Online Run Coaching & Run Training Plans – Explaining the Difference

Like anything in the online space, knowing how to choose a running coach can be a daunting process. Navigating the myriad of different options available can be overwhelming. 

We are so passionate about this process (obvs!) and supporting folks to get it right that we thought we’d put this article together. 

The aim? To provide insight and support so that you may choose a run coach and run plan that is best for you and help you determine the difference between a training plan and a coaching plan.

What is an Online Run Coach?

This broad stroke definition prompted me to write this article! 

An online run coach is any individual or business offering run coaching virtually. 

Easy. Right? Not so fast! 

When the coach claims to offer coach but is actually offering a broad, buffet-style template distance or event training plan, things can get sticky!

Often, this kind of coach will dump you in an FB group and leave you to navigate your way through the training, seeking advice from others in the group who are also muddling their way through! 

Or, they promise coach support but leave you to initiate contact. These coaches don’t monitor your progress and performance. Nor do they look for ways to tweak or enhance the plan for your maximum benefit. Essentially, this is a template event plan and executing it is all on you.

There’s nothing wrong with template event plans (more on them below), but, as coaches, they are not our preference. Template event plans are training programmes minus the coaching experience.

The Oxford Dictionary defines coaching as the process of training someone to play a sport, to do a job better, or to improve a skill.

Off-the-Shelf Plans 

A plan that is ready to go or formulated for a specific distance

Ironically, these are best for someone who knows how to train and understands the objectives of each training session. Unfortunately, most who buy these plans are runners at the beginning of their journey.

These are often free or very cheap, and to be honest, give online run coaching a bad rap!

Template Event Plan

A plan ready to go and made with a specific event in mind. 

Template event plans are popular for trail or marathon preparation where there may be elevation, thus requiring training specificity.

A template event plan will often have different versions of the same plan for the beginner or advanced runner. However, you get the same programme as a group training for the same race.

Typically, you won’t receive any 1:1 coaching. No one will be looking at your sessions and providing feedback on how you can improve or get the most out of your training. These plans are suitable if you are a mid to rear-packer and not competitive.

There is no option to make adjustments to these plans. So, if your circumstances change (unless you pay extra, I guess!), you get injured or miss sessions due to illness or a busy schedule, it can quickly become ineffective.

Custom Plan

With or without a consult at the start, a 6 – 12 week custom (or personalised) plan can be an excellent and affordable intro to 1:1 coaching. 

However, once you have your plan, it is up to you to navigate it, despite circumstance changes or injury.

These plans are suitable for runners who have training experience, know how to analyse their sessions and get the best out of themselves. Typically, these runners don’t get any niggles and already have a solid track record of following a training schedule.

A 6-week base-phase custom plan can be suitable for someone new to following a training plan, as long as the supporting material that comes with it is on point.

I wouldn’t recommend a 12-week plan for someone new to event training. It is a long time, with too many variables, and you will have too many questions (unanswered) along the way. 

And, even if you follow it 100% and everything goes well, you won’t have a plan on how to execute the event itself!

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