What I learned by becoming an RRCA Certified Running Coach
Do you like running? Do you like it enough to spend 16 hours in a room at the YMCA with 32 random strangers and talk about it non-stop? Yeah, me too.
I have been running since 2004 and I am passionate about it.
I love to talk about running, read about running, RUN, and encourage other people to run. I devour running and training blogs, the 4 running magazines that I subscribe to, and am quite my proud of my running bookshelf. (Which is what it sounds like – an entire bookshelf of running books.)
I’ve formally coached learn-to-run groups and informally coached friends and family, but for a few years, I’ve wanted a tangible credential that I could present to strangers at the farmer’s market who ask me about running. I wanted something that would move me in the direction of being able to offer more than leading pace groups and counting run/walk intervals. I wanted to do for others what my running coach has done for me. When I was finally able to get into a Road Runners Club of America (RRCA) coaching certification course, I was over the moon!
There are a few running coach certifications out there, and RRCA and USATF stand out as the two most reputable. Predictably, the USATF certification focuses on track and field, with only about an hour of their 2 day seminar devoted to distance running. The RRCA course is devoted to distance running and addresses every kind of runner, from the complete novice to the elite athlete to the ultrarunner.
About the RRCA
The goal of the RRCA Coaching Certification program is to create a national community of knowledgeable and ethical distance running coaches to work with runners at all levels of ability.
Founded in 1998, the RRCA Coaching Certification course is designed to provide a baseline of education and training for individuals seeking to become an RRCA Certified Coach. The RRCA Coaching Certification Course emphasizes how to be a successful coach, whether coaching individuals, small groups, or large group training programs such as 5K, half marathon, or marathon training programs. The certification course focuses on issues specific to road running and racing for adults at all ability levels.
The course costs $325 and includes a comprehensive textbook, 2 8-hour days of in-person instruction, and a certificate, once you complete a 100 question online test and submit proof of your CPR and First Aid certification. Our course also included an incredible feast of food – healthy snacks like fruit, granola bars and nuts, all kinds of beverages and lunch each day. It was a dream!
I’d love to tell you everything I learned, but that would defeat one of the purposes of the course, right? So here’s a snapshot:
Intense. I was exhausted when I got home.
- We delved into coaching history, learning about Lydiard and Galloway and more, and the respective contributions they made to the field of coaching.
- We broke down the types of runners and their training needs, from physical to psychological.
- We learned about exercise physiology, how the body changes when running and what kinds of running change in it in which ways.
- We started to put it all together by looking at periodized training and putting together base weeks for various types of runners.
And that was all just before lunch!
Over lunch from Noodles & Company, we got the chance to listen to each other’s stories. There was a breadth and depth of experience in my classmates that was impressive and intimidating and exciting. There were several experienced fitness professionals, quite a few coaches for the local franchise Moms on the Run, and one interesting gentleman who was fairly new to running, but determined to evangelize. I really enjoyed all of my classmates, even becoming friends with some of them. (Hi Michelle!).
After lunch, we went deeper into building periodized programs and coaching nutrition. We wrapped up the day with a homework assignment – take our case study “Robin,” and build a Boston-qualifying marathon training program for him by starting with long run and weekly mileage progression. “Robin” would be the focus of our second day.
We started with discussions on the business of coaching, sports psychology and how heat and altitude affect running and training. Lunch was a “working lunch,” where we split into groups and began fleshing out our training program for “Robin.”
After lunch, we took a break to learn about running form and drills. Though it was about 90 degrees outside, it felt good to leave the air conditioning and get some fresh air. We gathered on the grass outside the YMCA and practiced leg swings, strides and A and B skips. We talked about injury.
We finished day two by finishing up our plans for “Robin” and presenting them to the group.
A Dream come True
I wasn’t exaggerating on social media when I said that taking this course was a dream come true – it was. Even if I never coach another person, I learned so much to inform my own running. I knew that RRCA was a legitimate training, but I didn’t have an appreciation for how rigorous and intense the training is. It’s based in sound exercise science, yet still allows room for discussion of current running trends, whether that is ultrarunning or Paleo diets, or ultrarunners who follow a Paleo diet. Plus, it was super-fun to geek out about this stuff for two days.
Our instructor, Cari Stenzler, was definitely one of my favorite things about this class. Cari is a competitive runner, a RRCA certified coach with her own coaching business, a race director, and a veterinarian.
Type A, much?
She was so funny and engaging and entertaining (I would go see her do stand-up comedy), but also extremely knowledgeable. Cari did an excellent job using personal anecdotes and stories of working with various athletes to drive home key concepts.
The end of the in-person class was not the finish line! We still had to take a 100 question multiple choice test and submit proof of certification in CPR and First Aid. I recently passed the test (woohoo!) and was utterly impressed and intimidated by how hard it was. We had 30 days to take the test, with the ability to save our work and come back to it, and it was completely open-book. Still, I didn’t get 100%! Rather than rote regurgitation, the test questions forced us to synthesize the information and apply it to real-world situations. I was very happy I passed.
Now that I’ve completed this course, I feel able to interview a runner, determine his/her needs and create a program specific to that individual, especially when taking into account their life and potential life limitations. I feel prepared to build a periodized program based on the principles of exercise physiology, previous running history and future goals, and I feel prepared to revised said program based on what actually happens when the workouts are executed. I feel prepared to address injury, burnout, nutrition, form, and supplementary work. I know that I am a “cheerleader”-type of coach, and will be enthusiastic and positive and encouraging – until it’s time to put the smack down.
So, who wants to be my first guinea pig?