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Running Coach Certification: How To Become A Running Coach, 4 Great Options

We explore the pros and cons of becoming a running coach.

Much like you need to be a certified personal trainer to provide personal training services and design strength training programs for clients, you need to take a running coaching certification course to get proper accreditation for coaching runners.

Let’s look at how to become a running coach, what the run coaching education looks like, and the best certification programs for running coaches.

A running coach kneeling on a track.

What Are The Best Running Coach Certification Programs?

There are several running coach certification programs, including online running coach certification programs that allow you to go at your own pace and in-person running coach certification programs.

RRCA

RRCA stands for Road Runners Club of America. The RRCA coaching certification program consists of Level 1 and Level 2 certifications. 

Anyone wanting to go through their program should have a general knowledge of running and have a high school diploma.

Both the online and in-person options are held over two full days and consist of lectures, group work, discussion, and some homework.

The course is $335 and is limited to 35 participants.

UESCA

UESCA is the United Endurance Sports Coaching Academy. This certification is done entirely online.

There are no tier systems with coaching levels like some of the other companies. Their coursework consists of 22 modules with quizzes to check your understanding along the way and includes business and marketing training.

The course culminates in a final exam.

The course costs $499, but they do offer a link for $50 off.

A running coach in a gym helping a client with a  treadmill.

USATF

USA Track and Field also offers a coaching certification system with three levels.

In order to register for these courses, you must be a current USATF member and be over 18 years old.

The tier 1 program can be done in person or through an online course. Once completed, you can move on to tier 2 and tier 3 certifications, though it takes years of experience to qualify for these advanced coaching levels.

The cost for the tier 1 course is $210 and is limited to 55 participants.

USTFCCA

U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association is quite the mouthful. This entity has an academy where individuals can become certified to coach.

USTFCCA offers general and specialized courses for the different aspects of distance running, sprints, jumps, and throws. Some of these courses are online and some are in person.

There are too many courses here to go in-depth about offerings and prices. Most seem to hover around the $200 mark when it comes to costs. More advanced courses can require in-person attendance.

A coach in a gym.

Is It Worth It to Become a Running Coach?

I would caution anyone to think long and hard before getting a running coach certification. Even coaching part-time or for fun can lead to individuals biting off more than they can chew.

If you are interested in how to become a running coach, there are a few things you will want to keep in mind.

#1: Should You Get Certified?

The first question you should ask yourself is, will you get a running coach certification? If you search for running coaches, you will likely find individuals with credentials and certifications behind their names. Not to mention a few Olympic or World Championship medals.

A running coach with runners on a track.

These coaches went through a running coach certification program and can add that to their resumes.

While you don’t have to be a certified coach to offer successful coaching to running, a certification can set you apart from other running coaches when a runner looks at the available options.

Run coaching certification programs will teach you fundamentals of running training, such as biomechanics, proper form and running mechanics, injury prevention, how to make a training plan based on the runner’s goals and fitness level, principles of running nutrition for distance runners, etc.

You will also learn things about training methods for distance runners, periodization, strength training, and training specificity for different running events. 

For example, you can also learn about methodologies for sprints, jumps, and throws if you are interested in becoming a track and field coach.

Running coaching programs also have lessons about the coaching business side of things, such as how to get clients, how to network with other fitness professionals, and the benefits of being a running coach who is self-employed vs. working in gyms, for schools, or larger run coaching companies.

Getting certified will also allow you to get liability insurance, which is important for protecting yourself and your assets.

We will discuss the different programs that you can complete to become a certified running coach later in the article.

A running coach with runners on a track.

#2: How Much Does It Cost to Become a Running Coach?

Getting your budding running coach business or coaching career off the ground is not going to be cheap.

All of the best running coach certifications cost a minimum of several hundred dollars upfront, plus continuing education courses you will need to take to maintain your certification cost a fair amount of money as well.

There can also be prerequisites, such as getting a CPR certification, which factor into the total costs of becoming a running coach.

You’ll also need to be insured. Why? Picture this:

You’ve just landed your first athlete. They tell you they want to qualify for the Boston Marathon. You tell them you can definitely get them below the qualifying time.

After 6 months of training, they miss the cutoff by 3 minutes. A few weeks later you get a letter in the mail saying you are being sued. You guaranteed them a Boston qualifying time, and they didn’t get it. They want their money back and damages.

You might be inclined to laugh at the example above, but I guarantee a coach has had the above scenario happen. Unfortunately, we live in a litigious society. A runner getting hurt or injured while training could have dire legal consequences for you, their coach.

A running coach on a track with their arms crossed.

To mitigate this, you’ll need coaching insurance. Depending on your coverage, this will likely be anywhere from several hundred to one thousand dollars a year.

You’ll want this protection. Something as simple as an injury could lead to someone taking legal action against you.

To this point, even if you’re a certified running coach with a lot of running experience, you are not allowed to you don’t diagnose injuries, prescribe nutrition plans, or tell your runners to take medication. Any of this could end up coming back on you negatively.

So we’ve paid to become a certified running coach and purchased run coaching insurance. We’re good to go, right?

