A Different Kind of Running Coach
When one thinks of a coach for an athlete, the first thing that comes to mind is the coach out on the field, in the gym, trackside or poolside, yelling commands, blowing a whistle, and monitoring with a stopwatch. More and more, athletes are looking to another kind of coach to support and motivate them to achieve greater goals. This is the personal development coach, or more specifically, a performance fitness coach.
This paper will describe the benefits of working with a performance fitness coach, using competitive running racing as an example, to see how coaching off the field can also take an athlete to the next level. For clarity sake, from here on out, the differentiation will be identified as the athletic coach (on the field) and the performance fitness coach (off the field).

Who can benefit from this type of coaching?
Really anyone! But more specifically, a runner who is finding themselves in need of deeper motivation, rejuvenation, accountability and a support system. The following profiles are some that may greatly benefit from this type of coaching relationship.
The Novice Racer: The number of racers showing up as first-time half or full marathoners each year is astonishing as well as inspiring. Being new to such a challenging event can often raise doubts, frustrations and questions as to why they decided to take up this crazy, lofty new goal. The notion of quitting may come up on multiple occasions as they put their body through new rigorous routines and feel pains and struggles never experienced before; both physical and mental. New “Gremlins” (those doubting voices in your head) may rear their heads and speak loudly as one tries to tackle this challenging goal for the first time.

The Recovering Injured: With more and more people putting their bodies through such strenuous efforts, and often those new to heavy training intensity, greater numbers of runners are ending up in physical therapy due to injuries. During the process of healing, as well as once overcoming the injury, dealing with the emotional frustration of getting back out there can be a severe drain on motivation, sometimes to the extent of causing depression, and engaging in self-sabotaging habits. For the avid or lifetime competitive runner, taking a break or compromising goal times and training intensity can create a sense of lost self worth, as this is how many runners define themselves. It can be a deep emotional struggle in addition to the physical recovery

The Plateaued Runner: Often times, a competitive racer may see drastic improvements in their times from race to race. This is a great source of pleasure, accomplishment and pride. Just like any endeavor in life, a plateau is often hit somewhere along the way. While the athletic coach may seek to help the runner vary up their routine, modify eating habits, or push them with the aggression needed to achieve desired results, there are deep internal struggles and frustrations that go along with this plateau that the performance fitness coach can help empower the athlete through with the proper inner work.

The Burned-Out Runner: Many competitive runners do frequent races consistently throughout the year, and do so over the course of their lives. While they have a deep, sometimes incomprehensible love for the sport, they can encounter burnout. Somewhat unlike the career professional hitting burnout, runners hitting burnout often do not actually want to take a break. Something in the makeup of this type of runner simply won’t allow it. They want to find a way to bring the spark back, rekindle the love if you will, and continue on with the sport feeling the exhilaration and inner peace it has always brought them. They need to be re-energized and inspired again. Perhaps come back with a new perspective, a different passion driven purpose, or exciting action plan.

Getting to the bottom of it all
For the athletic coach, “getting to the bottom of it” may mean making sure the appropriate shoe for the runner’s pronation habits or stride is being worn. Or it may mean ensuring the runner’s gluteal muscles are strong enough to facilitate power and balanced alignment in order to prevent knee, hip, or other possible injuries related to these physical running mechanics.
For this aspect of performance fitness coaching, “getting to the bottom of it” means getting to the inner motivation. What is the mindset, or inner passion driving the runner to create such a goal for themselves? What values do they hold strongly that align with these goals?
Sports psychologist Neal Bowes published a recommendation that resonates with IPEC (The Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching) coaching concepts and the Foundation Principle that states, “Each moment describes who you are, and gives you the opportunity to decide if that’s who you want to be”. The definition of this principle closes with the statement, “In fact, one might say that the most enlightened goal could be to enjoy the process.” Rather than tying an end goal to self-worth, all of the ups and downs experienced during training and at individual races can be seen as steps to building a stronger athlete.
Bowes’ recommendation for truly enjoying racing is to make sure the runner is process-focused and not outcome-focused. When one is so emotionally attached to the outcome, stress increases and enjoyment decreases. Again associating this with one’s values, we can see from the below grid that outcome-focused goals are driven by fear based values, while process-focused are driven by consciousness based values. The following are mindsets the performance fitness coach can look out for and reframe for the client who may be driven by (and likely stressed out by) outcome-focused goals:


The runner’s focus is on highly ambitious, perhaps unrealistic, time goals.
The runner’s confidence is based on race times, and driven by how others view their accomplishments.
The runner’s routine is strict, causing one to train through pain and risk injury, and creating feelings of guilt if they rest.
Race day success is based on time and placing amongst competitors. If a goal time is missed, it is seen as failure.


The runner’s time goal is based on training runs and recent races. Focus is on mind-set, pace, fueling and nutrition.
The runner’s confidence is based on the ability to execute a race plan, individual development, and the role running has in their life.
The runner listens to their body and notes signs of trouble, backing off to give the body the rest it needs to continue safe and strong later on.
Race day success is based partly on times and placing, but heavily on the experience itself, what is learned from the experience, and how to apply that to future races.

Excerpt from Runner’s World, December 2009 issue

This is a successful method from novice to advanced athletes. Much too often they are tied to an external goal, and then create fear about what other people will think, because they are comparing themselves to other runners, or holding value to where they place instead of how they feel about themselves and how far they’ve come individually. This takes the enjoyment out of the sport, and without doing the inner work, one may just take themselves out of the competition rather than giving themselves a break and allowing themselves to enjoy the training by continuing at an aggressive, but achievable level. Or, if they choose to stay in the race, they risk injury because of the stress their body is holding while they train, and the fact that they are forcing themselves to levels they may not truly be ready for or comfortable with.

The realization that they can still be proud of themselves, are still growing in the process, accomplishing great things, and will be supported by friends and peers, reduces the emotional stress, renews the idea of enjoyment of the process, and restores the energy and motivation to keep going. Often, once they have removed this stress, they find themselves achieving the aggressive goal anyway, because they’ve replaced the catabolic energy with anabolic energy, and naturally, the process becomes easier with this reallocation of energy source.

Which coach is best?
The answer to this lies with each individual. A runner may desire only an athletic coach, or only a performance fitness coach. Perhaps they want both, or choose to go it completely alone. If there are inner boundaries and mental blocks creating lost momentum, it may be time for a performance fitness coach.
Athletes are becoming more aware of this type of coaching, and leveraging it to their benefit. Any kind of athletic endeavor at this level can come with different inner energy blocks and nay saying Gremlins. Getting to the root of why the client has assigned themselves certain goals and associating their consciousness-based values to the process as well as the outcome can provide enormous benefit.
Adding this kind of coaching partnership into the mix with a solid training program and a nutritious lifestyle can only do great things in the way of renewed passion and enjoyment of the sport as well as physical improvement and athletic accomplishment.

Author's Bio: 

Sue Koch started Chicago based Soaring Solutions LLC drawing on 15 years of business experience including background in Executive Management of HR, Operations and Customer Service, Charity Event Planning, Professional Performance Arts and Performance Fitness.

As a coach, Sue’s varied professional background and personal experience in trauma and transition is invaluable to understanding the issues faced by her clients and roadblocks that are commonly faced along the way.

Sue is focused on inspiring people in career and personal transition to achieve success and fulfillment via awareness of limiting beliefs, goal and value alignment, inspiration, motivation and self-care, while providing support and accountability on the client’s terms. Her mission is to empower clients to soar at new heights!