The Ultimate Gift for Every Runner on Your List

While you can’t give the gift of speed, you can gift the runner on your list with run coaching. Working with a coach makes running faster/stronger/better possible. For any runner, it’s the ultimate holiday gift!

Below, Matt Thull from ThunderDome Running, tells us what it’s like to work with a coach and why it’s beneficial for runners of all levels – from beginner to elite.

Let’s start off by talking a bit about what it’s like to work with a coach. What happens when a runner first comes to you for coaching and what are the different ways you might work with him or her?

I like to get a feel of what a typical training week looks like. What is their mileage, number of days running per week and any cross training (yoga, bike, swim). I also like to hear about why the interested runner runs . . . like what is their motivation, focus, or what their peak/goal race might be. With all of those factors in mind both the new runner and I can determine if we would be a good match/team. Some runners need a daily individualized training plan, some runners need an extra push with a one-on-one workout session with me, and others just need to “fix” their training the last month or two before a big race.

What does coaching provide that can’t be found in an online training plan or in a book?

Individual coaching provides immediate feedback (daily) so we won’t miss a training mistake a month down the road when it is too late. Each week is different in terms of how a runner’s life schedule fits with their training. Workouts, long runs, paces and races can and sometimes need to be adjusted. Books and generalized training plans don’t factor in individual runner’s needs like needing to take off for nagging pains, lack of motivation/ burnout, or missing runs due to work as well as how to try to make those up in a safe/smart way. A book plan or general plan tries to meet the needs of many runners, whereas a personalized running coach’s only goal is your “own” needs – so there are no generalities and your training schedule is unique.

One thing we’ve heard from some runners is that they aren’t fast enough to need a coach. Can you talk a bit about how coaching can benefit runners of all abilities and levels?

“Fast” runners need the same things as beginning runners and all runners in between. We all need accountability, a cheerleader, variety in workouts, expertise and some running psychological help, too. The weekly training elements of a sub 2:20 marathon runner are very similar to someone running a 5 hour marathon or a first time 5k runner.

Some runners seemed to be injured all the time – how can working with a coach help runners avoid injury and burnout?

Injury and burnout happen a lot of times when runners do the same series of workouts and are constantly comparing prior weeks or years of workout results. No single training build up is the same as prior training period – even if the prior training period produced a PR. Injuries don’t have to be a constant part of training if each training block is treated as its own unique training cycle.

What are some of the other benefits of working with a coach?

Many times I find out that the running IQ of my new runners and even veteran runners could use a boost. With that in mind, we not only work together on a challenging training plan but also offer pre-race/workout warm-up routines and other tips and tricks that can improve their training. If someone loves to race we work on NOT racing every single race at 100 percent all out as they still have a peak race in mind. Also every runner has strengths and weaknesses so individualizing workouts can both progress those strengths and shore up weak areas of training and racing. You can’t get that out of a general book or plan written to help millions.

What should runners look for in a running coach?

A running coach many times has a unique “philosophy” or maybe something that worked for them with their individual running. What runners should look for is a running coach that has an approach that has been proven through personal running experience, coaching experience (high school, college, professional levels) along with a background in “real life” coaching theory. By that I mean a coach knowledgeable in what has worked at the top levels of running and how that can be individualized and related to runners of all ages and abilities. Just because a runner has run a fast marathon themselves or has run 150 miles in a week does not necessarily make them a good coach.

Do you follow a coaching philosophy? 

My coaching approach builds the right amount of intensity/speed into having enough easy day/glue mileage running (a part of the week most runners go way too fast on). With the right weekly structure of training (hard/easy running), consistency, and an overall solid running IQ base, ThunderDome runners step to the line both fit and confident they will run their best effort on that day.

How did you get into coaching?

I have been running for 23+ years. Along the way I have been a sponge of every single shred of information Olympic coaches or runners have shared with me. I always say “if I had someone telling me this when I was in high school or first started running things might have been different.” So I try to bring that advice and teaching approach into coaching. Runners never know as much as they can or experience all they need themselves, so having a coach to help fill in those gaps will make the sport/activity more fun.

What coaching services are offered at ThunderDome?

The majority of the runners we coach are online via email. We coach runners all over the United States with our day-to-day training schedules. One of the most exciting areas that we specialize in is helping high school cross country and track runners train in the offseason and we now have several alumni of that program who are running at D1, D2, and D3 colleges. In the Milwaukee area, we also offer one-on-one coaching sessions – where we cover anything from running form to workout/race prep to personalized workout partners so our runners can hammer out that last key workout before a big race. Another area that has been very successful is training/coaching military personnel for their running test for basic training.

Anything else runners should know about run coaching?

Runners spend a decent amount of money on shoes, equipment, physical therapy visits, gels/bars, race entry/travel, etc. Why not invest in one of the most important parts of the training equation – coaching? A good training schedule can help you avoid physical therapy visits, doctor visits, and frustrating days/weeks off due to injuries or burnout.

Thanks for chatting with us, Matt! To learn more about ThunderDome Running, you can connect here:



Keep Running MKE: You’re doing great!

2 thoughts on “The Ultimate Gift for Every Runner on Your List

  1. Pingback: The Drop Bag: Rampage reviews, and the bonds of Iron | The Active Pursuit

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