The Ins and Outs of RRCA Certification
As you may know, coaching is a passion of mine. I want to help people live healthy, active lifestyles and the best way that I know how to do that is through running. This summer, I had the opportunity to further develop this passion by attending a weekend long certification with the Road Runners Club of America (RRCA).
The level one certification is an intensive two-day class which focuses on the basics of training theory, physiology related to running, building a program, the business of coaching, and also quickly hits on a few other topics.
Here’s a quick rundown of the course, what I took away from it, and why you should consider attending a certification course near you:
Who is the RRCA
The RRCA is a national organization with a goal of furthering the “development of community-based running clubs and events that serve runners of all ages and abilities in pursuit of health and competition.”
The founding members of the RRCA felt the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU, the governing body of road races at the time) was not serving distance running athletes because of the lack of events for them. It’s important to note that at this time it was rare for anyone to run or jog for health and fitness, and very few road races were put on across the country.
The RRCA grew quickly, and after three years they had already hosted over 600 running events. They soon began breaking down barriers that the AAU had placed on road races such as age and medical requirements, as well as sponsoring long-distance races for women (whom the AAU did not allow to compete in distances greater than 1.5 miles).
Fast forward almost 60 years to today, the RRCA has over 4,000 certified coaches and has provided over $115,000 to Kids Run the Nation grants to 150 programs which have served nearly 70,000 youth. The Roads Scholar program has awarded 112 grants totaling $510,000 to assist American post-collegiate runners to develop into national and world class road running athletes. As of 2012, over 50% of the grantees (55 total) have gone on to run at the Olympic Trials after receiving the grant in distance events for track. Two grantees, Deena Kastor and Amy Begley, earned spots on Olympic Teams.
This all just scratches the surface of what the RRCA has done and continues to do for the sport of running and its athletes! The RRCA has 2,400 clubs and event members serving 4,215,000 runners per year.
The RRCA Coaching Certification
Day one starts off with discussing the different types runners and how their training needs differ. These categories are defined as novice, experienced, and competitive runners. Class participants discuss the difference in types of training needed for each of these types of runners and how to safely progress their training.
For example, a novice runner should not be sent to the track to grind out 400 meter repeats without properly building base fitness. Conversely, a competitive 5k runner should not be forced to grind out weeks and weeks of low, easy paced mileage leading to a goal event.
This leads the discussion to some basics of physiology to provide a high level view of established knowledge and key terms. Here participants will delve into Coach Jack Daniel’s seven principles of training and how to use these principles to build a solid training program.
Participants will also learn about developing six physiological components most important to running:
- Cardiovascular System: developing the ability to supply blood to muscles
- Running Muscles: developing cellular adaptations to enhance training speed and duration
- Lactate Threshold: minimize the effect of waste buildup
- Aerobic Capacity (VO2 Max): increase the ability to consume oxygen
- Speed: types of muscle fibers (slow twitch, fast twitch I, and fast twitch II)
- Running Economy: oxygen consumption relative to weight and speed
Learning these components helps potential coaches to understand why specific workouts are done for specific events in order to target specific training zones. These include recovery runs (aerobic recovery), training runs (aerobic training zone), tempo runs (lactate threshold zone), and VO2 Max runs (anaerobic zone). Once you understand these training zones, you begin to understand why you’re running in circles around a track, grinding out 400m repeats, gutting out a threshold run with burning legs, or running slow, even if you’re feeling great.
During the entire session, participants refer to three different case studies to demonstrate how to apply these principles to a novice, experienced, and competitive runner. Being able to do this as the course progressed really helped me with the learning process and solidify the concepts presented.
Day two begins with a recap of the previous day, moving on to focus largely on the business of coaching. Here participants will delve into understanding their demographics. Understanding who will benefit most from coaching is key. One might think, “I want to coach people to run and achieve their goals!” which is great, but what kind of runners? Couch to 5k? Recreational runners chasing a BQ? Cross country teams? Understanding this demographic will also lead to better business marketing and operations (i.e. where and when to run, facilities needed, type of communication, etc).
Obviously there are a lot of things to consider should you decide to start your own coaching business. The course does a great job of outlining the important points like those mentioned above, as well as finances, ethics, insurance, and other legal considerations. The RRCA also provides a lot of materials for these subjects on their website for certified coaches.
After wrapping up the business aspect of coaching, participants have the opportunity for a “working lunch”. During this time I was able to connect with a few of my classmates. Together we developed a plan for a person preparing for a marathon in 16 weeks. We had to take into consideration his current pace, goal pace, and lifestyle. In this particular case, this person was very active, running several days during the week, as well as attending spinning and yoga classes.
Understanding an athlete’s lifestyle and goals is important when developing a training plan. As a coach, you will have to step in and tell them they will need step away from the intense spinning and yoga classes and focus on running. Since the body adapts specifically to the stress placed on it, your athlete should focus on training specific to their event to ensure she can reach her goal.
Once we completed the plan, we presented to the group and explained why we set the plan up the way we did, chose the specific workouts, and removed the non-running related activities.
The day wraps up by touching on a few other aspects of running and things to consider when coaching. Participants have a chance to explore these subjects further with the level two certification, which includes sports psychology, the effects of heat, cold, and altitude, nutrition, injuries and prevention, and running form.
The subject I find particularly interesting is sports psychology. Understanding how to use different levels of success and failure as tools for motivation to continue to strive to improve rather than stagnate or give up is important for every runner, regardless of experience. Also, using breathing techniques to keep calm and relaxed, mantras, and mental images to cope with rough patches can have powerful benefits, not only in running, but in our day-to-day lives as well.
Next Steps and Levels
After completing the course, but before becoming a certified RRCA coach, participants need to pass an online test with a minimum score of 80%. (Don’t worry, you’re able to print the questions, use your notes, and research your answers before submitting them for evaluation.) Proof of CPR certification is also required.
After a year of being a level one certified coach, you can take the next steps to becoming a level two coach. The level two certification process requires that you attend an in-person session which is held at the RRCA Convention or at select cities throughout the year. You will also need to complete 16 online modules which are 30 to 90 minutes in length, presented by a subject expert.
From my experience, this is a great program. The level one class is a very intense two days of learning covering many areas of coaching at a high level. The RRCA is truly doing their best to promote the sport of running and help people get started. This is just a small summary of who they are and a few of the programs they support.
If you have come to running a bit later in life, have found it to be a passion, and/or would like to make it a career focus or help others with their running, the level one certification is a great way to get started and expand your knowledge of running and coaching!