How to choose an online running coach | The ultimate guide for picking an online trainer in 2022

Choosing a running coach is a decision so many runners need to make in their careers, whether you are a weekend warrior or trying to complete the Boston marathon, a coach might be in your best interest. In this article, we take you through the complex decision on how to choose an online running coach.

Why take our word for it? We interviewed certified experts across North America actively training runners just like you. Read on to see the answers to all your questions!

What does an amazing running coach do for their athletes?

Molly Armesto, an expert in Marathon training tells us it is important to trust and believe in not only the coach but the training plan that they design for you. When you have faith in who is guiding you and the path you are taking to reach your goals, you can greatly enhance your potential!

Coach Laurie Porter tells us “A successful coach develops a close working relationship with their athletes and it’s very important for a coach to develop a full understanding of an athlete’s strengths and weaknesses.

This will enable a coach to learn what motivates their athletes. Making workouts fun and diverse and paying close attention to the athlete’s running environments also plays a big part.

On top of that, Coach Art Steiber tells us “a great coach will really get to know you and your unique situation and adjust your plan to work around situations that come up in your schedule. He will also be proactive to send you articles and information relevant to you and look for races or events for you to consider.”

Matt Pippin, Strength and Mobility Coach takes it a step further and tells us “First and foremost they should just CARE about the athlete. Treat the person like family, not just a client. The more you care about the athlete, the more results will occur because the coach can ask more involved questions ranging from how their personal life is going (this area influences sports performance more than anything else) to just knowing that someone has their back.

“personal life … influences sports performance more than anything else”

Matt Pippin, Strength and Mobility Coach

From there the coach should have weekly check-ins via email/text/call, quarterly goal meetings, and ask the athletes for input what they like and don’t like about their programming.

Coach Tom Olson reminds us what we get from running goes far beyond the runners high and the free space when you’re out pounding the pavement. “A good coach will help a runner internalize all of the amazing psychological benefits of being a runner.  These feelings show up in our training, racing, and most importantly, our daily lives.”

For most runners this should strike a chord. Running can be a reset button, it can be meditative, but if you’re not in the right mind-set it can actually be stressful to the mind and body. This releases the endorphins in your body you don’t want showing up, and counteracts any benefits you hoped to get.

How much is an Online Running Coach?

An online running coach can cost anywhere from $35 per month to (as much as you can spend) per month. Premium packages often cost $200-$300 per month.

When you compare the cost of a running coach to a gym membership or in-person personal training, you can often find an option that fits your budget.

What results to expect with an online running trainer? How long will it take?

The general consensus any runner needs to remember is

results take time

Coach James Young Jr. reminds us that “The human body takes an average of 22 days to respond and show adaptation to neuro-muscular stimulation.  As such, much like removing sugar or caffeine from one’s diet, the key is both patience and consistency.  If a runner follows a structured, scientifically-based program consistently, as prescribed, less than a month is a very viable timeframe.”

If you’re like some runners doing things yourself until now you might be surprised by some immediate results. One example I personally found was buying shoes too small! When you run a marathon, fun fact, your feet swell up!

Coach Jessica Storrison reminds us “it really depends on the athlete’s level (beginner, advanced, etc), what their goals are, and how they define results. I would expect beginner athletes to see improvements sooner than more advanced athletes who have been training for longer. If you are defining ‘results’ as a race outcome, then it won’t happen overnight for you, but results can also be seen by looking at how you feel while running, as well as if you are able to be more consistent.

Similar to the small shoes example, coach Tom Olson reminds us that if we were set in our ways (which may have worked just fine in your 20’s) “Even some experienced runners may make some good gains if they are missing some fundamental elements from their training.” 

A problem with most DIY runners is you don’t know what you are missing!

Olson continued “A lot of runners get caught in the rut of doing the same thing over and over.  They run 3 miles a day at the same pace. Our bodies adapt to stress quickly and the return for training turns to maintenance without any new gain.  To put it simply changing running distances and paces can prod our bodies into greater endurance and speed.”

How to know when youre ready for a running coach?

For your introspection, our coaches and experts weighed in on questions you should ask yourself to know when you’re ready for a running coach.

What am I seeking to accomplish, somewhat specifically?  How committed am I willing to be?  Do I have a long-term vision for myself?  Do I have reservations?

While a coach can help you answer some of these questions, only you can choose to be committed.

People need to think about what they really want from a coach. Do they just want a training plan or do they want someone to hold them accountable? Do they want to do their own research on things like warm-up and strength training exercises, nutrition and racing strategy or do they want a coach to give specific direction and advice on all areas of running?

A runner should ask themselves what their aspirations are.  What do I wish to accomplish?  What am I reasonably able to do and what is the best way for me to get there? On a positive note they should ask themselves if they are ready to take a plunge and improve their running, self confidence and pride.

A prospective athlete should take a look at their goals and their running history, how they have handled training in the past (free online plan, coaching app), along with their current time commitments, and think about if they are satisfied with how things went in the past, as well as if they would continue to be satisfied with the same results in the future.

