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96 miles done, 4 miles to go!

With the increased popularity of ultra running over the past few years, there has been a tremendous amount of interest in athletes looking for information on the sport. Ultras, in general, seem to have a much wider variety of training and race nutrition approaches than for marathon-and-shorter distances. Sorting through what is right for you as an athlete can be a very daunting and confusing task.

More runners are turning to coaches to help guide their training and help them achieve their goals.

Why do I need a coach?

Some runners can do just fine self-coaching, however an objective set of eyes on your training can help you decide if you’re doing too much, not enough, or not the correct type of workouts for your goals.

Many people think that they can just go out and run, so why do they need a coach. To a certain extent that may be true, however if you want to run to your maximum potential and reduce your risk of injury, following a plan that is designed specifically for you can do both of these things optimally.

From the information available on the web, you can gain some great knowledge to help with your training, however no two runners are alike. While you might stumble across a free training program that might work well for the person who wrote it, it will not take into account your specific needs and requirements.

A good running coach will design a program specifically for you that takes into account your current fitness level and background, work/family/time commitments, health/injury history, age, previous training and racing history, and build a program that is suited to your goal race(s). From there a good coach will work with you to modify your training as your needs and fitness levels change.

Aside from the knowledge provided by your coach, having to report to your coach on a regular basis about your training makes you accountable to someone other than yourself. This can be a very powerful thing. There might days in which you’re scheduled to run when the weather is poor, however knowing that your coach is expecting you to train that day may be the only thing that gets you out the door. Consistency is arguably the most important facet of training, so this is a key consideration for people who finds motivation to be a challenge at times.

What to look for in a coach?

1. Experience: How long have they been coaching? What levels of runners do they coach? What type of runners do they coach? What is their running background? Don’t be afraid to ask for references.

2. Accreditations/Education/Experience: Just because a coach is a good runner doesn’t necessarily mean that they will be a great coach. Experience is important, but a good coach should also have a background in exercise physiology and the knowledge to be able to put together the most effective training program for you.

3. Training philosophy: Find out from a potential coach what their training philosophy is. The best coaches will draw from many different training principles and build your program around your strengths, weaknesses and what works best for you as an individual. There is NO one best training program for all runners!

4. Ability and willingness to modify training: A good coach should have an open, two-way communication. Designing a program for one or two months at a time is not ideal as fitness levels change and you may need to modify your training along the way. Finding a coach who offers unlimited contact and support is the best way to go.

The number one thing that YOU can do aside from actually doing the training is to make sure that you communicate effectively with your coach. You can have the best coach on the planet, but if you don’t communicate effectively with them, then you are not going to benefit as effectively as you could. Be sure to provide complete and accurate information so that your coach can assess your current level of fitness and modify your workouts accordingly if needed. Make sure that your training information is kept up to date, specific and thorough. If you are struggling with fatigue, fighting with injury issues/soreness and even if you are stressed with your work or family life, theses are all things that your coach should be aware of and may need to adjust your training load.

I am continually seeing new coaches of varying qualifications and experience offering their services. If you are committed to hiring the services of a coach, you owe it to yourself to take your time and do your homework beforehand.

For a comprehensive list of ultrarunning coaches, check out To find out more information on the Spafford Health and Adventure coaching services we offer, please visit

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