. Run clubs take all levels of runners and let you jump in where you’re at. The coach may modify the run for different abilities, but the distinction between who is a beginner and who is not is less noticeable. Beginners may run less mileage or do fewer repeats, but you’ll all be out there together, running at the same time. You won’t have separate meeting times or be stuck at one level for the duration of training. If your coach sees you can handle the harder workouts, they’ll be fine with you doing them.
Running is it’s own world and if you’ve recently arrived, there are some things that aren’t as obvious or plain as the natives think it is. I wish I would’ve had someone spell these things out for me years ago instead of spending hours reading running club websites and trying to figure out what exactly it was that they did.
I’m glad I talked to that personal trainer who hates running but is starting a run club. It reminds me that one of the biggest benefits of a run coach is that they actually like to run and are genuinely interested in your running goals. I tried running with a group of CrossFitters once who didn’t really like to run but trained for local races and it was…very sad. All work and no joy. I didn’t stick around very long.
What about you?
- Are you a part of a run club? What does yours offer?
- What misconceptions about run clubs or running coaches have you heard?
- Are you a personal trainer who actually loves to run?
- What other ways are run coaches and personal trainers different or similar?
- What questions do you have about running coaches or clubs?