Not so fast. How are people going to find you? You’re going to need to spend money on marketing.

You’ll need a website at a minimum. A social media page alone isn’t going to set you apart from the other coaches out there.

There are some free options out there, but they look cheap and likely won’t make a good impression on the athletes you are hoping to coach.

As someone who has started a couple of websites, I can tell you from first-hand experience you will be out a couple of hundred dollars, minimum. This will include hosting, domain registration, and getting content management software (like WordPress).

This is the bare minimum.

Start adding things like a custom logo, a theme for your site, shirts/gear, and other marketing material, and the numbers can start going up.

Add all of this up, and you’re approaching 4 figures before you’ve even booked your first athlete. On top of finances, there’s another cost you have to consider: time

A running coach on a track with a runner.

#3: Can I Coach Runners Part Time?

If you are doing your job as a coach, it is a time-consuming process. 

  • Developing workouts, strength programs, and race strategies specific to what your athlete needs.
  • Communicating, inspiring, and mentoring your athlete on their journey.
  • Reading, researching, and staying up to date on the latest training information available.
  • Marketing yourself to potential clients

All of these things and more are involved when you are coaching runners. Multiply this time 2, 3, or 5 runners, and you can see that it quickly becomes hours of work.

A running coach with a clipboard and a pen.

Is It Better to Be an Online Running Coach or Coach In Person?

Once you’ve decided to become a running coach, you’ll have to decide if you will work with your athletes online or in person. There are pros, cons, and specifics you should think about with each.

In-Person Coaching

Being able to meet athletes in person, work with them face to face, and get instant feedback from runs and workouts is ideal for coaching.

Being able to adjust workouts in real-time based on how an athlete is feeling can turn workouts around and help improve the morale of the athlete and you.

However, it can be difficult for one person to manage several athletes at once.

When I coached high school and college cross country, it was tough keeping track of several runners doing a workout.

This can be especially difficult if you have athletes specializing in different distances and running workouts simultaneously. Juggling intervals, rest periods, and keeping track of splits can be tricky.

However, it can cut down on the time commitment if you are able to work with several athletes at the same time.

The main problem with in-person coaching is finding the athletes and working with schedules.

Unless you live in a large city, it will be difficult to find enough athletes. Even if you do, scheduling workouts that everyone or almost everyone can attend will be very difficult with all the different schedules.

You may wind up having to attend several different sessions on any given day to accommodate their work/life schedules.

A running coach on a track with runners.

Online Coaching

Online coaching flips the pros and cons of in-person coaching.

Since you aren’t attending workout sessions for the athletes, there may not be as great of a time commitment when it comes to practices. That time will be made up in communicating with the athletes, either by phone or computer.

Online coaching can also feel very impersonal.

I’m currently coaching a marathoner online and other than giving him his weekly workouts and the odd check-in, there’s not a lot of communication.

This may not bother some coaches but it doesn’t give me the same satisfaction as in-person coaching does. Also, there is no way to adjust workouts or runs if things aren’t going to plan. So that’s a limiting factor.

Online coaching gives you access to a greater pool of athletes, but you will be competing with other online coaches for them. You have to find ways to stand out amongst the hordes of running coaches that can be found online.

A running coach with a whistle and a clipboard.

What Are the Other Options to Become a Running Coach?

You might be asking yourself, “Do I need a running coach certification?”

The answer to that is it depends.

There are certainly plenty of running coaches who do not have certifications from these institutions and who do an amazing job coaching athletes.

However, if you were looking at hiring two running coaches and one has a certification while the other doesn’t, who would you choose?

I personally have never gotten a running coach certification of any kind. I coached high school cross country and track for 4 years and college cross country for 2 years. I’ve also coached privately both for pay and for fun.

However, most of our team here at Marathon Handbook holds running coach certifications, mainly from UESCA. UESCA even has an Ultrarunning Coach Certification that Kaitlyn has a Triathlon Coach Certification that Amber has.

If you are looking to get into coaching and hope to make a living from it, then getting a running coach certification should be high on your priority list.

Moreover, you usually cannot get insurance for your coaching work unless you are certified.

However, if you just want to share your passion for running or help individuals improve themselves, you can likely volunteer at a local running club. This could also allow you to see if this is something you could potentially turn into a full-time career.

While I’m not as familiar with how things are done overseas, in the United States, it’s very likely you can find a local middle school or high school to volunteer or even get paid to coach.

Cross country and track are not as popular as football, basketball, or baseball/softball, so they typically can use help when it comes to coaching.

If you are looking to get a running coach certification, there are a lot of options available to you. However, you may want to consider everything that goes into it before spending the money, time, and resources involved with the process.

Do you think it’s worth it to become a certified running coach? Let us know in the comments!

If you are just getting started with your running education and would like to begin learning about all of the different types of running workouts, check out our guide here!

Photo of author
Adam Rabo has been running since junior high. He has coached high school and college distance runners. Adam recently completed the UTMB Canyons 100k, making the cutoff for the Western States 100 and UTMB. You can generally find him on the rodes or trails in Colorado Springs, training for upcoming marathons and ultramarathons.

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