Chances are, if someone is thinking about working with a running coach, they are not 100% satisfied or are unsure about how to move towards a new goal. If being consistent is an issue, then a running coach can help provide the motivation for them to get out the door. If someone has many other life commitments, having a coach can help with creating a flexible plan that can be modified to work around a hectic lifestyle.

What do I want to get from my running? What am I willing to invest in my running? What do I respond to in terms of motivation?

Online coach versus a coaching app?

If you’ve been thinking about getting help running, you likely have seen the countless apps promising the world to you. We asked the professionals how should someone compare an app to the (ahem) real thing?

This was summed up beautifully by coach Olson:

An app has never fought through a tough workout or had an injury.  And an app certainly has never felt the triumph of a new person record or running through a finish line with your arms in the air.”

Coach Tom Olson

Coaches do recommend that an app is better than nothing, and of course budget is always a consideration, but runners need to think closely about the total cost of ownership…of their body. Choosing to be a runner is no light decision. There is a decent probability you could get injured. Think ahead and ask your future self, would you make the investment in your health today?

The other thing to consider is motivation. Every coach mentions the significant difference between an app motivating you and a real person. While it may have been an experienced runner who built the app, as Jamie Ness tells us “A coaching app is only as good as its programmer and its inputs.  Running coaching apps might serve their purpose for some, but a quality human coach will be superior.”….this is different than a professional coach who closely monitors your progress and can tailor training toward a runners specific goals offering feedback and encouragement along the way.

Another thing you should consider is scheduling and prioritization. A major thing coaches do is ask you the hard questions. Coach Tom Olson reminds us an app “can’t adjust workouts for individual physical needs or to account for personal schedules. 

Some of those hard questions include your running history. If you’re like most runners, you might have – in your past – set unreasonable goals. ie; how hard can it be to run a 3h marathon? Well if you’re like most runners with an average distance of 4 miles and pace around 9 minutes per mile…..let’s take a step back and set some realistic goals!

As Sarah Forman reminds us, a running coach program “will be customized to your personal goals taking into account your running history. Your coach can adjust your plan based on how you are feeling, injuries and other factors that affect your schedule, such as weather, work and family.”

Choosing a running coach verse getting a running app what is better?

Do you need to be certified to be a running personal trainer?

A running coach needs to have some certifications, but how much is enough? And what ones are truly telling of a committed coach?

As Elizabeth Carey explaines in another great article about choosing a running coach, it’s important to put some thought into your choice, or to vet your running coach

When our running coaches weighed in, the consensus is pretty clear. If you’re a recreational runner participating in road races “a Road Runners Club of America certification would be adequate.  Beyond that, a Level 1 and Level 2 Endurance certification by United States of America Track and Field offers a greater range of science and event coverage.”

James also mentions that when it comes to the specific method or application you expect a coach to use, you’ll find the more sophisticated applications have their own certification. If this is important to you make sure to check it. Something you’ll notice is many coaches have discounts or platforms built right into their coaching programs, so from our research, we recommend to start with a great coach, worry about the application after.

Coaches can take it a step further. You don’t expect your doctor to stop researching after graduating med school, and you’re probably not expected to stop learning in your profession!

Laurie Porter tells runners that “like any profession, continuing education is a must. A good coach should have at least some general knowledge in the following areas: anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, and psychology. Something to keep in mind, coaching is the perfect blend of art and science.”

How to be a running coach

I recommend coaching to experienced runners who are students of the sport with a good understanding of both training theory and workout design as well as the nuances of running and want to help guide others to their goals. In addition to sport specific knowledge, coaches have to be servant leaders and good at listening, guiding, and motivating people, so good people and communication skills is a must. As someone who’s done both team coaching at the high school and college level as well as online coaching, I would say that online coaching draws more on my knowledge or training theory and workout design and ability to communicate effectively over writing/virtually with some level of tech savviness, while traditional team coaching relies very heavily on interpersonal skills and verbal communication and team building much more than online coaching does. Anyone considering doing online coaching should think about what part of coaching they enjoy the post and whether or not a virtual setting is a good match for your skills and interests.

Coach Art Steiber tells readers thinking about becoming a coach, “Athletes that are students of the sport, like to read and research articles from experts, like to help others with advice and also truly enjoy seeing others grow and success could consider becoming a running coach themselves.”

What to do next?

If you’ve made it this far the next logical step is answer the questions posed in this article, and find a coach. A big thanks to the experts who contributed to this in-depth look at choosing an online running coach!

Where do I find professional online running coaches?

There are many places you can find professional running coaches online. The place we urge you to start is with the contributors to this article. Check out the links below


I’m a runner, a dad, a writer, just trying to help runners make better decisions. My running career started back in 2013 getting into olympic triathlons, increasing to full distance Ironmans in 2017. Through the process of run training as a hobby and trying to train the least possible to avoid injury and still compete at the Ironman distance, I’ve put years of research and testing into simple running routines and techniques. As a writer, working with coaches and experts we take their experience and provide articles to help runners at every level.

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